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Should We Employ Our Own Kids? (and How Much to Pay Them)

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My Brother Wax Mannequin, training the next generation of workforce last summer.

Way back in 2015, I had a nine year old boy. Even back then, I could see him showing some early flashes of adulthood and maturity, and it got me wondering about his future as it relates to money and freedom.

So I wrote a post called What I’m Teaching My Son About Money, which shared some ideas about how we can raise our next generation of kids to be happy masters of money rather than the stressed-out slaves that most people (even those with high incomes) are today. And now, four years later, some of my predictions and questions from that article are starting to come true, and I’m wondering what to do about it.

To me, the biggest question is this:

Where is the balance between giving your kids a helpful boost, and “helping” them so much that you distort their view of the world and create a generation of Whining Complainypants Adults?

Opinions on this subject can vary widely, and in fact even you and I might have rather different views. But hopefully we can at least agree that the whole thing sits on a spectrum, and that even that spectrum itself is slippery because every child and every upbringing is unique.

So let’s get onto the same page with an attractive and scientific-looking diagram.

Almost any parent would agree that the left side of the spectrum is a bad place for kids to be born. Because it affects not just their childhoods, but their entire lives. So we strive to provide a life that is further to the right, keeping our kids fueled with food, love, and opportunities.

But as with all human pursuits, we have a tendency to go too far and get into the “Too Easy” end of the spectrum. We may be smothering our kids with too much “help”, or perhaps compensating for being so busy with our fancypants careers that we don’t have much time to spend with them.

While this all feels like common sense, there’s also some biology behind it. Babies and young kids who experience a harsh environment during this critical part of development will tend to grow up more optimized for survival and street smarts, with lower levels of trust and a harder time blending in with a peaceful society*.

And on the more fortunate side of the divide, children raised in peace and security will optimize more for “book smarts” intelligence as well as being more trusting and less prone to violence. The entire apparatus of our brain will end up wired differently, based on the experiences we have in early childhood.

The problem for wealthy people is that the human brain is not wired to stop at “enough”, because enough has not been a big part of our shared history.

So we tend to overdo it when creating a comfortable life for our own kids, often justifying it with this exact sentence:

“We work hard, so we can give our kids some of the opportunities and the nice things that we didn’t have in our own childhood.”

It sounds noble and honorable on the surface, but be careful, because we can ratchet that same justification up far beyond any reasonable lifestyles without realizing we are just stoking our own egos or compensating for our own fears (and perhaps battling our peers/competitors in the Who’s-the-Best-Parent Competition on Facebook).

And then these kids respond by developing in a different way that can have its own downsides. Not understanding what it means to be poor. A lack of life’s most valuable skill – the skill of efficiency, optimization and reducing waste. And even a lack of life satisfaction and balance in later adulthood, because of a focus on easy consumption rather than the joy of creation.

So with such a slippery slope and those two pointy arrowheads to navigate, what’s the ideal strategy for us parents?

I don’t have all the answers, but one idea I have been interested in for years seems to have a lot of advantages: Hiring your children to work in your own small business.

Just think about it. You get to do all of these things and more:

  • help your kids earn their own money
  • teach them the value of hard work
  • have more excuses to spend time together solving problems – maybe even as they grow into adults
  • potentially cut the family’s total tax bill by transferring income from the high tax bracket of the parents, to the low (or zero) bracket of the kids.

Of course, there are also a few traps to watch out for in running a family business:

  • the job you give them might be better (or worse) than what they could get elsewhere, leading to a distorted view of what it really means to work for a living
  • if you don’t get along particularly well, tying your fates together even closer in a company will magnify any problems in your relationship
  • your kids might miss out on other, broader life experiences they could have had out there in the real world (like my own formative jobs in the gas stations and convenience stores of my small town, which are still the source of stories and laughs to this day.)

Still, the potential benefits clearly outweigh the risks to me, so the idea remains an exciting one in my mind.

