Whenever the topic of reloading comes up, the question is always asked:"do you really save money"?
The answer is: It depends on the caliber you are reloading.
Reloading is not necessarily about saving money, it is a hobby unto itself. You become your own custom ammo supplier. You control the quantity and quality. You get to design your own loads that match your gun or style of shooting/hunting.
So to answer the question I decided to do the math for everyone. I chose two calibers to compare costs: I chose the 9mm Parabellum as it is on one end of the pricing spectrum. 9mm is perhaps the cheapest centerfire (non-surplus) ammo on the market. At the other end I chose the 44 Magnum, it is larger and more expensive, plus your choices are often limited depending on where you shop.
For this discussion we will be talking about brass cased, boxer primed (re-loadable) jacketed ammunition.
9mm Parabellum 115gr FMJ can be purchased for $10 - $15 for a box of 50, at the retail level.
$10 is pretty cheap for a box of 50 rounds, can you really load for less than that?
On the other end of the scale is the 44 Magnum, FMJ plinking rounds are expensive, even for the non-re-loadable CCI Blazer expect to pay more than $25 for a box of 50 and the brass cased FMJ or JHP expect to pay $30-$35.
Bullets are usually the most expensive part of the cartridge. For plinking it does not make sense to buy Full Metal Jacketed (FMJ) bullets because most likely you wont be loading these "hot" anyway. However some guns (Glocks) cannot fire lead bullets and most indoor ranges do not allow lead bullets anymore (EPA concerns).
There is an alternative: plated or coated bullets. I prefer Xtreme plated bullets, they are VERY uniform, inexpensive and available. Look for a link to their website at the end of this post.
For 1000 qty, 115 grain fully plated 9mm bullets you can expect to pay around $85, this equates to $42.50 for 500 or $4.25 for 50 of them.
44 Magnum 240 grain bullets will run about $130 for 1000, $65 for 500, $6.50 for 50.
Most people re-use their brass over and over, but for this discussion we will assume you have none and need to buy brass. Used 9mm "range pick-up" brass usually sells for around $35 for 1000 pieces, which equates to $17.50 for 500 or $1.75 for 50 of them.
Used 44 Mag brass is hard to come by and sometimes not useable, but if you did find good used brass, expect to pay more than double the 9mms cost, about $75 - $100 for 1000 pieces (which is close to what you can buy them for new)
There is the option of buying new brass. Starline is by far the best buy on new brass as you get to buy factory direct. 1000 pieces of 9mm factory new Starline brass will run you $124.50 with shipping included, this means you would pay $6.23 for a box of 50 of them.
44 Magnum brass from Starline will set you back $167.50 for 1000 pieces, $83.75 for 500 or $8.38 for 50 pieces.
Primers need to be added to the equation, usually small or large pistol, standard or magnum cost about the same, prices have been all over the map lately. Pre-panic prices for 1000 primers were in the $30-$35 range. We'll use the $35 mark to be conservative. So a box of 50 bullets will have the cost of 50 primers which is $1.75 ($35/2= $17.50 for 500 or $1.75 for 50)
Powder is the last ingredient. Re-loaders often have a favorite powder, for many different reasons. Some like a powder because it is cheap, or it goes a long ways, some like a powder that is cleaner burning or is more accurate in certain guns. I buy powder that has good burn characteristics, burns somewhat clean and goes a long ways. For the smaller automatics I prefer Bullseye from Alliant. Bullseye has been around a long time (the oldest smokeless powder made in America) and has been used by re-loaders since the invention of the hobby.
Bullseye will run you about $20 per pound when purchased in the 1 lb containers, obviously you save money buy buying in bulk, but not everyone has room to store 8 lb jugs of gun powder.
For the 44 Mag I prefer Allaint's 2400 powder. It is economical and consistent.
For the 9mm 115 grain FMJ, Alliant recommends a load of 4.3 to 4.7 grains of Bullseye. We usually load plated bullets on the lower end, as velocities exceeding 1000 fps can strip the platting and leave you with copper fouling in the bore.
Now, there are 7000 grains of powder in a pound, at $20 per lb, each grain weight of powder will cost you $0.0028 cents per grain, so 4.3 grains will set you back $0.012, a box of 50 costs you about $0.62.
For the 44 Magnum the formula is the same, $20 divided by 7000 equals $0.0028. The Alliant load of 19 grains of 2400 for the 240 grain JHP (the low end of the scale, high end is 21 grains). This means the 19 grains per load will cost $0.053 each and about $2.66 for the box of 50.
So lets put this on a chart to make it easy to see:
Brass new Brass used Bullets Primers Powder Total
$6.23 $4.25 $1.75 $0.62 $12.85
$1.75 $4.25 $1.75 $0.62 $8.37
recycled brass $4.25 $1.75 $0.62 $6.62
Brass new Brass used Bullets Primers Powder Total
$8.38 $6.50 $1.75 $2.66 $19.29
$7.50 $6.50 $1.75 $2.66 $18.41
recycled brass $6.50 $1.75 $2.66 $10.91
Even though this is just an example, you can see that even when buying new brass you can match or beat retail prices on both calibers. Once you have good brass to reload, your savings increase dramatically.
Of course I did not include the cost of the reloading tools, the boxes to hold your reloaded ammo and other ancillary costs, but this is a hobby and all hobbies have associated equipment costs.
Here are the links to the products mentioned in this post. They are all great companies to do business with.
Alliant Powders: http://www.alliantpowder.com/default.aspx
Xtreme Plated Bullets: http://www.xtremebullets.com/
Starline Brass: http://www.starlinebrass.com/
CCI Primers: http://www.cci-ammunition.com/products/primers/