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If money is really tight you have to consider that Excel is not cheap. With the lighting level you have, CO2 is not an option; it's a necessity. DIY will work fine for 23 gallons. That's the way I would go. I don't have any personal experience with Excel on other than low-to-medium light tanks.
 

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A pH crash is not really an issue with DIY if you have KH of 4 or above. The plants don't get addicted; CO2 is food, the carbon source. There's always carbon in the water in the form of CO2. The concentration is around 3% or so IIRC, and it dissolves in the water from the atmosphere. Fish also provide it through respiration. When you put 3wpg or more of light over the tank, the unsupplemented CO2 is too little to support the photosythesis you could get from all that light, so we inject CO2. Without it, at that light level, algae will happen. So the choice is to keep the light level below ~2.5wpg or use CO2. CO2 is also useful to increase growth at lower light levels, but not using it will not cause algae, only less plant growth. Quoted light levels are approximations.

Like anything, there is some maintenance involved. CO2 levels have to be monitored, and DIY on a smaller tank can overdose the tank under some conditions. You will need to be familiar with the conditions that affect it, e.g. water chemistry, surface agitation, etc. It's all part of the fun of a planted tank :)
 
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