Little MM and the Budding YouTube Project

I have been dabbling with this with my own son for several years – he helped me with the arduous task of mailing out over 1200 MMM T-shirts a few years ago and occasionally helps his mother in her soap production enterprises. His earnings have typically been on a per-shirt or per-soap basis

But things really took a step up this past January when he talked me into dusting off the neglected MMM YouTube Channel and actually starting to produce some shows together. Because we started with the good luck of a partially established audience and we have put some real effort into it (13 episodes over these first six months), it has taken off a little bit and we now have over 27,000 subscribers and the channel has earned about $1600 in YouTube ad revenue so far.

As a fun incentive, I offered at the beginning to pay him a flat (low) fee for editing and producing each episode, then split the income from this venture equally beyond that. So now, the little dude has made $800 on top of his base fees for the work.

If this continues, it could grow into a real income, which is quite exciting but also brings up some interesting tax questions. After all, right now he is a dependent for tax purposes, which means at least one of his parents get a tax deduction for raising him. But if he earns his own money, he might rise out of this dependence and even start owing taxes on his own. So is it worth it?

Hey, Let’s Ask my Accountant!

Outsourcing my taxes to someone younger and more enthusiastic about it than me has worked wonders.

To get better advice, I decided to run this by my own business and personal tax accountant, Chris Care who runs his own firm called Care CPA. We talked over the ideas of family businesses and employing a child in greater detail.

In summary, the results are better than I expected, which explains why people are so keen to hire their children.

Here’s my brief Q&A with him. Thanks for your help Chris!

MMM – So the first question is, what are the basic rules about employing one’s own child in a family business. My first instinct is that it sounds smart, because you are shifting income from parents in a potentially high tax bracket, to kids in a low tax bracket. So overall as a family, your tax bill falls.

But Is it a good idea? How old do they have to be? Any things to watch out for?

Chris Care: The biggest thing to watch out for is making sure the children are old enough to actually work. A lot of business owners want to pay their 1-year-old $15,000 a year for “modeling” by putting their picture on the company website. To me, this is a stretch.

You also want to make sure you’re paying them in accordance with the tasks they’re doing. If they are 12 years old and filing paperwork for you, or cleaning your office, or other administrative tasks, you probably can’t justify paying them $50 an hour. You should make sure there is a clear job description, and keep an accurate record of the number of hours worked and the tasks performed, just like any other employee does at their job

MMM –  What is the current child tax credit amount, and how would it phase out if he started making his own money? And does this scale up and down with the parents income as well?

Chris Care – Currently, the child tax credit is up to $2,000 per child, with up to $1,400 being refundable if the credit exceeds your tax amount.

In general, as long as you can claim the child as a dependent, and your income is below $400k if married filing jointly ($200k otherwise), you can claim the child tax credit no matter how much money your child makes. Above this income, the child tax credit phases out, but it is still not related to the child’s own income.

MMM –  Oh wow, I didn’t realize that. And at what level would he need to start incurring his own income taxes? And as an employer, would I be on the hook for stuff like quarterly tax payments, unemployment insurance, worker compensation, and so on? Could he be more like a contractor and avoid these complexities?

Chris Care – It’s unlikely you could classify your own son as a contractor. The IRS used to have a 20-factor test, but recently they have been narrowing and cracking down on this issue – more details here: Behavior, Financial, and Type of Relationship

Aside from that, you’d have to handle things in the standard employee way:

  •  tax withholding from every paycheck, submitted to the government as part of a standard payroll process. (MMM Note – even I have to do this as an employee of my own LLC, I use a provider called ADP and am evaluating a newer one called Gusto).
  • quarterly payroll taxes for social security and medicare
  • State unemployment insurance if applicable in your state
  • FUTA (A form of Federal Unemployment Tax)

Just like any other taxpayer, the child will need to file a federal tax return if their earned income is above the standard deduction ($12,000 for 2018, and $12,200 for 2019). Note that state filing thresholds are often much lower than federal thresholds – check with your own accountant!

MMM –  If a kid is living at home with no expenses, he might be wise to put as much of this into retirement accounts and otherwise defer taxes. If my company offered an employee 401k plan, could he put away the full $19,000 per year, or is there an even better option? Maybe his own tax-deferred college savings plan?

Chris Care – As with any other employee, the child can participate in the company’s retirement plan, as long as the plan is written to allow minors to participate. The contribution limits will depend on the type of retirement plan. In your example of a 401k, the child could defer the full employee amount ($19,000 in 2019) as long as wages were at least that amount. He would also get the employer match if your company established one.

