Owning a McDonald’s Franchise: Purchase Cost vs. Annual Profit

mcfranchise_logoDespite their negative media attention, the McDonald’s franchise that I drive past every day is packed all the time. I rarely eat there (especially since my diet bet), but I used to think to myself that if I were going to buy a franchise, I’d buy a McDonald’s. My impression was always that McDonald’s were always pretty clean with consistent food (even if you consider it consistently unhealthy), while Burger King’s were often dirty with inconsistent food.

A common knock against purchasing a franchise is that you are “buying a job”. A recent Businessweek article broke down the gross sales, gross profits, and net profits of the average McDonald’s franchise in the US. I found the numbers very interesting:


Average annual profit per franchise: $150,000 a year, roughly. Okay, but how much does this franchise cost? From the official McDonald’s franchise website:

Initial Costs
$45,000 Initial Fee paid to McDonald’s

Equipment and Pre-Opening Costs
Typically these costs range from $944,352 to $2,172,045. The size of the restaurant facility, area of the country, pre-opening expenses, inventory, selection of kitchen equipment, signage, and style of decor and landscaping will affect new restaurant costs. These costs are paid to suppliers.

Average cost of new franchise: At least $1 million roughly, with a minimum of $500,000 in cash and non-borrowed resources. Other sources state $750,000 minimum in liquid assets. You must be able to cover 40% of the costs of a new franchise location. You must be able to pay cash for at least 25% of the cost of an existing franchise, with the rest financed over at most 7 years.

Average hours of work per week as an owner/operator? I could not find reliable statistics, but here is an excerpt from a Reddit AMA from a businessperson from New Zealand who has owned a total of three McDonald’s franchises and recently sold the last one.

How much work was required of you per week on average? If my goal were to own one McDonalds and do the minimum amount of work possible, while also running it well, how low do you think I could get that weekly number of hours? And what would I be doing in that time?

I would work 9am – 5pm, 6 days a week. Mostly I’m at my office sorting problems remotely from there. I liked to pop down to my couple stores at least a couple times a day and check on them – make sure they’re clean, and to check on the Restaurant Manager about any issues. Typically I used to work hard for 4-6 hours a day, with the rest out in the stores just checking on them.

Exit / Selling price? One would imagine that if your franchise is doing well and churning out good numbers, someone else would readily buy it. If your business is struggling, then both your annual income and total business value will drop. The same Reddit user above reported selling for “just above” NZ $1.4 million, or US $916,000. I’m a bit confused by the purchase price, but it appears that he paid NZ $550,000 via business loan, 12 years ago.

In the end, owning a McDonald’s franchise is still a business which means you take on risk for potentially significant gains or losses. But if you spend 40 hours a week and only keep tabs on one location, it might really feel like you bought a job. These statistics help explain why most franchisees own multiple locations; Businessweek says the average is six.

Teaching Money Management Skills… Without Using Money


spoiled160In the book The Opposite of Spoiled by Ron Lieber, there are a number of tips and tricks presented to help teach your kids to be good with money:

The foundation of the book is a detailed blueprint for the most successful ways to handle the basics: the tooth fairy, allowance, chores, charity, saving, birthdays, holidays, cell phones, checking accounts, clothing, cars, part-time jobs, and college.

As I read through them, most of them were never found in my own childhood. I was never given a wad of money to buy my own school clothes. I didn’t have a fancy save/spend/give jar system. I had chores, but was never paid for them. There was no forced or guided philanthropy. My parents didn’t pay me interest on my savings. When confronted with the fact that all my friends had allowances, my parents eventually relented and gave me… a dollar a week. This was sometime in high school.

I’m not saying that all these clever little schemes don’t help to create financial skills. I plan to use some of them myself. But we should also focus on the core values and character traits that lead to good behavior in general. Indeed, this is also acknowledged in the book:

Finally, I want to help all of you recognize that every conversation about money is also about values. Allowance is also about patience. Giving is about generosity. Work is about perseverance. Negotiating their wants and needs and the difference between the two has a lot to do with thrift and prudence.

So I took many of the topics in the book and tried to connect them with the corresponding character traits in the big graphic shown above.

