* for some values of “breaking even”
I’ve been reloading for just under a year, so this isn’t going to be an expert’s opinion on the topic by any means, merely an overview of how things ended up working out for an amateur.
As of today, after loading 2758 rounds in four calibers (223, 45, 38, 9mm) I have managed to exceed the total cost of equipment and supplies by the total “value” of rounds loaded. I calculated this based on the average price per round the day they were loaded, using this page as a reference: https://ammopricesnow.com/
Now for the caveats (and there are a lot of them)
First, the elephant in the room: I’ve never actually purchased any factory ammo at the kinds of prices that I recorded. Earlier in the pandemic, I had found the occasional deal (“deal” being 9mm at $0.30 per round, etc) and had gotten my stock back to subsistence levels, but for the most part I avoided shooting factory ammo at all, even stuff I already had. I also have to admit that I did “cheat” occasionally. For example, when I saw the prices of .38 shoot up in January, I loaded more of that than I needed at the time just to feel better about balancing the costs. But it’s not like they will go to waste, and the average price per round on the day it was loaded was as good a metric as any.
The next issue is one that every reloader faces: the opportunity cost of my time. Not counting casting and powder coating, I can load about 100 rounds per hour on my single stage press, and I try not to think too hard about what that means in terms of cost per round given my hourly wage. But, like virtually every other reloader out there, I find this an enjoyable hobby all by itself, and don’t count time costs in any of my equations.
Throughout this process, I tried to go with the least expensive options whenever possible and made my own accessories where practical (loading trays, a case kicker, lots of storage boxes, and some other 3D printed stuff). There are times where I have deliberately not purchased something that would probably make my life a lot easier just because I wanted to reach this milestone.
Even so, my frugal attitude was frequently compromised by the learning process, mistakes made along the way, and my OCD when it comes to certain things.
Books represented a non-trivial part of the learning process, and while some of them I probably didn’t need, I wanted to approach this hobby with as much knowledge and care as possible instead of jumping right in and risking getting hurt.
Part of learning of course includes making mistakes, and while I haven't made any of the kind that end up with missing fingers, I've made plenty in terms of what I needed along the way. Some things I bought but don't use any more (like switching from tumble lube to powder coat) and some things I bought that I never used (Lee measuring scoops). All told, this doesn't add up to a ton, but since I'm still in the early days, it did keep pushing back the break even point.
There are all sorts of things around the house that I could have used to store clean tumbled brass and other supplies, but for the sake of my OCD I chose to get a bunch of Harbor Freight ammo cans when they went on sale instead. I’m very happy how they work to organize tumbled brass (including a bunch of types I don’t even own... yet) but it was a non-trivial cost to start out.
Of course I would also have broken even much quicker had I focused on just one caliber, rather than four, but that was in itself part of the learning process. I was cautious enough about getting into reloading and had read and heard enough horror stories that I decided it would be best to start on the most “disposable” firearm I owned: my “sweep up parts from the shop floor” AR. Ironically I’ve only put about 200 rounds through the rifle since then, and only half of those were my reloads, which leaves a non-trivial amount of money tied up in components I haven’t loaded yet.
Casting my own bullets was a goal from the start both because I enjoy the recycling aspect and (eventually) it will keep costs down. I’ve got a line item in the spreadsheet to track my average cost per bullet by amortizing the total casting equipment cost over cast rounds loaded. At the moment that’s hovering around $0.13 per bullet. Long term that will average out to something more economical, but shorter term it would have been cheaper and easier to just buy bullets.
In addition to the data I used to hit this first milestone, I have more detailed calculations that amortize equipment costs over total rounds loaded and add actual costs for powder and primers. That gives me a slightly more accurate cost-per round calculation that I can compare to current or historical averages.
My next major milestone will be to bring my amortized cost for 9mm (currently loading at around $0.44 per round) down below the last price I willingly paid ($0.30 per round) for factory ammo. That still isn't down anywhere close to pre-pandemic pricing of course, but honestly I would consider it a good thing if prices come down enough that reloading 9mm ceases to be a good use of my time. At the very least I’d like to keep up with the falling prices, and loading 9mm lets me shoot a lot more of the guns I prefer to use.