College savings plans are an option, though whether or not he can open his own would be a question for your specific provider. Financial service firms tend to get a little hesitant opening accounts for minors. You could always open one, and he could contribute to it.

MMM Summary: Wow, this is much better than I had even hoped. In rough terms terms, it sounds like if I can pay my son $30k from my company’s income, I might save about $10k in marginal income taxes, while his resulting tax bill would be quite minimal.

Thus, it makes sense for me to start paying him as a real employee, rather than just paying all the taxes at my own marginal rate and keeping it in our own family spreadsheet, as I do now. 

Chris Care – Yes, there are some good opportunities for tax optimization by hiring kids.

In general, if you can justifiably pay your child a wage from the family business, it is an excellent way to lower the family’s tax burden, and give them a massive boost in retirement savings (since 401k contributions add up way faster than IRA contributions).

Also, by owning the business, you can administer your own 401k plan – which means you don’t have to wonder if your employer’s plan will allow for a mega backdoor Roth, since you can design it that way! Just keep in mind, that 401k plan is for all employees, so any attributes you establish for family members would also be there for non-family members that you may hire.

Another optimization: if you were a sole proprietorship, or a partnership where both partners are parents of the child being employed, the child’s wages would not even be subject to SS/Medicare taxes.

This means you could pay them the $12,000 standard deduction plus $19,000 401k deferral, with zero income tax, zero SS/Medicare taxes, and zero Federal Unemployment tax. They may still be subject to state income tax and state unemployment tax, but those would be relatively minor.

You can essentially shove $31k into a zero tax situation, from potentially a ~35% situation.
This means it may be worth operating the youtube channel as a separate company, and employing your son as a real employee…

MMM – hmmm, lots to consider! For now, YouTube is still only a few hundred bucks per month so we are not there yet. But it sounds like little MM’s future is bright, as long as he remains motivated to work hard and be creative and keep producing.

Which is a good general philosophy for any of us: keep some good hard work as part of every day, whether you’re ten or one hundred years old. Doing good work and producing good things tends to lead to a good life.


A Few More Thoughts and Disclaimers from Mr. Care:

  • In all of these answers, I have assumed the child is a true employee, where he receives a regular paycheck and a W-2 at the end of the year, and the company is a C Corp or S Corp.
  • As with all tax planning, tax credits, and personal situations, there are exceptions and limitations. So we’ve made some broad assumptions to answer these questions. For me to post an exhaustive list of these would take an entire blog post of its own. Always check with your tax professional, or make sure you understand the IRS guidance.
  • generational wealth / inequality / dynasties / buffett
  • effective altruism

A Final Thought from MMM:

If all this sounds like wishful thinking to you because you don’t own your own business yet, I strongly encourage to start one! For the great majority of early retirees, having a small entrepreneurial pursuit is both a reassuring security blanket and a fascinating and fun way to explore life after the cubicles and commuting stage is over. The Joy Of Self Employment.


* This one of many interesting and sometimes untintuitive insights I got into Human nature when reading the rather excellent book Sapiens.

 



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Finance

5 Legal Documents You Need During a Pandemic

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As Americans grapple with how to stay physically and financially healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s critical to make sure you and your family have the right emergency documents. It’s much easier to prepare for a potential disaster than to recover from one that blind-sides you. After a tragedy occurs, it may be too late to make critical decisions.

Let’s talk about the different emergency documents and why you may need to create or update existing paperwork. If you get COVID-19 or have another unexpected illness or accident, these documents will help you manage your finances and make essential decisions with more clarity and less stress.   

5 emergency and legal documents to have during a pandemic

Instead of being caught off guard during a difficult time, consider if you should have these five legal documents.

1. Last will and testament

The purpose of a will is to communicate your final wishes after you die. Too many people don’t have one of these incredibly important documents because they mistakenly believe it’s something just for old rich people.

The fact is, every adult should have a will. If you die without one, the courts decide what happens to your possessions, not your family.

The fact is, every adult should have a will. If you die without one, the courts decide what happens to your possessions, not your family.