There are many other ways to encourage your kids to learn traits like patience, perseverance, curiosity, or delayed gratification. Many have been part of cultures and/or religions for centuries. The first way kids learn is by watching their parents, so we must be good examples as well. (I know, can’t I just buy an app or something instead? I mean, thanks Mom and Dad!)

Entrepreneurs Teaching Their Kids: Jack’s Cosmic Hot Dogs

cosmicHere’s a follow-up post to The Best Advice For A Teenager Looking For a Job. One of the podcasts I regularly listen to is the Alton Browncast (of “Good Eats” fame). Many topics are food-related but often it boils down to him talking with really interesting people. In one of his earlier episodes, he did an interview with Jack Hurley, who is the owner of Jack’s Cosmic Dogs near Charleston, South Carolina.

Jack Hurley has started 6 restaurants and a few other businesses. Early in the interview, he discusses the creation of his popular, retro hot dog stand. It turns out, Jack wanted to start a simple business so that he could give his kids a job and teach them how to run a restaurant. His two sons were a freshman and sophomores in high school at the time. Here’s my transcript of that part of the podcast:

…We had to make it simple for high school kids to do… I told my sons, now watch this, your mom and I are going to create this place in one month, we’re going to paint it, do the logo, do the recipes, in one month. I want you to understand, that if at some point in your life you are tired of working for The Man, that you have this creative gene in you. We’re going to do this so fast it’s going to shock you.

Obviously not every parent will have the means or ability to do this, but I thought it was a pretty cool idea (and their hot dogs look yummy). From what I can tell, Cosmic Dogs has been around now for over 10 years, so I wonder if his sons indeed took to the entrepreneurial path?

The Best Advice For A Teenager Looking For a Job

mistakesI really enjoyed this article by James Altucher called “The Best Advice Ever To A Teenage Daughter Who Needs To Make Money“. His kid is considering taking an $8 an hour job, presumably in either the food or retail industry. Why not? The first three items on my complete job history were certainly along those lines, along with nearly everyone else including these comedians. But he has some alternative advice, here is just a snippet:

I said to her, instead of that: why don’t you go to Lynda.com or CodeAcademy.com and learn basic WordPress skills. You can make blogs for stores.

It would take you ONE DAY to learn the basics.

Then go from door to door to every store in town.

Say for $1000, plus $50 / month maintenance, you’ll make their blog or basic website for them and help them upkeep it. If they require a “shopping cart” then charge them $2500.

She frowned a little and said, “They will say No. They don’t need it.”

She doesn’t want anyone to say No to her. I can relate to that. I don’t like it when people say No to me either.

I said, “Ok, we have about 40 stores on this street. Let’s say only 2 say yes. That’s $2000. It will take you ten hours to do the work.

That’s $200 an hour instead of $8 an hour.

Now, a lot of people seem to think learning coding = rich kid these days. But I think his point is more about getting out there and “making something out of nothing”. Right now, a WordPress blog is probably the easiest way to do that (ahem). Also, it’s about just getting out there, trying some stuff, and seeing what works and what doesn’t. If you start a self-employed business, you will pick up most of the subsequent skills he talks about – accepting rejection, dealing with failure, salesmanship, communication, customer service, creativity, competitiveness.

If either of my daughters has that independent wrinkle in her brain like her old man does, I’d like to nurture it.

Here are some other money-making options that I’ve though of, although the environment may be different when they finally become teenagers.

  • Buy things at garage sales or local stores and then resell them on eBay or Amazon Marketplace.
  • Make your own crafts and sell on Etsy.
  • Start a stand at the local farmer’s market or weekend flea market.
  • Design or invent something and figure out how to get a factory in China to build it for you.
  • Start a YouTube channel (learn video production and editing skills).

On the other hand, I actually think a menial $8 an hour job is still working taking on, if only to experience firsthand how tough it is.

Successful iPhone App Developer Actual Income Numbers

applogo2Apple announced that during the first week of January 2015, over $500 million was spent on app and in-app purchases. Apple takes a 30% cut, so that means $350 million was paid out to developers that week. Since inception, Apple iOS developers have earned over $25 billion. Many computer programmers idly dream about quitting their day job and making apps for a living. Marco Arment, creator of Instapaper, has decided to share his revenue stats for the newest app, Overcast (I use both apps regularly).