Reloading this much on a single stage press is time consuming, and every new purchase that makes this process easier also pushes back that milestone, as amortized equipment costs continue to grow and grow. Even an inexpensive turret press and some other time-saving equipment and accessories will push that target back by 6 months or more, so it will be a constant battle between how much I value my time and how much I value my hard-earned money. At the moment I am enjoying the process, still learning, and feeling a lot more confident in my shooting, so I consider the time well spent.
In the end, the often-repeated adage that you won’t save money reloading, you will only shoot more is definitely true in my case. Imaginary “breaking even” points aside, I have an enjoyable ancillary hobby that keeps me busy (and away from computer screens) when I’m not at the range, and I’ve shot far more in the last twelve months than I have in the last twelve YEARS as a consequence.
Reloading has helped me practice more, which has led to a lot more confidence in my shooting. In addition, I am getting a lot of use out of two guns I hadn’t really liked much beforehand (Sig P220 and Ruger LCR). My range sessions improved in part because I spent so much time with light .38 loads and a heavy DA trigger followed by moderate recoil .45 in a full size handgun. After that, any of my 9mm hammer or striker fired guns were trivial to shoot accurately.
Anyway, I don’t know if this will be more than mildly amusing to others, but I figured it was worth sharing the process in case it helps others in a similar situation make decisions about how they want to start.
Beginners are welcome to ask questions which I will answer to the best of my ability. Experienced reloaders are welcome to laugh at my mistakes and encouraged to correct any answers I give that are flat out wrong.This message has been edited. Last edited by: tp1l,
I commend you on your detail as well as the excellent post with pics.
I have for the most part concentrated on rifle rounds and never really considered the cost savings. Mostly it was due to not being able to find a commercial round that was accurate through the guns I was working with so decided to roll my own. But years later I view it a little differently in that it is a prep, just like learning first aid, cpr, gardening, etc. It helps to have mastered a skill before it is needed than try to learn and procure equipment/supplies after the first shock wave has hit.
There’s a fair amount of prepper mentality involved for me as well, and it was refreshing during the height of the ammo drought last year to be able to shoot without worrying too much about being able to replace what I’m using up.
When prices bottom out again (where that new bottom ends up being) I definitely plan to stock up on enough primers and powder to continue to practice through another year like the last one, although I ALSO plan to stack factory ammo a bit deeper than I had pre-pandemic for the same reason. My time/money ratio tends to shift throughout the year, and while so far I’ve been able to keep up with demand, there will be times when I can’t load fast enough to keep up with training.
As for accuracy… My focus for 223 loading started with “don’t blow up my rifle” and never really got past that point. I need to build up my own skills to the point where I can notice differences between loads, then I do want to start to hand load for accuracy. At the moment however, all of my training focus has been on handguns.
|I Deal In Lead|
My father started me casting bullets and reloading metallic when I was 9 years old. Been doing it ever since, and I've been retired for quite a while now.
When you keep and use equipment that long, your return on investment came a long, long time ago.
And IMO, keeping enough components on hand for a year isn't nearly enough as some of my reloading friends have been finding out lately. They're starting to get desperate.
I'm going to watch this thread and see where it goes.
Good point. I haven’t really run numbers yet on what I consider “enough” components to last through the next panic, but it will certainly be higher than the ~3000 rounds I’ve loaded in the last year.
It will be a gradual process, and not worth starting at current prices of course, but eventually I hope to get to a point where I feel like I have a comfortable surplus of components, loaded rounds, and factory rounds. Like any other kind of savings, it’s going to be a dynamic balance between what I can afford now and what I think I will need later.
I started handloading in 1972, and am still at it. At one point I was loading 15-16 different calibers. I don't load that many these days. My equipment has been paid for many, many times over, and still works great.
Like many of the "old timers" that have gone through a few panic situations for components, I keep enough inventory to not have to worry. I shoot what and when I want.
|I Deal In Lead|
Yes, this is the 4th primer shortage in my lifetime. In the first one, I was down to around 1K of primers when primers showed up again at reasonable prices. I started stocking up on them and all other components immediately.
Mrs. Flash shoots with me every week also, so I had to stock up on .22LR, .22WMR and .380ACP components in addition to my stuff.
