Buying Your First Carry Gun: Here’s a Realistic Self-Defense Gear Budget For 2023

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If you’re new to the gun world or are thinking about buying your first self-defense handgun, wading through all of the information on what you need is a bit daunting. After initiallyt assuming that they only need to buy the firearm itself, most folks are often blindsided by all of the extra stuff that’s required.

Let’s figure out a reasonable, realistic budget for buying a self-defense gun and the other paraphernalia gun in 2023 to make sure you’re set up right. Our goal is to come in at under $1,500. That, of course, will depend heavily on the handgun your choose.

If you’re surprised by that number, keep reading to see what I recommend and why.

Gun: $500

First up is the gun itself. This is the part that people spend most of their time and energy on, and with good reason.

It’s imperative that you make a choice based on research and test firing if at all possible. In fact, I recommend that everyone test-fire any pistol before they buy it. Personally speaking, I never buy a defensive pistol unless I’ve shot it a bunch.

If you’re just in the market for a range toy, then shooting it first isn’t nearly as important. But if you plan to use the pistol to defend your life, you need to know that you’re comfortable with it, that you shoot it well, that it works with your chosen ammo, etc.

There’s a common misconception that you need to spend a lot of money on a personal defense gun. That increasingly isn’t true. There are a lot of reasonably priced options out there that you can rely on for everyday carry. And as the economy seems to slide further down those imaginary tubes, it’ll get harder to justify any big purchases for many.

Smith & Wesson Shield Plus
Smith & Wesson Shield Plus (Jeremy S. for TTAG)

The good news is that you don’t need to drop $1,000 to get a reliable firearm. There are a lot of very reliable and accurate self-defense guns in the $500 price range.

For example as of this writing Palmetto State Armory currently has handguns like the GLOCK 43X, SIG P365, the Ruger Max 9 and the S&W M&P Shield Plus all hovering right around $500 price point or less.

Or, you could go to your local FFL, peruse, or any of the gun classified sights and buy any of the above-mentioned pistols used, and save even more cash.

The pictured gun at the top is a SIG SAUER P365XL.

Ammunition: $300

Next up is ammunition. I remember buying only one box of 9mm FMJ and zero personal defense ammo when I bought my first handgun more than a decade ago. Looking back I realize what a mistake that was.

You literally can’t have too much, but you need to have enough — mostly FMJ range ammo, but personal defense ammo, too — on hand so you can actually go to the range to build up your skills. To start, plan on at least 500 rounds (1,000 rounds is better) of FMJ…ball, target, range ammo…whatever you want to call it.

I say “at least” because any good self-defense pistol class that you’re going to take (which I’ll talk about later) is probably going to have you run through 750 to 1,000 rounds of ammo over the two days of class.

handgun ammunition ammo
Dan Z. for TTAG

You’ll also need a few boxes of personal defense ammo, of course. For hollow point (JHP) ammo, I generally carry Federal HST, Speer Gold Dot, Hornady Critical Duty, or SIG V-Crown.

Right now ammunition prices are down somewhat from their recent highs, even if they’re still more than they were a few years ago. But order one or two fewer lattes every week and spend the money on ammunition. It’s well worth it.

Pictured at the top is a case of PPU 124 grain FMJ and Federal Premium 124 grain Punch hollow points.

Additional Gear: $200

It always baffles me when I see folks spend $500 to $750 on a good gun, buy some ammo, and then stick it all in a “one-size” nylon holster they bought at Wally World.

Then they stare at the mirror, baffled, trying to figure out why the gun sags and prints because, they figured they were all set hanging it call on the flimsy leather belt they bought 17 years ago.


Let’s talk about the other gear you’re going to need.

Holster: $70

You have to have a good method of carrying your firearm that’s comfortable, effective and discreet. You don’t have to spend a ton of money to get a very good holster. But it needs to be a good holster.

Do some research. Figure out in which position and style you’re going to carry your gun (pocket, appendix, strong side hip, 5 o’clock, inside the waistband, outside the waistband) and buy a holster for that style that’s made specifically for your handgun. A one-size-fits-most holster means it won’t work well enough with any handgun you carry with it.

Your holster should be comfortable enough to wear all day, including during long car trips. It should also covers the trigger completely for safety.

Bravo Concealment IWB holster
Bravo Concealment IWB holster

Be prepared to buy more than one holster because you probably won’t want to carry your gun the same way all the time. In the summer, with lighter clothing, you’ll probably want to carry IWB to keep your gun concealed. In colder weather when you’re wearing more clothing, OWB may make more sense.

And let’s be honest here…just about every gun owner goes through a lot of holsters before finally settling on the brands and styles they stick with. Fair warning.

The holsters pictured at the top are the Tulster Oath, JM4 Tactical Quick Click and Carry, and Concealment Express.

