I speak to reptile keepers frequently and find a trend developing. Most people that keep lizards as pets keep multiple animals. With more than one animal being maintained, food costs add up quickly.
If you are like me, you look for any way you can to save money on the food you are feeding without sacrificing quality.
There are several methods to do this....
Buy in quantity.
When I owned just a couple of bearded dragons, I would hit the pet store about every other day to buy crickets. Let's see, 20 crickets for $ 2.00 didn't seem all that bad. I promised to cut down on my diet coke consumption and all was well. Within 6 months though, I was up to 2 dragons, 5 chameleons, and about 6 leopards. 20 crickets turned into 75 crickets every other day. Though I could purchase 75 crickets for about 6 bucks.... That's around $20 per week and over $ 1,000 per year!
I quickly found an on-line insect business where I could buy 1000 crickets for about $17 shipped to my door. Even with loosing some insects, that's still a dozen feedings, and more importantly, a huge savings! Score! Buying on-line was the answer. As my collection grew to over 200 animals (not including babies at any one time), you can see how this method of purchasing feeder insects has save me loads of money.
All it takes is a couple of 40-50 qt containers, some screen, scissors, a little hot glue and somewhere to store the containers. Feeding them table scraps (gut load is better- see below), ensuring they have water, and cleaning their tub once a week will allow crickets to last two weeks easily. If you are dealing with mealworms, it's even easier. As they cannot jump, a shallow tub, some paper towel, and food every other day is all it takes to keep them for weeks and weeks.
If you have several animals, buying on-line is certainly the way to go. If you only have one or two geckos, you may be able to buy in larger quantities for less from your local pet store and keep them for future use as mentioned above.
So I started saving money by buying on-line. However, I still made mistakes. These mistakes resulted in wasted food... and lost money.
One of my initial thoughts was that if I could buy so many for XXX dollars, I could buy twice as much and save even more dollars. Well, this works if you can feed all those crickets. There is nothing worse than having twice as many crickets being stored than you can feed. Eventually, you will start to experience die off. As you feed, you will find out what you're capable of storing and feeding in a certain time period and will only order as much as you can use.
This applies more with crickets than it does mealworms. Mealworms will keep quite a while without significant die off if kept correctly. However, they will start transforming into beetles that usually cannot be used for feeding. You can cool mealworms down to 45 degrees to slow this process down and keep the insects for months... if your spouse can tolerate worms in the fridge.
When ordering insects, make sure you order the correct size. If you are buying only adult crickets yet have sub adult crested or leopard geckos, the crickets will go uneaten. Not only is this a waste of food but also, if the crickets do not have other food to eat in the enclosure, they will bother the animal.
I've always had issues with shipments in the winter. I would say about every forth shipment (even shipped overnight) will come in with some fatalities, even up to 50% dead. This holds true in the summer as well when temperatures are excessive. Work out the math. It might be cheaper to forgo the shipments in winter (or summer) and pay more at the pet store if the temperatures are extreme.
Buy at Shows
If I am between purchases of feeder insects and am planning to attend a lizard show, I will wait and order from a vendor at the show. The crickets or mealworms may be a tiny bit more expensive but you can eliminate shipping charges. Again, do the math and see if this works out for you.
Do It Yourself
One of the best ways to save money on your feeder insects is to breed them yourself. Crickets and mealworms are reasonably easy to breed and raise up to feeding size. Crickets are a bit more difficult than mealworms. There are plenty of great sites on the web to find insect breeding information, including our information library.
Another option, again if you can slide it past your spouse, is raising cockroaches. They breed like, well cockroaches. Once they settle in, you can produce hundreds or thousands if you have the room each month. Chameleons and bearded dragons love them!
It is very important to feed your insects with a good, nutritious food. This is called 'gutloading'. The food you provide your feeders will ultimately be passed on to your animals. There are several very good gutload pre-mixed foods available on-line. I've been feeding chick feed purchased from a feed store. It is called Layena Poltry Feed and 50 pounds can be purchased for about 7. It is loaded with nutrients, including calcium. In addition, I will include a meal of carrots or oranges.
Crested & Day Geckos
If you are feeding crested or day geckos, you have the unique opportunity to offer a food that is both a complete diet and is the least expensive food you can feed- it is both the best food and feeding it will save you quite a bit of money. A powdered diet called MRP (meal replacement powder) (or crested gecko diet) provides all the nutrients these animals find and need in nature, plus it is so easy to use! See below for more information on MRP.
No one likes to spend more money than they need to on the supplies for their animals. I hope the above suggestions help you to save some money on feeder insects. The way I think about this is that I now have more money to spend on more animals.