Although manufacturer competition has been lowering pricing on airsoft guns and accessories, most of us still do not have paychecks (or allowances) that allow us to buy these items as easily as we would like to. Competitively-priced AEGs are still beyond the reach of many stretched budgets, and on top of our troubles, many airsoft retailers overprice their most obscure parts and accessories and have considerable profit-margins for every item. The good news is that you can apply your power as a consumer to most of these difficult circumstances. This simple guide will hopefully provide you with small hints that are within your power to save big bucks.
Our first helpful suggestion involves a smaller scale of the airsoft industry: our supplies and maintenance costs. Let us compare the standard airsoft canister of silicon spray to the conventional silicon spray available at Home Depot, Lowes, hobby shops, auto and hardware stores. The conventional cans can come in ญญญญญญญญญญ11 oz at $2; airsoft retailers' canisters are $9 at 6.8 oz (200ml). That is 450% times the price of conventional cans for 38% less than the conventional can! A sizeable amount of money can be saved by avoiding airsoft retailers to buy household items. A vast majority of airsoft supplies are available at hardware and auto stores for a fraction of the price while boasting more of the amount of substance or material. Some maintenance items may even be in your own home, such as dishwashing solutions or mineral spirits. This is our first way to save money: buy as much maintenance supplies for your airsoft hobby as you can from local hardware and auto stores for a significantly better value. Remember to research your product selections. Certain chemicals may damage your gun and the effort to save a few dollars would be in vain after paying for repair parts. Silicone sprays, white lithium greases, cleaning solvents, and more can be found at your local hardware and auto stores, and some may already exist in your own home. There is no need to spend more to buy common items at an airsoft retailer.
Supplies are not the only place to save money. Have you ever stripped a screw, lost a tiny spring, or more commonly, lost that miniscule hop-up spacer that almost every airsofter player has misplaced in their career? Here again, airsofter retailers will lure you into buying replacement parts for these mishaps. The logic in this is simple: why spend $20 for a new magazine catch to replace a stripped screw when you can find a bag of replacement screws for mere cents? Your local hobby and hardware store will have many odd ends and bits that you can either improvise or swap out for damaged parts. For example, the commonly lost hop-up spacer is sold for $2 at evike.com or is available with the purchase of an $8 Guarder hop-up sleeve. How can we save money in this case? Buy a penny's worth wire insulation at 1/16 inch, cut the insulation to fit, and voila! Instant new hop-up spacer. This shows us our second method for saving money: use household items to improvise into your damaged gun instead of purchasing a whole new part. A considerable amount of cash can be saved by using your head and opening up that old garage drawer. The job may not be a perfect one, but it is certainly a better alternative to special ordering a screw or spring. Remember, this doesn't apply to actual internal upgrade parts for a gun; for upgrades, buy the real-deal part from a retailer. Some improvisations are beyond our skills, and making your own cylinder head or piston is quite hard!
Quality versus Cost
The most obvious of all money-saving tips is to buy from the cheapest retailers possible. Take the time to research and find the lowest price. Buying from Amazon.com or ignorantly typing in airsoft.com is not likely to give you great pricing. Amazon does not offer a wide price range and product availability is very limited. It is best to buy from the retailer source and find where most people buy their items. The more reputable the retailer, the more likely it will have more competitive pricing. However, take heed: there comes a point where saving money crosses into the realm of trickery and scams. Trickery could be the added "handling" fee applied to an unusually cheap item. A scam could be the shipment of a fake gun at normal pricing. As such, one must take caution when hunting for the best bargain. Balance quality and your wallet; you can save an incredible amount of money, but be sure you know exactly what you're buying and how much you will pay.
Ammunition is the staple of any good arsenal. This is the one place you should expect to shell out money. If you cannot afford the few dollars for the ammunition you need for this sport, then perhaps this sport may be over your head. However, if you buy the cheapest ammunition possible, then you will run into quality versus cost issues. There is no good value in a deformed, dimpled BB that costs half of a normal brand. Nor is there good value in a BB that offers the same performance and has similar characteristics to another brand but is twice as expensive. BBs are not terribly expensive; they run anywhere from single-digit figures to low teens (for normal plastic BBs of various masses) for various amounts. Here, we can apply a simple theory of economics: individual parcels are priced higher than multiple parcels. BBs should, when possible, be purchased in bulk. Although the initial cost is higher, the cost savings in the long run is significant. Allow us to use AirsoftGI's PHX Precision .28 BBs as an example. Their cost of one bag of 4000 BBs is $16. However, they have available a 3 bag combination of 12,000 rounds in total for $42. $42 is $26 more expensive than the single bag, but once the bag is used, we must purchase another, and another, and another. By the time we have purchased 3 single bags, we have spent $48 plus shipping for each individual bag. Had we chosen the 3 bag combination, we would have saved $6, plus shipping costs for multiple trips.