We've shot every week since this started and we can go on for a long long time.
no such thing as breaking even.
Started in the late 60's to save money,now I am the proud owner if enough shif to fill a long bed p u .From multi presses to Starr sizer.Single stage lyman was too slow ,it got to be speed to save time you know.Then all those molds ,to save money
Those dillon don't just load nines , you must load 380 all the to 458's and there is the ultra mag 300 the powder hog.
I fear you might be right, but I am hopeful that by at least tracking all of this, I might be a bit more frugal with equipment purchases. At the very least I plan to "earn" equipment upgrades where possible by loading enough so that I don't go back over this imaginary number/ratio. :-)
If I can get things (and keep things) to the point where I'm not paying much more than I would have just buying factory, then I'll consider it a win. Anything else is a bonus.
Centerfire ammo is up around $2 a shot for rifles. Who in their right mind can afford that? I've been reloading for a long time now, like well over 50 years. I was lucky and my father taught me how. But that was back in the old days when components were cheap. Then 51 years ago I got married and discovered my wife liked to cast bullets! We haven't done that in a long time, it being a lot less trouble to just buy jacketed bullets. I've even dabbled in pulled surplus 147 gr surplus stuff. Its more accurate than I am.
One of my favorite things was ammo at gun shows. Private tables with ammo. Check it before you buy, but often folks will sell off a gun and then not have a gun in the same caliber. In my never ending search for cheap ammo, its a good place to buy. Don't buy reloads unless you're trusting or plan on pulling it down. I do trust cases, primers and bullets. Just not other peoples powder charges.
I once bought a .375 Weatherby and was given a box of the sellers reloads. Its too high an intensity round to trust others. I pulled the bullets and then reloaded them with my own weighed charges. Easy/Peasy. I don't trust others to be careful. Be careful yourself. Then use a powder that you can't double charge without it spilling out.
Don't allow distractions while loading. Some operations are less critical, like resizing. Same for repriming. There are pieces of equipment that save you time but at the expense of watching what you're doing.
I have so much stuff that there is no way I'll ever use it up. Only one son reloads. I'm sure he'll want all my components. I've bought factory fodder. It costs way too much these days. Its why I sold off most of my 22s. For rifle ammo, I've got way more than I can ever shoot. Its tempting to just keep on loading when you have more than enough. Its a mistake.
Unhappy ammo seeker
Understand Sir; that lee pot I wore out two,moved up to rcbs pro melt .oh what a heavenly upgrade and two mold I switch to four cavity Lee for what you pay is ok to start with.
I used to but my lube from a guy on Cast Boolets
This point in life I rarely shoot and its my carry gun every few weeks.
Best of luck
After I purchased a 416 Rigby, I was above break even after 40 rounds.
Demand not that events should happen as you wish; but wish them to happen as they do happen, and you will go on well. -Epictetus
Great write up,
Starting out like you did on the single stage is great for the learning experience,
Casting your own may also be a skill needed in the future.
Reloading is a great hobby, but you can probably go crazy trying to justify an immediate pay back,
I've got reloading equipment that goes back many years,and it's the long term investment that has paid off.
It appears that you have identified that the time aspect of your reloading hobby is a factor
here's where you decide if your want to shoot more or sit around, relax and reload.
If shooting more wins out, a progressive press for your more frequent shot loads over a turret press may be the choice.
They are expensive but used deals are out there,
I like Dillon because of the life time warrenty,
I once bought a Dillon Sq Deal press, rusty and dirty sitting in a box at a gun show , bought it cheap because it was a mess, sent it to Dillion and they did a complete rebuild for somewhere around $50 - $60 (Their no BS warrenty is real)
Good luck on the adventure
Looks like you are in deep after only a year.
I don’t really worry about the ‘break even’ calculations, factoring in the ‘hobby’ aspect.
I recently bought two rifles in 45-70, one a ‘trapdoor’ made in 1892, the other a Henry lever-action made a few months ago. The 45-70 ammo is hard to find now, no worries. I sourced dies, bullets, & brass to load my own.
Besides loading my own, these two rifles are far apart in what pressure loads they can handle. As a reloader, I can tailor to both. Of course for casual range use, no reason to go ‘full house’.
