I could not agree with you more. Everything myself and my friend have done so far has been paid in cash, so there is no "debt" on this stuff. We also are going at it slow but intelligently. I see dipping as a way to extend the life of my woodenware into the next millenia and therefore the return on investment highly outways up front cost. If you only ever plan to have 5 hives then it is NOT a smart move due to costs, but I would say once you hit the 50 mark your equipment has paid for itself. Same goes with our extractor, we have not gotten it yet but we plan to get one of the powered 18frame jobs for just under $1000. One of the maxant ones for 10K would be ridiculous and would have to be paid for by bee production but the $1000 one is a reasonable investment on a piece of machinery that can be used for a long time. :-D
Yes, well, I am at 6 hives now and will be up to about 12 within 30 days if my queen run is successful. So, I have a ways to go. I have to consider how many bees, queens, boxes, frames, containers that $500 would purchase. The reality is that my $ should be going toward things that can have a ROI in the realitive short term. I completely agree that the long term should be considered but not to the detriment of eating in the short term. :)
I was fortunate that I was giving a nice 4 frame tangiel extractor for free last year. That extractor can be converted to a 9 frame radial and powered if desired for about $300 I believe.
My experence has been that keeping just a few hives just ends up beeing very expensive honey and another hobby I don't need. There is no economies of scale and thus I am expanding. Hoping to build up these6 to 12 hives, sell a few for some cash to buy more boxes, buid up the remaining for our late summer/fall flow, and then split again and go into winter (if I can call it that) with about 20 hives. That will put me in a much better position to actually make enough honey next year to fill the demand I have been getting now. I should be able to sell some nucs from splits as well.