At one time, we were all new to the firearms world. Some of us still are. Unless your budget is unlimited, there’s a good chance there are gun-buying options well beyond your financial means. This begs the question, should you buy what you can afford now or keep saving for a more expensive option?
I recommend buying what you can afford at first, as long as it reasonably meets your needs. Some people are happy with their first purchase forever, while others move on from it. And, there are some people who save up to “Buy Once, Cry Once”, only to buy again.
In this article, I’m going to walk you through some basic considerations you should think about before making a purchase. If you agree or disagree, please leave a comment and tell me your thoughts.
Have Realistic Goals
Being reasonable with yourself is the most important thing. If you are not, there is a very good chance you will end up unhappy with your purchase. Part of the process is understanding the difference between wants and need. Another important part is realizing a new piece of equipment is unlikely to change you as a shooter.
I remember more than 10 years ago, before the 6.5mm cartridges went mainstream, a poster on a gun forum asked what was the best cartridge for shooting out to 1000 yards. He was seeking advice along these lines:
- I’m only interested in the best
- It’s not important to ask me about my current shooting skills
- I’m not interested in using the marginal (but affordable) .308 Winchester
- The only goal is getting to 1000 yards
What followed was a handful of helpful people cautioning him about his desire to dive into the deep-end of long-range shooting without prior experience, and a handful of less helpful people recommending he buy an uncommon and powerful cartridge that would require a custom barrel and reloading equipment to shoot.
I highly doubt this person bought anything, as he never updated anyone with his ultimate decision, and it was certainly for the best. It would have been wasted money as a novice shooter rarely is ready to dive into the deep end of long-distance shooting.
I recommend you don’t fall into this trap yourself, pinning your hopes and dreams to an inanimate object.
It’s Okay to buy a Budget Gun, Once or Twice
If you are new to firearms, it’s understandable to be confused about all the options at all the various price points. Rifles, handguns, and shotguns all have options starting at under $300 and going up to more money than a good used car.
Should you consider a firearm at a low price point? Well, if it meets your immediate needs, then the answer should be yes. But, don’t get carried away with purchases. If you buy a budget pistol in 9mm Luger, it makes little sense to buy a second budget pistol in .45 ACP that is roughly the same size and for the same intended use.
The best example I have seen of people making too many budget purchases is in bolt-action rifles. I have met people with multiple entry-level rifles in similar cartridges, along with a single scope that they will use to swap between them while the others sit in the gun safe.
To me, it makes no sense to spend $1500 on guns and not own anything nice.
It is also important to get your foot in the door and start gaining experience. Reading proper techniques online is of little use if there are no practice sessions. If everyone postponed making a firearms purchase until they could buy a top-flight gun, there would be many people who would just move on to other interests. For some people, affording the best is not realistically possible.
Looking at the budget-end of firearms, there are generally three categories;
Guns so cheap they should just be skipped for one reason or another
These include firearms with known durability or reliability problems. For pistols, these are often referred to as “Saturday Night Specials”. When a single part breaks, they are considered a complete loss. For rifles, the extreme budget break-action examples fall into this category and give up huge amounts of functionality when compared to even a bare-bores bolt-action rifle.
Just like at the dollar store, certain things can become so cheap they are no longer of good value.
Common Budget Guns
This is where the cash-strapped should start considering making a purchase. Examples in this category include handguns and shotguns imported from Turkey, Brazil, and the Philippines. Rifles like the Savage Axis, Ruger American, and Thompson & Center Compass come to mind when looking at this group.
On these guns, corners have been cut, usually in fit and finish. But they are functional and are supported by a company with a service department. They might not be pretty, but they work. For many people, these are their first and last purchases.
Slightly Upgraded Models
These firearms represent great value, and if you can afford them, they are usually a wise investment. Examples in this category include the excellent Canik TP9 series on handguns or the Howa 1500 and Winchester XPR rifle. All the listed examples offer a better shooting experience than what is available for $100 cheaper.
This general category of guns is ideal for people who wish to regularly use them at least semi-regularly. If you have the ammo budget to shoot several times a year, saving enough to buy a better firearm is a good idea.
But What if I want to Shoot Every Weekend?
If your ammo budget permits it, divert some of that into your firearms budget. Only you know your financial means and desire to spend that on shooting. Just remember, if you can’t afford to be buying ammo on a weekly or monthly basis right now, you are less likely to be able to after buying a gun. The same goes for how much free time you have in your life.
I mostly bring this point up as people looking to make a first firearm purchase can be bombarded by it on gun forums. Remember, if can’t afford to be shooting constantly, you are unlikely to until your financial situation changes.
Don’t let others scare you into the idea that buying a budget gun will be wasted money when you are signing up for multi-day, thousand-dollar training courses that involve shooting thousands of rounds of ammo. If and when you reach that point, you’ll hopefully be knowledgeable enough to know your own needs, and won’t have to rely exclusively on others.
Those of us who actually burn through piles of ammo know the gun is a small investment at that point.
On your first purchase, buy what you can afford, and gets you shooting. Just don’t go so cheap you are wasting your money on a firearm with limited functionality or known problems.
Once you have a gun that meets a certain need, it doesn’t make sense to buy another gun at the same price point that you’ll use for the same purpose. Now that your foot is in the door, if you want something else then save for a better gun.