Gun Belt: $70

A good gun belt is one of the least appreciated pieces of gear by far too many people who carry guns. A good, rigid gun belt is more comfortable, keeps your holster from flopping, and more evenly distributes the weight of what you’re carrying. There are several good options here, most in the $60 to $80 dollar price point.

I specifically like the Kore Essentials EDC Belt (pictured above) and the Nexbelt Titan because of their nearly infinite adjustability. I own both and recommend either one.

We the People gun belt
We the People Independence leather gun belt

When I need to put on a leather belt to look like I haven’t just pulled myself off the range, I like JM4 Tactical’s Double Shot which is one of the most expensive belts mentioned here, coming in at about $100. It’s probably the thickest, sturdiest belt I’ve ever used.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter which gun belt you go with, as long as it’s designed to carry a gun. That old, stretched-out leather belt that you bought at a big box store for $12 just isn’t going to cut it.

Spare Magazine: $40

If there is something that I wish more gun manufacturers included in the box with personal defense pistols, it would be a third (or fourth) magazine. Some companies only include one. That simply is not enough. Most include two. That’s barely sufficient. You can never have too many magazines, but you need at least three, if not four.

There are numerous reasons why this is true, including the simple fact that the magazine is a weak point in a semi-automatic handgun that can and sometimes does fail.

High Hi Capacity Magazines
Dan Z. for TTAG

Beyond that, you’ll need more for training like performing reloads, practicing failure drills, carrying extra ammo, and the list goes on. If you’re reading this and you don’t have at least a third magazine for your carry gun, remedy that situation. Today.

A spare magazine will run you anywhere from $20 to %70 bucks depending on the gun you carry. Most will be in the neighborhood of $35 to $40.

Magazine Pouch: $20

Not everyone chooses to carry extra an extra magazine, but you may choose to at some time in the future. It’s a good idea. As the saying goes, no one ever regretted having one when they really needed it.

The real reasons you should get a good magazine pouch is…guns fail sometimes and magazines are usually the cause in semi-autos. Also, if you’re training, you need a way to carry an extra magazine or two for changes.

We the People IWB magazine pouch

Every pistol class I’ve ever taken has required a magazine pouch and spare magazines. It saves time during class. As an added bonus, you learn how to get your gun back into the fight after running empty or a malfunction.

Pistol Training Classes: $400

Last, but certainly not least, is instruction. When I say instruction, I’m talking about something beyond the what you need to get your state’s permit to carry. Your permit class isn’t meant to teach you how to defend yourself. If you’re lucky they teach you the legalities of carrying a gun in your state and (maybe) ensure you know how to handle a handgun safely.

This is from a class I took from Chris Cerino a couple of years back.

The truth of the matter is that most gun carriers are woefully unprepared for an actual self-defense encounter.

I recommend that everyone take a good training class shortly after they get their permit to carry because, trust me here, none of us are as good as we think we are. Making matters worse is the fact that that our performance goes down drastically when the adrenaline is pumping in a self-defense situation.

The cost of training will vary widely from one area and instructor to the next, but the going rate is usually between $300 and $500 dollars for a good one or two-day beginning personal defense class.


The total cost for everything mentioned above: $1,400. The actual price will come in higher or lower depending on the gun you choose, how much ammo you buy, and the kind of training you take. That, however, should get you started and set some reasonable expectations. Now get out there and get going.

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  1. Gonna put in a plug here for my favorite gun belt. Blue Alpha Gear. I have no connection to them other than the fact that I have been wearing their Hybrid EDC Belt for about 4 years now and think it is a really good product and a good deal. I like it enough that now I buy my pants to match the belt as opposed to the other way around.

    • I have one among many others. I never wear it anymore. For IWB, a simple nylon belt does just fine and is actually more comfortable due to the flex. I used to be all about pumping up a “good gun belt” but in reality – it’s kind of unnecessary if you are IWB in any form. OWB would be the exception.

    • Good article, but I’d like to add some reality to the mix and suggest that a newbie take whatever $$$ Josh suggested for gear, belt, holster, and such…and at least double it, if not triple. All of us have spent considerable time and money going through various belts, holsters, lights, knives, multi-tools, mags, etc to finally land on the ones that fit well and we actually like.

      How many of us (raises hand, looks around the room) have a box of unused belts, holsters, accessories, etc.??

        • A comfortable holster makes all the difference whether you carry a $200 Hi- Point or a $1000 HK. Uncomfortable holster? Chances are you will carry less or not all.

          A good belt is also important but in reality I have a neighbor who has a drawer full of holsters for various guns that he doesn’t use. According to him he has probably a grand in holsters alone but carries 100% of the time.