Everything must come with a price, and shipping is definitely no exception. Many airsoft retailers now offer free shipping for orders above a certain cost. However, this cost is usually quite high at $100 and above. If one is buying various parts and upgrades, they may find that some retailers have a certain item, but do not have another. Or maybe one retailer has one certain price on a part, but another has a much higher price for the same part. As an amateur airsmith, I usually run into this problem when doing a complete internal overhaul for someone's badly-treated gun. We must keep in mind that if the needed parts and accessories are scattered across various retailers, then we must factor in shipping cost. In some cases, it may be cheaper to buy all the parts from one place and save on shipping. Maybe it is cheaper to order from two places, maybe three. Take the time to get shipping quotes and final price calculations, and then compare them to different options when ordering.
Also, take advantage of free shipping opportunities when possible. One scenario might have an order for various items, all at slightly higher prices than another retailer, but the final shipping cost is free, and when compared to the "cheaper" retailer, you could find that the shipping cost of the cheaper retailer would have surpassed the final cost of the former retailer. Different scenarios call for different strategies, so take the extra 5 minutes to calculate cost; it can save big bucks on shipping. Cheaper prices do not always say cheap costs.
Upgrades and Labor Costs
Airsoft is more than just the externals of a gun; airsoft revolves just as much around the internals of an airsoft gun. Part of the fun in owning an airsoft gun is to watch it perform better and better as we add higher quality parts to it. This is another opportunity where airsoft retailers try to rake in more from your wallet. If you want your gun upgraded, then you have two choices: do it yourself, or pay for a retailer to do it for you. In my personal opinion (which is perfectly debatable in this forum), tinkering with the internals is just as much fun as shooting the gun or examining the quality of the externals. Why let a retailer have all the fun and your money? The fees to upgrade on airsoft gun vary, but in all cases, it is cheaper to do the labor yourself for free than pay a retailer to do it for you.
Numerous resources can guide you to do the same, if not better, quality work as a retailer. In fact, here at ASF, we will answer any question you have if you take it upon yourself to do your own upgrade and maintenance work. You will save yourself a considerable amount by avoiding costly labor charges. The time spent to arrange the work, pack and ship your gun (which you would have to pay for), and receive it is usually lengthier than a home job. Doing your own repairs and maintenance work will save you labor fees, shipping fees, and time, and will allow you to enjoy airsoft's mechanical workings.
Finally, far own judgment may be to blame for your monetary troubles. We all are airsoft enthusiasts, but sometimes we take that too far. Buying every accessory, every flashy item, and every "authentic" piece of gear that hits the market is not a smart financial decision. The whole fun of airsoft is to re-create firearms that appeal to us and to have fun with them, but when you're on a budget, it is not wise to consider a $1000 conversion kit for that M1A1, or a $100 authentic belt used in the Gulf War, or $500 for night vision goggles. Be an enthusiast, but do not be a compulsive spender. You can still have fun with airsoft without paying ridiculous prices for every new accessory that becomes available.
Selling and Trading
If you become as avid about airsoft as many members here at ASF, then you quickly will be exposed to the world of selling and trading airsoft items. Like any sale of used items, airsoft guns will depreciate in value as time progresses, no matter the condition. This is a tricky situation, because if you are looking to sell your gun, you will only receive a partial amount from its original asset value. Besides the option of selling, you can trade your gun for another. This option usually involves an exchange of original asset values which are compared against each other, item against item. The potential savings for this lies in the fact that original asset values are calculated and used, not re-sale values. In this way, each purchase you make acts as an investment for the future. By trading for desirable items, you do not lose money through each transaction.
Airsoft is not cheap, but it does not have to be expensive. You should be prepared to pay hefty prices for quality in this sport, but you can buffer the costs by making good decisions as a consumer on what you buy and where you buy.
You may or may not have noticed that I chose not to include a statement about the recent introduction of mid-priced AEGs to the market. I purposely did so because I am not as knowledgeable about the cheaper variants to offer definitive advice. I will add, however, that through my own observations in this forum, I have noticed far more quality control issues with lower-priced brands. These MPEGs are an excellent alternative to the higher priced AEGs, but their lack of quality control with manufacturing is enough to deter me from their cheaper prices. I always say that it is better to have one good gun than 3 broken ones, even if you posses the skills to correct the mistakes made by these companies.
With the exclusion of the MPEGs, I believe that following this guide may save you significant sums of money. Each of these points will save you some dollars here, ten dollars there, a dollar or two here, but when added together, your total savings will astound you. Over time, this amount greatens even more. Of course there will be exceptions to each of these pieces of advice, but generally, these pointers will help keep your spirit high in airsoft, with a slightly larger wallet.
This is open to criticism, suggestions, debate, and opinions!
Edited by New Guy on the Block, 09 December 2007 - 12:06 PM.