"I can't afford it," is the response of many. Especially when it comes to additional training.
It's not cheap. That's for sure. Especially if you need to travel to get that training. Double if you have more than one person in your home seeking quality instruction.
I've had people specifically ask me how we afford to go to the trainings we do and when I sat down at my computer last night to figure out the finances of another class I'm taking this fall I decided it would be a good time to talk a little about the financial side of it.
I'm no Dave Ramsey but I think I handle our finances well enough to keep us from getting nasty phone calls from bill collectors and to work us towards our personal and financial goals.
If I could sum up the financial side our firearms training into one word it would be budgeting. And budgeting far in advance.
We have a specific account we call our gun fund. If we aren't budgeting for anything specific we try to put enough into that account every month to cover 500 rounds of 9mm ammo. These days that's about $150. No, we can't always make that. Sometimes we have to forgo putting any money into our gun fund due to unexpected expenses or emergencies and when the gun fund runs on empty we don't get to shoot. It's that simple.
Towards the fall of each year we start to pick the trainings we want to attend for the following year. We write them all down on a piece of paper, research how much they cost (class fee and ammo requirements) and then we prioritize what training we think we need to meet our shooting goals.
Our needs and training priorities are going to be different than yours but pick a goal and the classes that will help you toward that end. If you're not sure what classes will help you start asking around. You'll find a lot of people very willing to help you find the quality training you are seeking.
The next step is to see how many of those trainings we can afford in a single year. Usually that is no more than two. Especially if we have to travel.
Here's the average breakdown:
Most intermediate to advanced classes cost between $300 and $500 a person (give or take). Some are much more than that and some are charged per day. I try to budget for each class specifically but if you're going to write up a mock budget I'd start with at least $400 allocated for class fee.
Obviously, if it's a gun class you're going to have to bring ammo. Thankfully, for knife classes or medical classes, etc, you won't have this added financial burden but for gun classes you're going to have to purchase ammo. Some gun schools will have ammo that you can buy at a much cheaper price from the school itself and then you don't have to pay shipping. However, with the ammo shortage of late that's becoming more rare. Call the school you are interested in and ask. A lot of schools do not allow reloaded ammo so do your research. Ammo prices vary depending on caliber. A 1,000 round case of 9mm will run you about $320 (sometimes more in this time of ammo crisis). For other calibers it can be much more. Most classes require somewhere between 600 and 1,000 rounds. You usually won't shoot that much but it's better to have more on hand than not enough. And whatever you have left over you can save or use for practice or another class.
Lodging is a big expense. Shop your travel websites like Hotels.com and travelocity. Call the school and surrounding hotels and see if they have any discounts for students of that school. Obviously, the longer the class the more nights you are going to have to stay and the more expensive it's going to be. At $80 a night for three days it's $240. Make sure they have a continental breakfast!
These days it can be cheaper and more practical on your time to fly but when you add in rental it might just barely even out. Whether you choose to fly or drive budget accordingly. Shop for plan tickets as far in advance as possible as it tends to be cheaper the further out you book (unless you are booking for a time around any holidays). Again, shop your travel sites and look for bundling discounts like a flight, hotel and car rental. Do some quick math and figure out your MPG and how many tanks of gas you will need if you drive. Budget accordingly. We usually drive and I budget around $250 for gas.
You're going to have to eat. Depending on the number of people in your party, how much you eat and your pallet you can get away with a $40 budget or have to go with a $200 budget. Say it with me, "Subway is my friend!" A cooler packed with goodies from home is also an economical way to go.
Always budget for miscellaneous expenses. Whether it's the rain gear you forgot or a pair of underwear or some socks or a razor, there hasn't been a single class I've taken where I've actually remember every single item I should have brought. Maybe you found out that this class requires three extra magazines and you only have one or it requires a specific type of holster that you don't own. Maybe you're taking a FoF class and want to purchase an airsoft gun. I throw $100 into the budget just for misc expenses.
If you've been following along with a calculator you know that all rounds up to about $1,400 per class for one person. If there are two of you add the cost of another class fee and a little more for food and lodging and a plane ticket if you're flying. To be on the safe side I usually budget around $1,600 for one person for one class. $1,800 if it's going to be the both of us. No, it's not cheap.
Where can you cut corners?
- Find training schools near home where you don't have to get a hotel or fly.
- Bring your own food.
- Take a class that doesn't require ammo.
- Make friends with someone near the school who will allow you to crash at their place for the duration of class.
- Ask if it's possible for you to take only one or two days of a multiple day class (not to skip vital days, but perhaps to split the training up into more affordable and timely chunks (day 1 and 2 in one trip, day 3 and 4 the next, etc)).
- Be extra vigilant about making sure you have everything you need for the class and then some.
- Go in a group so that you can share travel expenses and perhaps get a group discount from the school.
- Call the school you're interested in and see if they have any traveling instructors who are going to be in your area. Keep an ear open at your local ranges and clubs for trainings that might be coming through.
- Get some friends together, look for a facility near you and consider hosting a training group. Many of the big name schools will travel and often times the host gets to take the class for free! Win/Win!
If you budget a year in advance, a $1,400 class will require you to put aside about $117 a month. If you budget two years in advance it's cut to about $59 a month. Since we try to put about $150 into our gun fund every month anyway, that covers the expenses of a gun class for one person with a little wiggle room. Everything I make usually goes toward more ammo as that is the biggest monthly expense we have in regards to our training, practice and matches.
Yes, we've sold guns to afford classes. We've sold accessories to fund ammo. We've put ourselves on some pretty strict financial rations so that we could keep our budgeting goals for upcoming classes. There have been times we've gotten a little financial boost and been able to pad the gun fund a bit. There have been times of economical drought where no money has gone into the gun fund for months. We've had to steal from the gun fund a time or two to pay bills. What's most important to us is that our bills get paid and our children have what they need. But our training is a priority to us. We know it has to be if we are going to keep our skills sharp and keep advancing. We can't do everything we want to do but we can plan ahead and budget for what we can do.
In the end it allows us to take some very awesome classes and get some amazing training.
These are hard times and some people have had to make some serious sacrifices. Some are not even able to live on what they are making and to them I have no advice. I know some people have had to sell their carry guns just to put food on the table. Adding the expenses of additional training is just not possible for them. I understand that. We've been there. It's an awful place to be. But for those who may find an extra $40 a month to see a movie or indulge in another hobby. Try setting some of that aside for some quality training. You'll be happy you did.