9 Steps to Shopping Smart at the Reptile Expo

Blog graphic - Go to the reptile expo without breaking the bank

Reptiles are not so much a hobby as an inevitable addiction: if you’re not addicted yet, you soon will be. And as with any addiction passion, it grows over time. One of the main engines fueling the expansion of the reptile hobby is the Reptile Expo.

At a reptile expo, you can connect with other reptile keepers, win cool prizes, get great deals on supplies and animals, interact with especially exotic species, and to the dismay of many, deplete your bank account.


Simple. Reptile expos promote impulse buying. And according to research, buying something new actually triggers a dopamine release in the brain that produces a kind of “high.” This leads to Repticon’s darker side: hobbyists crowding local classifieds with impulsively-purchased animals and supplies because rent and other bills failed to magically disappear.

We’re all guilty at some point or other — recently I had to sell an 18x18x24 Exo Terra and lighting kit not one month after the Spring Expo. In light of this experience, I’ve compiled a 9-step guide to not breaking the bank at reptile expos.

Before the Reptile Expo

1. Have a purpose.

What reptile/supplies are you looking for? Or, is your goal simply to enjoy the experience and not to spend money at all?

2. Research.

Which vendors will be there? How many will be selling the reptile/supplies that you want? How much should that reptile/those supplies cost? This may require contacting the vendors themselves, but it’s worth it in the long run. Many breeders are willing to hold animals for pickup at the expo for buyers that have put down a deposit or paid in full.

3. Have an enclosure ready. 

Once you know which reptile you want to buy at the expo, have the enclosure set up and fully functional for that species. This is a process that often requires planning months in advance, but let’s be honest—you’ve been looking forward to the expo since the last one ended. 😉 It’s cruel to take home a new pet only to have it sit in a deli cup for days while you scramble to buy everything it needs.

4. Bring cash and leave the cards at home.

How I spend money at the reptile expo

This artist is hilarious. Click the pic to visit her official site.

If you know what you want, then you have an idea of how much it sells for. Bring what you need in cash (nothing larger than a $20 bill, please), and you won’t have anything to spend on impulse buys. If you plan on taking advantage of expo-only deals on supplies, bring a set amount of extra cash. All cards should stay at home! This practice is actually scientifically proven to reduce impulse buys (The Role of Within-Trip Dynamics in Unplanned Versus Planned Purchase Behavior).

During the Reptile Expo

5. Arrive early.

Crowds are especially dangerous when you’re trying to avoid making an impulse buy for two reason: time limits and social pressure. People are more likely to make an impulse buy when they know the product — or in this case, reptile — may not still be there later (“FOMO,” anyone?). Furthermore, since humans are naturally social animals, we have an evolved desire to do what others are doing. And when you see other people buying reptiles, you want to buy a reptile too.

Being there as soon as the doors open (or springing for a VIP early-entry ticket) means that you have fewer people around to compete for what you want, and takes some pressure off purchasing.

6. Take 2 trips around the floor.

Circle around once to get first dibs on the animal/supplies you came for. Breeders and other vendors are often impatient with indecisive visitors, and often won’t hold an animal while you argue with your conscience about whether or not you really want it. They’re here to make money, after all.

Circle around the second time to enjoy yourself and absorb the full reptile expo experience (and spend any leftover cash, if you have it).

7. Bring a notepad and collect business cards.

See something you like? Write down the species or product name and make a note of the price for the next expo! If you’re impressed with a particular breeder or store, be sure to collect their business card so you can contact them later.

8. Don’t handle the animals.

According to The power of touch: An examination of the effect of duration of physical contact on the valuation of objects, people are more likely to buy a product — and spend more on it — once they’ve handled it. This is all too true with reptiles at expos! This is better for the reptiles, too. Handling is stressful for most reptiles, and when they’re being repeatedly handled by strangers all day, it’s very stressful.

But looking longingly at the reptile of interest can have the same effect, which brings us to our next point:

9. Don’t linger.

It’s tempting to hang around—Repticon is a fun place to be! The Role of Within-Trip Dynamics in Unplanned Versus Planned Purchase Behavior also found that the longer a consumer stays in-store, the more they are likely to spend. That means that the longer you walk around the expo, the more likely you are to make an impulsive decision that could leave your bank account hurting. Worse still, you could leave with an animal you’re not prepared to care for.

The good news: After a couple hours, you’ll be hungry, footsore, and tired, so that can be your cue to leave.

At the end of the day…

While the impulse-buy culture of reptile expos can be dangerous for wallets and savings account, I’m not telling you to not spend money at reptile expos — far from it, actually!

Reptile expos are a big opportunity for reptile breeders and supply vendors to make a profit. Think of it as a kind of “Black Friday” for the reptile hobby. Making a profit is hard for most reputable breeders, so buying animals from these breeders at expos is a good way to show your support. And even if you can’t take home an animal, buying some supplies or a branded tee shirt from their table is another way to support them and make sure they’ll come back next expo. (Even Dave Ramsey himself says it’s good to give yourself permission to spend!)

However, if you see a vendor with sick and/or skinny animals attending the expo, avoid them. I don’t care how “great” their prices seem — the animals are often freshly imported, and these people often know nothing and care nothing about the animals on their table.  Any animal purchased from this type of vendor will likely be dead within the month or cost you dearly in vet bills.

I promise not to buy any more reptiles at reptile expos


What are your secrets to self-control at the reptile expo? Do you have a impulse-buy story? Share with us in the comments below!