And once you have a will, don’t forget to update it periodically to make sure it addresses all your wishes, assets, and beneficiaries. Critical life events—such as getting married, divorced, having a child, or losing a spouse or partner—should trigger you to update your will.

If you’re starting from scratch, make an inventory of your assets—like bank accounts, investments, real estate, vehicles, expensive belongings, and sentimental possessions—and decide what you want to happen to them. You can list beneficiaries for specific items, like who gets a piece of heirloom jewelry or an artwork collection. You can also create distribution percentages, such as 50 percent of the value of your assets go to your partner and 50 percent to your only child.

In addition to dealing with your possessions, a will allows you to name a guardian for your minor children.

In addition to dealing with your possessions, a will allows you to name a guardian for your minor children. And don’t forget to leave instructions for what you want to happen to your pets, digital assets, intellectual property, and business assets. You can create a plan for your funeral, such as where you want to be buried and whether you want your organs donated.

Someone must carry out…

Keep reading on Quick and Dirty Tips



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Car Rental sends me an invoice after a settled charge dispute

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TLDR; Made non-refundable car reservation before pandemic. Cancelled vacation plans after pandemic announced. Filed a charge dispute and won. Received an invoice from the car rental company for the disputed amount one month later.

Location: USA

Before the pandemic hit, I had made a 5-day car rental reservation (prepayment, non-refundable) in early 2020 for a May 17, 2020 vacation. On April 6, I request a refund due to the coronavirus situation impacting my travel plans. They replied saying there is nothing they can do currently and told me to email again within 30 days of the pickup date. In May, the destination where I was to pick up the car required a mandatory 14-day quarantine for all visitors to the state. I could not accommodate for this unexpected additional 14 days so I cancelled my vacation plans altogether. I decided to request a refund again on April 23 due to the unforeseen circumstances as my trip would be severely impacted by the extra 14 days.

The car rental company agreed to issue a partial refund ($100) and the remainder as a one-year voucher (less than $200). I received the partial refund the next day on April 24 but not the voucher. I followed up with an email on April 27 and May 2 with no response. I assumed they were not going to follow through so I decided to dispute the charge with my credit card company for the remainder amount on May 5 (12 days before the pickup date). Later that same day, I received an email from the car rental company with the voucher. Given the situation I had my doubts that I'll even be able to use the voucher by its one-year expiration date due to the ongoing pandemic, but whatever. Anyways, I figured they sent me the voucher before they had knowledge that I filed a charge dispute, so I assumed they'd either cancel/invalidate the voucher once they found out or they'd dispute the chargeback and win. Either outcome would've been fine with me at the time.

Despite this, my credit card company awards the dispute in my favor and closes the case on June 10. With this decision, I automatically assumed that the voucher would've been cancelled/invalidated (I actually don't know whether the voucher is still valid or not). Today I received a notice from the car rental company dated June 24 stating I have an invoice due on my account in the amount of the voucher (less than $200).

So now I have a few questions:

  1. I don't mind paying the invoice but I'd rather not if I don't have to. How legal is it for them to send me an invoice after the investigation and case was already decided? Why wouldn't the car rental company just have disputed the chargeback in the first place during the open investigation from May 5 – June 10? Why send me an invoice after the fact? If they'd had disputed the chargeback, they would've won the case, no?
  2. Since I was awarded the dispute, can I just have the car rental company cancel the voucher and waive the invoice? I don't have any intentions of using the voucher by its May 2021 expiration anyway.
  3. When I originally made the reservation (prior to pandemic), I was expecting a certain product/service. Obviously now that product/service has been negatively impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, I no longer feel like I can get the same product/service. Despite the car rental company's "non-refundable" policy, do I have any consumer rights/protections?
  4. Do I have any other options?

I feel like I went through the proper and necessary channels to find a resolution (but I could be wrong), so I was quite surprised when I received this invoice. Any help or clarification on the situation would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!

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Is it cheaper to buy eggs or raise chickens?

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Hello! Today, I have a great article to share about raising backyard chickens for eggs, and how much it will cost you to raise chickens. I have several different family members who raise chickens for eggs, so I am familiar with the topic. When Chris approached me with the guest post idea, I had to say yes because I thought it would be interesting to learn more about the money side of it. Enjoy!