He also links to four other apps that shared revenue numbers, and I dug around for a few more. Here are all the links to app-specific stats:

It’s hard to generalize these numbers, as the revenue can be very bumpy and some apps are developed by teams instead of individuals. Based on this Forbes article, on the Apple App Store developer, the average app takes in $4,000 of revenue. I don’t know how useful that number is, given that according to this different iOS game revenue survey, the median lifetime revenue for participating developers was $3,000 while the arithmetic mean was $165,000 (only a relative few make the big bucks). The NY Times profiled a couple who would have made $200,000 from their old jobs, but instead spent the time creating apps which made less than $5,000. Then again, lots of people are just dabbling.

I certainly wouldn’t expect the average developer to reach Marco Arment’s numbers as he definitely has well above-average skills, but as with most entrepreneurial pursuits you’re going to have to take some risks to try and make it. I definitely understood the sentiment behind the last part of his post:

Overall, I’m very satisfied with Overcast’s finances so far. It’s not setting the world on fire, but it’s making good money. For most people, the App Store won’t be a lottery windfall, but making a decent living is within reach for many.

After the self-employment penalties in taxes and benefits, I’m probably coming in under what I could get at a good full-time job in the city, but I don’t have to actually work for someone else on something I don’t care about. I can work in my nice home office, drink my fussy coffee, take a nap after lunch if I want to, and be present for my family as my kid grows up. That’s my definition of success.

IRS Estimated Taxes Due Dates 2015

irsclipIf you have self-employment or other income outside of your W-2 paycheck this year, you may need to send the IRS some money before the usual tax-filing time. Here are the due dates for paying quarterly estimated taxes in 2015; they are supposed to be in four equal installments. This is for federal taxes only, state and local tax due dates may be different.

(Note: January 15th, 2015 is the last day to make an estimated tax payment for 2014. See bottom of post for fast payment options. This will prevent any penalty for late payment of the last installment. You do not have to make this Q4 payment if you file your 2014 tax return (Form 1040) and pay the tax due by February 2nd, 2015. If you miss these dates, file your return and pay as soon as possible to minimize penalties.)

IRS Estimated Tax Payment Calendar for Individuals

Tax Year / Quarter Due Date
2015 First Quarter April 15, 2015 (Wednesday)
2015 Second Quarter June 15, 2015 (Monday)
2015 Third Quarter September 15, 2015 (Tuesday)
2015 Fourth Quarter January 15, 2016* (Friday)

* You do not have to make the Q4 payment due January 15, 2016, if you file your 2015 tax return by February 1st, 2016.

Who needs to pay estimated taxes?
In general, you must pay estimated tax for 2015 if both of the following apply:

  1. You expect to owe at least $1,000 in tax for 2015, after subtracting your withholding and refundable credits.
  2. You expect your withholding and credits to be less than the smaller of
    • 90% of the tax to be shown on your 2015 tax return, or
    • 100% of the tax shown on your 2014 tax return. Your 2014 tax return must cover all 12 months.

If you forget to pay (like I’ve done before), then you should make a payment as soon as possible even though it is late. This will minimize any penalty assessed.

How do I pay? When does the payment count?

  • By check. Fill out the appropriate 1040-ES voucher (last page of the PDF) and snail mail to the indicated address. The date of the U.S. postmark is considered the date of payment. No fees besides postage.
  • By online bank transfer. You can store your bank account information and pay via electronic funds transfer at EFTPS.gov or call 1-800-555-4477. It takes a little while to set up an online account initially, so you’ll need to plan ahead. For a quick one-time payment, you can also use IRS Direct Pay (just introduced in 2014) which does not require a sign-up but it also doesn’t store your bank account information for future payments. Both charge no convenience fees. The date of payment will be noted online.
  • By debit or credit card. Here is page of IRS-approved payment processors. Pay by phone or online. Fees will apply, but the payment will count as paid as soon as you charge the card.

I usually pay online at EFTPS.gov for both convenience and to avoid fees. However, right now the lowest fee for a credit card payment is 1.87% from providers like PayUSATax.com, which I’ve used. Meanwhile, you can earn up to 2% cash back from a credit card like the Citi Double Cash card. So you can actually clear a small profit by making your tax payment with the right credit card, and it will officially count as paid to the IRS immediately.