Agreed. I am so far happy with that pot for low volume casting, but I recognize that if I start to do this more seriously, I probably need to upgrade. I am not 100% wedded to Lee as a company, though I have so far had reasonable luck with their stuff and the price/quality ratio is certainly a factor.
As each aspect of the hobby grows enough to warrant an upgrade, I will be looking carefully at the other options and deciding if it's worth the (not insubstantial) upgrade cost to go with something other than Lee. I figure having this spreadsheet will help there at least as a sanity check on the time/money ratio. Sometimes these upgrades might be modest, like moving to the Lee bottom-pour and getting a six-cavity mold of the same bullet as I'm already using, and other times I might jump up to something objectively better, like the Lyman or RCBS pots and NOE molds.
Very true. This year was, in may ways, a trial period on the whole idea of reloading, and for that it seemed like jumping right in with triple (or more) the equipment costs was probably not the best use of my money.
I've confirmed that I enjoy the process as much as the product, so in that way it's already justified. I realize that the idea of "breaking even" is an artificial construct, but it is kind of useful just to make me feel like I was doing something right, and even more as a check on wild purchases. Calculating how long it would take for them to break even has made me think a bit more carefully about purchases that I "need" versus those I merely want.
I have been keeping an eye on the used market, and am hopeful that a few years from now there will be deals to be found on old equipment. Right now it's going on eBay for more than new equipment in some cases, and estate sales around this area look like feeding frenzies. I've also been considering whether I would do enough volume reloading to make a turret or progressive upgrade worthwhile. Given that I started reloading at the worst possible time, my component inventory is not that deep. Until things get better, I'll run out of primers long before I get tired of loading even 9mm on a single stage.
But in 6 months or a year or however long it takes for things to settle down a bit, that might change, and I keep thinking (and over-thinking) about this every time I set foot in the reloading room or read this thread.
I appreciate all of the replies and advice, especially from those who have been doing this in some cases longer than I've been alive.
I think after 20 or so years of reloading, all on a single stage press, I had more than paid myself back. I always bought some type of supplies each pat after the last ammo crisis. I bought a Dillon 650 and went all in WI it a few years ago. Spent a small fortune on it but have already loaded 20,000 plus rounds on it. I can load cheap, reliable ammo and have it whenever I want. I am not a hostage. I have more ammo than I probably be able shoot.
I am in the process of buying a couple of Mec shotshell loaders now.
There is a peace of mind to know you will always have access to quality ammo.
Yeah, I used to have a couple of guns.
Cost per round is one aspect. Custom tailored ammo is another. I always look at the fact it's cheaper to stock up on components than cases of ammo and having the ability to roll my own when the shelves are bare is priceless.
So far, I've really only custom tailored my ammo to avoid spontaneous assisted rapid disassembly in my firearms. :-)
I am just good enough of a shooter to notice that the little 105 gr "bunny fart" loads in my LCR consistently shoot lower than heavier factory rounds, but neither the 9mm nor .45 nor .223 have had a noticeable effect on accuracy given my own shooting skills.
Both the .45 and 9mm are around middle of the road charges, but I don't have a chronograph to see how consistent they are. My powder measure throws +/- 0.1 gr at the best of times, so I basically found a reliable charge with moderate recoil that's pretty much in the middle of the published load data and stick with that. Bullets are cast from range scrap of varying hardness, "shake-and-bake" powder coated then sized and neither mold is particularly known for accuracy as far as I can tell.
Every once in a while I do cycle in factory ammo just to make certain that I'm not hitting a wall with my reloads, but so far at handgun distances, what I'm loading is sufficient for my needs and gradually improving skill level.
I expect I will start doing load work-up sooner for .223, but even there my goal is more weapon familiarity and basic marksmanship than anything else. I've got a long way to go before I even notice the difference between the 62gr I last purchased and the 55gr I'd been loading, much less the 50gr I bought by accident before I had figured out the correct relationship between barrel twist and bullet weight.
One of these days I want to get back to the club's CMP shoots, and at that point I will likely start taking accuracy more seriously.
But all that aside, components are indeed cheaper than factory ammo to stockpile (assuming things ever go back to something approaching "normal") and I expect I will keep doing this as long as it is fun, financially viable, or both.
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