Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Time is Money

A friend of mine, responding to my post "The High Cost of Saving Money" wrote:

"In my case, the high cost of saving money is measured in time"

Actually, so is mine. I recognize that what I'm doing by buying faster equipments, is trading cash for time.

Of the two, time is more valuable to me.

I shoot perhaps 2500 rounds of precision rifle per year. If that gear I paid $700 for this weekend saves me 2 hours per thousand (and it certainly does; probably more. It's already saved me at least a half hour just today); I've already paid for it within two years, just on time saved for other things.

Add in the time saved with the press etc... ($800 all up costs) and my load time goes down from about 3 minutes per round total average (yes, it really was that high), to about 1 minute per round total average.

It's the same reason I bought a progressive press and a case feeder. I may shoot anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 rounds worth of handgun ammo in a year. Under my old routine, that was 50 to 100 hours worth of loading, plus setup etc... Now, it's more like 20 to 40 hours.

I paid $800 for my whole progressive setup, including all the bushing, shellholders, dies, etc... and that $800 will save me at least 30 hours in my first year alone; maybe as much as 60 (Hell, I've already loaded about 1500 rounds on it, and I'd estimate it's saved me about 6 hours so far).

I dunno about you, but I value my time at a fair bit more than $26 an hour; and obviously more than $13.

Of course, looking at it from the other side, how much am I saving in cost of ammo vs. my time cost?

Lets say we value my time in the most expensive possible way, and compare it to my work rates. I start at $75 an hour (which is my minimum rate for long term consulting on a w2 basis with benefits), and I spend about 60 hours a year reloading. I'll call the time I spend scrounging brass a wash with the time I would otherwise spend scrounging ammo. That's $4500.

That's a lot of money/time.

Now, add in the direct costs of ammunition components and supplies; which are about $2500 (including amortizing the brass over 5 reloadings, which is a bit below average, but accounts for losses); and you get about $7000.

If I were simply to purchase that same quantity, type, and grade of ammunition commercially, I would be paying approximately $7000 for it, including shipping (if I bought it all locally, it would be about $500 more... maybe as much as $1000; so the shipping is offset).

At that point, it's a wash... or actually a small loss, because of the $1500 in gear costs (amortized over 10 years; though it would be surprising if the gear didn't last much longer than that).

Honestly though, those numbers come from the time before I was shooting 10mm (which is approximately twice as expensive in commercial bulk as .45acp); and thus really only covers 9mm and .45acp, which are two of the three cheapest centerfire pistol rounds to buy in bulk (.38spl being the other, which I do load for, but only in small quantities). That also only counts .223 for rifle (which is the majority of my rifle shooting, and currently all I'm reloading for; though that will change), which is by far the cheapest centerfire rifle chambering to buy commercially.

So, the more I shoot of .357 magnum, 10mm, or other, more expensive chamberings, the further ahead I get. Also the more rifle I shoot (especially in the more expensive chamberings) the more I come out ahead.

More importantly though, that also doesn't take into account the hobby aspect of it. I enjoy reloading as a hobby, and a pursuit. I like the experimentation, and the more direct involvement and control it gives me over the performance of my firearms. Handloading, quite frankly, gives me MUCH greater enjoyment out of all my firearms activities; enhancing their value to me in ways that can't easily be measured.

That 60 hours I spend (though there are certainly frustrations to it) are 60 hours of hobby time to me; and they more than balance out any slight losses.

Oh, and of course, there's one more factor not accounted for in those numbers, and that's performance. I like the power and accuracy I can get; which are far greater than that of commercial ammunition, no matter what you pay for it.

Let me give a couple examples:

The best commercial loadings I've been able to find for my heavy AR is Federal 77gr gold match; which sells for approximately $1.50 per round in case quantities. It launches a 77gr Sierra Match King at 2750fps out of my barrel, groups into .75moa at 600 yards, and retains approximately 400ftlbs of energy at that range. The black hills load with the same bullet performs essentially identically, though they get an extra 50fps out of it, and it's a bit cheaper.

The best load I've been able to develop is similar in construction; launching a 75gr Hornady special match, but I'm getting 2850fps out of it, grouping into .33moa at 600 yards, and retaining 576ftlbs of energy at that distance.

Oh, and it only costs me about $0.40 a round, from new brass; and I can easily reload that brass five times (its a high pressure load, I wont go more than five with it).

For my 10mm, the best performing load I've found for it commercially is again Federal premium, selling for approximately $1.50 a round in bulk. It launches a 180gr bullet at 1050fps out of my barrel, for about 450ftlbs of energy, and groups into 1.5" at 25 yards from a rest or 15 yards offhand.

The most powerful mass market commercial loads available are the 175gr Winchester Silvertips, which sell for about $0.80 a round in bulk. They launch at 1300fps and 650ftlbs, and group into about 2" at the same distances.

The best performing load I've developed on my own is a 180gr XTP at 1350fps (which is the absolute pressure ceiling), for 730ftlbs; and they group into under 1" at those same ranges.

Again, the cost isn't even comparable to commercial. Even using new, unamortized brass, it costs me $0.38 a round to load (in 1000ct quantities of course).

The improvements are just as dramatic for .45acp and 9mm; as are the savings.

Now, if I was just doing it for the cost savings; if I didn't get more enjoyment out of my guns because of handloading; if I didn't get better performance from handloading; then my time coming out as an even wash... well, that wouldn't be worth it. I'd rather have the time than the money.

Thing is though, it ISN'T just about the money. It IS about the extra enjoyment, and the better performance... well, and the money too; if for no other reason than it lets me shoot more (I'd shoot about 1/3 as much if I didn't hand load).

So yeah, like most other pursuits, there's always a trade between time and money (and I've traded both ways); but it's a worthwhile one, at least for me.