Sources: IRS Pub 505, IRS Pub 509, IRS Form 1040-ES [pdf].

Stat of the Day: Kindle Unlimited Author Reimbursement

kindleu2Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited is an eBook subscription service that lets you “borrow” an unlimited amount of books from their catalog for $9.99 a month. You won’t find many personal finance and investing books from major publishers on KU, but the service appears targeted more towards high-volume fiction readers that otherwise might upwards of $100 a month on books.

Kindle eBooks have allowed many self-published authors to gain a readership and income stream that they may not have pursued or achieved otherwise, so I’m always interested in this marketplace from an entrepreneurial point of view.

The NY Times recently published two articles about author reactions to this new-ish program (it started in July 2014) here and here. Inside, there were a couple of notable tidbits:

  • In November 2014, an author got paid $1.39 for each qualified eBook borrow. October 2014 was $1.33. July 2014 was $1.80.
  • An author only gets paid if the Kindle Unlimited subscriber reads at least 10% of the book as measured by the Kindle device or app.
  • For a normal eBook purchase, the author gets 70% of the price paid, for example a $5 eBook would net you $3.50. (But you get to keep the book digitally forever.)
  • An author gets credit towards their Amazon popularity ranking as soon as a book is downloaded by a subscriber. They don’t have to read a word.
  • Kindle Unlimited is an optional program, but authors fear their books won’t get promoted as much if they don’t join.

This changing of the incentive structure has resulted in authors pushing out a higher number of shorter books. That makes sense – you’ll get more borrows and it’s easier to reach the 10%-read hurdle.

Alan Watts: What If Money Didn’t Matter?

Alan Watts was a “British-born philosopher, writer, and speaker, best known as an interpreter and populariser of Eastern philosophy for a Western audience.” I actually stumbled upon his readings via a trailer for Days of Our Youth, a movie about people who grew up to be professional skiers.

Anyhow, he turns out to be pretty popular but if you haven’t heard of him before, I think listening to his voice is the best way to experience it:

Here is a transcript of the YouTube video above:

What makes you itch? What sort of the situation would you like? Let’s suppose, I do this often in vocational guidance of students: they come to me and say well, we are getting out of college and we haven’t the faintest idea what we want to do. So I always ask the question: What would you like to do if money were no object? How would you really enjoy spending your life? Well it’s so amazing as the result of our kind of educational system, crowds of students say ‘Well, we’d like to be painters, we’d like to be poets, we’d like to be writers’ But as everybody knows you can’t earn any money that way! Another person says ‘Well I’d like to live an out-of-door’s life and ride horses.’ I said ‘You wanna teach in a riding school?’

Let’s go through with it. What do you want to do? When we finally got down to something which the individual says he really wants to do, I will say to him ‘You do that! And forget the money!’ Because if you say that getting the money is the most important thing you will spend your life completely wasting your time! You’ll be doing things you don’t like doing in order to go on living – that is to go on doing things you don’t like doing! Which is stupid! Better to have a short life that is full of what you like doing then a long life spent in a miserable way. And after all, if you do really like what you are doing – it doesn’t really matter what it is – you can eventually become a master of it. It’s the only way of becoming the master of something, to be really with it. And then you will be able to get a good fee for whatever it is. So don’t worry too much, somebody is interested in everything. Anything you can be interested in, you’ll find others who are.

But it’s absolutely stupid to spend your time doing things you don’t like in order to go on spending things you don’t like, doing things you don’t like and to teach our children to follow the same track. See, what we are doing is we are bringing up children and educating to live the same sort of lives we are living. In order they may justify themselves and find satisfaction in life by bringing up their children to bring up their children to do the same thing. So it’s all retch and no vomit – it never gets there! And so therefore it’s so important to consider this question:

What do I desire?

Alternatively, Gavin Aung Than of Zen Pencils turned the quote into a very cool comic:


Stuff like this is always controversial. Too dreamy? Too hippie? My current opinion is that it all depends on the person. Some people don’t have a strong affinity towards anything, they may value safety or prestige other things. (Is that really wrong if that’s what they want?) But to some people, they do have a latent desire, and reading such stories is like a wake-up call. Yes! That thing that you always think about in the shower, or right before you go to bed? Yes you should try that!