Like many, I didn’t decide to start raising chickens with a spreadsheet in front of me.

I had just returned from visiting my parents’ new retirement project, a hobby farm in northern Vermont that was bustling with chickens and ducks and all sorts of wonderful, useful livestock I had never considered keeping for myself until that moment.

After all, I grew up in the suburbs, full of cats, dogs, and the snake the “weird kid” in middle school loved to talk about, and the only “livestock” were the cows that were shipped in every summer to picturesquely dot the fields behind the local ice cream place – carefully kept too far away from customers to smell.

I was thinking about delicious, farm-fresh eggs; endless access to high-quality fertilizer and pest controls; taking control of where my food came from and developing a healthier, organic diet; and of course, just the joys of animal ownership.

Waking up to the delightful chattering of chickens in the yard, getting to hang out with feathery friends on the weekend – spending time with the animals we love can be so intoxicating, you can read more about my story here.

However, starting a chicken coop is an economic venture, even for chicken owners who don’t intend to make a profit off of their eggs.

For a chicken coop to be sustainable, owners have to take into account all of their costs – from starting costs like building a coop and buying chicks, to the regular maintenance costs of feed and supplements, to the unexpected expenses like repairs and vet bills – to figure out how much they’ll need to plan to spend every year on keeping their animals happy and healthy.

Related content: How Elizabeth Reached Financial Independence by 32 And Moved To A Homestead

 

Here is a picture of my chickens.

Start-Up Costs Of Raising Chickens For Eggs

The costs and logistics of starting your first chicken coop can be daunting, and this is the point where a lot of people who had romantic ideas of homesteading with a few picturesque white chickens beside the red wheelbarrow in the garden give up.

I know I almost quit after I spent more than an hour on the town website, looking for a simple list of the steps I needed to take to keep chickens in my backyard –

  • Was there paperwork?
  • What about noise regulations?
  • Did I need a permit?

-and ended up wading through 100-page food regulations, months’ worth of senior center lunch menus, and Board of Health meeting minutes, only to finally show up to the town hall to ask in person and find out there were no paperwork requirements.

That saved cost on my part, because there were no filing fees in order to get a permit, but every locality is different. And every prospective chicken owner should do their own research on their town or district’s regulations before moving ahead with their planning.

The most obvious start-up cost in chicken keeping is, of course, the cost of the chickens themselves. This can vary, depending on what kind of chickens you get and how old they are.

On paper, the cheapest option might seem to be to buy eggs and hatch them yourself. For common breeds like the Rhode Island Red or Plymouth Rock, hatching eggs can cost less than $5 each. However, you should know that chicken eggs do not have a 100 percent hatch rate – for a shipment of eggs, the hatch rate actually averages around 50 percent.

Additionally, hatching eggs can be difficult, and comes with extra costs, most notably an incubator for the eggs, which usually run about $100, plus all the extra equipment needed to raise chicks, which can be another $100.

On the plus side, as kindergarten classes around the country learn every spring, watching eggs hatch and caring for adorable baby chicks can be one of the most exciting and rewarding experiences in the chicken-keeping world.

In total, starting a flock of five hens from eggs will probably run you about $250.

On the other hand, one of the most common ways to start a flock is to bypass eggs entirely and buy live chicks.

This has several advantages over hatching eggs, including saving incubator costs and having to pay for eggs that ultimately won’t hatch.

As with eggs, chick costs vary depending on the breed, but common breeds average about $5 per chick, unless you want a purebred or particularly exotic bird, in which case each chick can cost up to $100!

However, raising chicks will also require additional costs in purchasing the equipment necessary to replace their mothers – things like a brood box to keep them warm while they grow their feathers and prevent them from running off and a specialized chick feeder, which will need to be replaced with a traditional feeder as they get older.

Most of those expenses will add up to about $100 – although the handier amongst us can try to save costs by building their own brooder box, for example.

There are also still the costs of setting them up to thrive as adults, which we’ll get to in just a minute. Just getting set up for the chicks, though, will come out to about $125.