In the end, I think if you are going to spend a huge chunk of your life doing anything, then it should be at least be aligned with your personal beliefs. Only you can decide if that is currently the case, or if a change must be made.

Must, Should, and Financial Freedom

mustIf you struggle with your inner compass at times like I do, definitely read this thought-provoking and inspiring article The Crossroads of Should and Must by Elle Luna:

Should is how others want us to show up in the world — how we’re supposed to think, what we ought to say, what we should or shouldn’t do. It’s the vast array of expectations that others layer upon us. When we choose Should the journey is smooth, the risk is small.

Must is who we are, what we believe, and what we do when we are alone with our truest, most authentic self. It’s our instincts, our cravings and longings, the things and places and ideas we burn for, the intuition that swells up from somewhere deep inside of us.

When reading biographies and interviews of notable people, those who made seemingly bold decisions often remark that it really wasn’t. They just did it. It was a Must. I always wonder if it was also scary for them.

Looking back, I wonder if my own moves were by choice or not. Did I choose to quit my stable job with the bi-weekly paycheck and instead go back to school while supporting myself with online projects? Was I scared? Probably. Did I have any other choice? I only remember that I couldn’t do the job anymore.

Whenever I start feeling like others are controlling my destiny instead of me, I start to panic and plan my escape. I believe this fear of losing control is why I like to hoard money. Money gives you time to work towards a Must:

Money can be a bridge to the freedom of exploring Musts. And it often doesn’t require much. But it does require determination. Money can be used to buy you a day, a week, month of time to work on a Must, which may amount to nothing. Or it can be used to buy a sweater, a suit, a car — the value of which is obvious and low risk.

The article speaks of aligning your everyday actions to your dreams. Your job should be your calling. An artist. A tech start-up. A food truck.

That is a worthwhile goal and while it is important for me to like what I do each day (which I do), I feel differently. Not needing money from a job at all and having absolute freedom to do whatever I want (paid or not), that is what I crave. That is what I think about in the shower. Achieving financial freedom is my Must.

Financial Literacy Cartoon for Kids Starring Warren Buffett

smcSecret Millionaires Club (SMC) is an animated series about a group of kids learning how to make good financial decisions and solve business problems. Episodes are available online for free. Their mentor is none other than Warren Buffett! Here’s part of a Reuters interview with Buffett regarding his involvement.

Q. How do financial literacy and entrepreneurship fit together?

A. Not everybody’s going to be an entrepreneur, but everybody should be financially literate. Financial literacy is a base requirement like spelling or reading or something of the sort that everybody should acquire at any early age. The financial habits you develop when you are young are going to go with you into your adulthood. But you can’t be an entrepreneur unless you’re financially literate.

They also run the annual Grow Your Own Business Challenge (GYOB), a nationwide contest for entrepreneurial kids aged 7 to 14. This year’s finalists included an intergenerational online community, a custom bow tie business, a worm composting kit, and a community garden that also helps feed hungry children. You can watch their pitch videos on YouTube.

After watching a few episodes, they are actually pretty good. The concepts are short (~5 minutes long) and digestible. Here’s the first one:

Starting a tiny business may be the funnest and thus most effective way to teach kids about money. As a parent, I’d much rather do that than give them an allowance and then force them to “save” a certain percentage. (Is it really saving if it’s not optional? Sounds more like a tax.)

Book Review: Young Entrepreneur’s Guide to Starting and Running a Business

youngentI believe that entrepreneurialism is, like many things, a combination of talent and learned skill. Some people will take to it naturally, but a great many more can become successful and independent business people with the proper inspiration and guidance. I plan to help and encourage my daughters to set up their own micro-businesses once they are teenagers, whether it is coding apps or starting a booth at the farmer’s market. Some things you can’t learn from a book.

Oh wait, this a book review! Anyhow, since I love the idea of young folks starting businesses I took the opportunity to review a copy of the revised 3rd edition of The Young Entrepreneur’s Guide to Starting and Running a Business by Steve Mariotti. (I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher, as apparently did most of the Amazon reviewers. If you are a blogger, check out Blogging for Books for review books in your area of interest.)

This is a rather thick paperback at nearly 500 pages, and it uses that space to try to be a little of everything:

  • A reference book, covering everything from basic accounting and balance sheets to legal structures (corporation vs. sole proprietorship vs. LLC) to franchising.
  • An easy-to-read guide for beginners, which means that the treatment of all the above topics is concise and simplified (and thus not very thorough or detailed).
  • A collection of inspirational case studies from the non-profit group Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE), which the author founded. You’ll read about many young folks who started their own business in various fields and most of them plan to continue working on them through college and beyond. Sample businesses include website design, party DJ, landscaping, sport or fashion apparel, and Honest Tea.

In the end, like many things that try to be all things to all people, it ends up not being great at any one single thing. It is somewhat all over the place. The book spends time telling you to save money by plugging in your computer and printer into a smart power strip to reduce “vampire” draw. A bit later, it wants to help you prepare for franchising and an IPO. Huh?

Personally, I would tell a young reader to just read all the “An Entrepreneur Like You” case studies first, and see if they have the fire to just go ahead and try to get that first customer. Then, after some successes and failures, they can use this book as a resource to answer any specific questions. How many young people want to read about OSHA regulations or double-entry bookkeeping before making their first dollar?!

For me, I did enjoy reading the case studies but for the other stuff I’d probably just look up on the internet as needed. I might read the marketing section again. All in all, this might make a nice gift for a recent graduate or young person that has shown some entrepreneurial spirit.

Economy of You Book Review: Stories About Starting Your Own Microbusiness

Microbusiness. Nanobusiness. Solopreneur. These new terms were created to describe the one-person businesses which Kim Palmer profiles in the new book The Economy of You: Discover Your Inner Entrepreneur and Recession-Proof Your Life. Some people turn their business into a full-time job, while many keep their 9-5 jobs and run their ventures on the side. Palmer herself is a full-time editor for US News and World Report as well as a “side-gigger”, selling virtual financial planners on her Etsy shop Palmer’s Planners.

In terms of a synopsis, I would describe the book as breaking up the interviews of a number of solo entrepreneurs into major themes like:

  • How they discovered their idea or niche
  • How they built a support network for help
  • How they earned their first customers and grew from there
  • How they balanced their new business with a full-time job, family, etc.
      Overall, the book is definitely more inspirational examples and idea generation than actual nuts-and-bolts guide on how to run a solo business.

      I enjoyed reading it, and here are my own impressions and takeaways from the book. Hopefully they will also help you decide if you should read it.

      A true microbusiness just needs one person and hardly any start-up money. This is my own definition, but I think it is appropriate. When I look at the people profiled in the book in addition to of all the business that my friends have started on their own, hardly any of them need more than maybe a few hundred dollars to get started. Website design. Writing a blog. Handcrafted jewelry. High-quality natural soaps. iPhone apps. Selling online coaching and e-books. If you need venture capital, it is not a microbusiness. Even if someone ends up owning a bakery, they often started by catering or baking custom cakes. You need enough personal ability and energy “saved” up to start, not money.

      You already know if you want to be a solo entrepreneur. Starting a microbusiness is definitely not for everyone. Do you have an itch in the back of your mind, an idea that you have been nursing for long time? Are you so enthusiastic about something that you wouldn’t mind it entering what used to be your free time? Many people are quite happy keeping their job and their play time separate. Finally, read this following book excerpt by Palmer after making her first few months of sales.

      As gratifying (and useful) as it was to earn that extra cash, it didn’t even begin to get at the satisfaction that my Etsy shop gave me. Each sale affirmed by ability to create something of value, a skill I sometimes doubted that I had as freelancing rates plummeted during the recession and writing jobs dried up. I had a new identity; I created and sold money planners. I began daydreaming about ways I could expand and new products I could design.

      There is no guarantee that your solo business venture will be wildly successful. But if just the act of doing it and getting a few readers or customers will give you great satisfaction, what have you got to lose? As noted, the start-up costs should be minimal. I started this blog with an $8 domain name, free open-source software, and web hosting for under $10 a month. 9 years later, I’m still doing it! :)