The other option when starting a flock is to acquire adult chickens – either pullets, young adults around 4-16 weeks old, which run around $25 a bird, or rescue hens, fully grown adults who have been “spent” in the industrial poultry world, but will still produce good eggs regularly enough for backyard purposes.

For folks who really want to bond with their chickens and have them be pets as well as livestock, adults probably aren’t the way to go, as chicks that have bonded with you from the beginning will be much friendlier and more trusting than older birds. The main advantage to starting with pullets is the cost savings, since you’ll only have to outfit them once, with the same coop, feeder, and other supplies that they’ll use their whole lives.

 

How much does a chicken coop cost?

Coop costs is the big expense many prospective chicken owners worry about the most, and they’re not wrong to do so – it’s going to be your biggest expense!

And it should be, because having a sturdy, healthy place to live is crucial to your birds’ overall health and well-being.

Trying to cut costs on the coop, by going smaller than you need or buying second-hand, will almost always end up costing you more in the long run, either in medical care or replacement costs for sick birds or in finally ponying up for the more expensive coop you should have gotten in the first place.

While local regulations vary, the rule of thumb for coop size is four square feet per bird if they have an attached run or free range, and 10 square feet per bird if they don’t, which is enough space to allow them to be comfortable, exercise, and gives them enough fresh air to prevent respiratory illnesses, assuming the coop is well-ventilated.

For our hypothetical five-bird starter flock, that’s a 20 square foot coop, five feet by four, plus a run.

This is another area where you can cut costs by building your own, and there are lots of do-it-yourself chicken coop guides and blueprints available online. Just make sure the material you’re using is chicken-friendly and non-toxic, as well as being sturdy enough to last through years of chicken poop and bad weather.

For those who aren’t thrilled about their next home carpentry project, ready-made coops or some assembly required coop kits are easy to find and easy to build.

Small wooden coops start at about $160, though some will tell you you’ll have to spend more if you want to get a really high-quality one, while a plastic coop will usually run about $700.

Which one will work better for you and your flock will depend on a number of factors, but both materials have their devotees. Plastic coops are easier to clean and dry much faster, which will be a huge boon to anyone raising chickens in an area with harsh winters.

As a New Englander, this was a big consideration for me when choosing my first coop. I ultimately went with wood, though, because wooden coops come in a much wider variety of designs and are much easier to repair – another consideration in a region prone to nasty blizzards.

As for run costs, here again you can build your own – which usually costs about $1 per meter – or buy a kit for about $150.

You might also be able to roll your run costs into your coop costs by buying one of the many coops with a run attachment included. As for size, you’ll want to plan for approximately 15 square feet per chicken, though this can vary by breed. As an example, bantam chickens usually need less space than their larger cousins, so they’re absolutely an option to look into if you’re strapped for space in your backyard.

A 15 square foot requirement, though, means our starter flock of five will need 75 square feet total, maybe 7.5 by 10 feet, which is only about $11 worth of fencing. All of this brings our coop and run costs anywhere from $171 to $850.

Unfortunately, we aren’t done with start-up costs yet, as we also need to outfit our chicken coop, with things like a feeder, a waterer, perches, and nesting boxes. Luckily, our five-hen flock will only need one feeder and one waterer, though costs can vary widely depending on what kind you decide is best for your flock.

Owners planning for bigger flocks should aim to have one feeder and one waterer for every eight birds. Waterers can be plastic or metal, with metal being the more durable but also more expensive option of the two. Depending on material and size, a waterer will usually run between $6-$30.   

For feeders, chicken owners have more choices. A wall-mounted feeder can cost as little as $3, and hanging feeders are only slightly more expensive at $7. Trough feeders, which are ideal for chicks and smaller bantam birds, average $15, so whichever one you go with, it’s unlikely your feeder cost will break the bank.

Nesting boxes and perches are also relatively inexpensive; many will often come with the coop. If your coop doesn’t come with nesting boxes, you can get your own for about $10 a pop for the most basic model, which is likely all you need. You’ll want to plan for one nesting box for every three hens. The cost for perches, on the other hand, is essentially just the cost of a 2×4 and a handful of nails at your local hardware store – probably about $5. You’ll want a long enough perch for each of your hens to get about 10 inches of space.

So, when all is said and done, where does that leave the total cost for setting up a flock of five hens?

  • $125-250 for chickens and the equipment to raise them to adulthood
  • $171-850 for a coop and a run
  • $34-70 to outfit the coop

For a grand total of between $330 and $1,170. Ouch.

 

Maintenance Costs Of Raising Chickens For Eggs

Of course, we’re just getting started on our expenses.

Now that you have your chickens, you still need to buy feed, supplements, bedding, and other crucial supplies for your birds. These are recurring expenses, so what seem like small savings on one bag of feed or bale of hay will add up in the long run.

For feed, there’s no need to get caught up in the many, many different types of feed you might see on the shelves – for the most part, your small backyard flock of layers will only need a basic layer feed once they reach adulthood, which usually runs about $15-25 per 50 pound bag.

A good starter rate is to feed six ounces of feed per chicken per day, which means that 50-pound bag will last our hypothetical five hens a little less than a month. Those raising their flocks from eggs or chicks will have to feed them on starter feed or starter crumbles to make sure they get enough protein and don’t overdose on calcium, transitioning to layer feed at around 18 weeks old.

Chickens also need several supplements in their diets, the most important of these being calcium carbonate and insoluble grit. Calcium carbonate helps laying chickens get the calcium they need to put strong, healthy shells on their eggs; it can be introduced to their diet through ground up oyster shells, which usually cost about $3 for a month’s supply. Insoluble grit helps the birds digest their food, basically serving the same purpose as teeth do for people, and costs about $15 a bag.

Free range chickens will need less grit than their confined counterparts, because they pick it up while foraging, but they should still have grit available to them to supplement that.

Another potential maintenance cost is bedding. Here again, chicken owners have a lot of different options, including some that can be basically free, like wood shavings or shredded newspapers. The classic straw is also an option, as are hemp and sand. All of these beddings have their potential upsides and downsides, and chicken owners may have to experiment a bit before they find an option that makes both their chickens and their bottom lines happy. A good number to expect for your bedding costs would be about $5 a month.

Other chicken maintenance costs are harder to quantify – how much they’ll add to your water and electricity bills, for example, or time and labor costs.

You might also run up against unexpected one-time expenses, like vet bills or repairs to your coop or your run. These things can be difficult to plan for, so make sure to keep a cushion in your chicken budget so you can comfortably cover any surprises that might come up.

Based on these numbers, though, our hypothetical starter flock of five hens will cost about $45 a month in maintenance and upkeep, for a yearly total of about $516.

 

Are backyard chickens worth it?

Of course, keeping chickens isn’t all about the bottom line.

It’s almost impossible to put a monetary value on most of the benefits we reap from our feathery friends, including the joys of their company and the myriad mental and physical health benefits of keeping a backyard barnyard.

For my part, watching my five-year-old niece absolutely glow when she finally got a hen to hop into her lap after months of trying was worth, conservatively, about $1 million in oyster shells and layer feed.

And many others have written more eloquently than I about the joys and sorrows of chicken keeping.

Suffice it to say that a single number cannot possibly sum up all the costs and benefits of chicken keeping.

For those obsessed with the numbers, though, we can come up with a rough per-egg cost of keeping hens. Your average hen produces about 200 eggs per year, though, again, this varies widely by breed and also depends on the health and age of your chickens. That means our five-hen flock will produce about 1000 eggs per year, for a first-year cost of between 84 cents and $1.69 per egg.

Every year after that, though, will yield a per egg cost of about 52 cents. I don’t know about you, but I think it’s worth it. 

Author bio: Chris Lesley has been Raising Chickens for over 20 years and today keeps 11 chickens. She can remember being a young child when her grandad first taught her how to hold and care for chickens. She also holds a certificate in Animal Behavior and Welfare and are interested in backyard chicken health and care. Her work has been shared on HuffPost, Mother Nature Network, Community Chickens, Mother Earth News and many more outlets. You can find Chris at Chickens and More.

Are you interested in raising backyard chickens for eggs? Have you ever thought about the money side of it all?

The post Is it cheaper to buy eggs or raise chickens? appeared first on Making Sense Of Cents.



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