          As for personal defense classes some of the classes are taught by idiots, ask around and find a decent class. I don’t mind my EDCs getting scratched up but an “instructor” who makes you crawl around on a indoor range floor that’s just full of gunpowder residue and then takes an uncleared gun, puts it on the floor and then puts his foot on it and grinds it into the floor is just foolish and dangerous.

          The only way that you find out what is best for you is to ask people that are by you. Ask the people who are at the LGS, the range, instructors who teach classes, local forums plus whats on here. You will get many different answers but carrying guns are like wives, one size does not fit all plus some are way more expensive then others.

      • If they listen and buy an Alien Gear holster first then they won’t need the box of holsters the rest of us have accumulated 😉

        • Alien Gear is trash. Bulky trash with tons of failure points due to all the “universal” crap they use.

        • Been using Alien Gear OWB holsters for years with no issues. Just bought a new ankle holster before Christmas. So far it works great. I also recommend BIG Foot gun belts.

    • I’ll put a plug for a good gun belt in, too. The Beltman is a great source for well made, reasonably priced belts. I’ve got several (brown, black, cordevan, etc.) and they have held up well for years. I’ve met the owners and they are very conscientious about quality. The and, no, I am not on their payroll nor am I related to them other than being a fellow Alabamian (I don’t go to family reunions to meet women, either 😎).

    • I’m a Hank’s belts fan. Theyre very sturdy, have a really good fishbone interior so they don’t twist, and aren’t stupid expensive. Plus they pass as regular leather belts and you don’t look like a tactigoober walking around with your shoot me first belt on.

  2. “C’mon man… All ya gotta do is get a shotty, and practice racking it over & over, ‘cuz THAT’S what it takes. You’ll see. That’s what gets those bad guys runnin away…”
    – (Funny) Uncle Joe Bidumb

    • “Also, shoot to stop… not shoot to kill” – Also Joe Bidden

      Sound advice to get yourself fucken locked up.

  3. Yep, own a Sig 365 and liked it so much I bought the Sig 365XL w/ Romeo sight. What pisses me off is NO ONE, not even Sig has spare magazines for this XL model. Do that research also.

      • Depending on what shortages you are facing you can get a standard 365 grip and put the XL slide and module on it to use the shorter 10 round mags. For me it is also the difference between iwb carry in formal/tighter clothing and business casual wear for comfortable carry without printing.

    • I have an XL. Never had an issue finding mags. Maybe that is recent though? But it’s the same 15 rounder and they should come with the swappable base plate. I dunno, I bought 10 mags when I first got it and that’s enough for me. I actually prefer carrying the shorter non extended mag in the gun for concealment, but the spares are all 15.

      • It is recent. I was shopping online last week for XL mags (ideally wanting flush fit 12s) and the only one I could find in stock was the highly expensive x-macro mags.

        Now, I have enough to get by, but not enough for indefinite future. So I can wait. But I do sincerely understand the frustration a new owner would have.

        • Yea sounds about right. Kinda sucks. Maybe they have chips in them and are waiting on the assembly line lol.

  4. Imagine that I just spent $503 on a revolving, 500 must be the magic number.
    Believe it or not my dear Ripley, one of my favorite holsteins is an Uncle Mike’s one size fits many. I’d say it is a cloth version of a Tom Threepersons.
    One of the better deals was buying a quality gunm belt besides the made in India walmart floppy I had used for years. It finally wore out and purchasing the gunm belt made a big difference, seemed it reduced the weight of the 1911 from 13lbs to 2.
    I’ll never own a plastic holstein.
    Over the years a leather holstein grows around you and the gunm, a plastic holstein always stays the same, stiff and cumbersome.
    And to quote Our president
    ” Think, think about what it is your thinking about.” Good advice Mr. Pedoprez

    • Decades ago I got a Single Six and couldn’t find a holster anywhere because the big holster companies were filling military contracts… so I scrounged an Uncle Mike’s thinking I’d replace it with “a good one” when it fell apart…. that holster is now 37 years old and has been used a lot and it’s still basically good as new.

      • I use Uncle Mikes on my belt for revolvers when I’m in the boonies and I carry my j frame in an Uncle Mikes pocket holster.

        I would not use them for any other chores.

  5. Kore and Nexbelt and every other track belt on the market are MADE IN CHINA.

    Someone already suggested Blue Alpha as a MADE IN USA alternative, I’ll add my favorite to the MADE IN USA options, Klik Belt. Lots of other great MADE IN USA belts are out there on the market too so there’s literally no need to buy a CHINESE belt.

    And virtually all nylon belts on the market are literally infinitely adjustable within their adjustment range so that is nothing special with the communist track belts even though it’s always mentioned by track belt fans as though they’re the only ones like that.

  6. “Making matters worse is the fact that that our performance goes down drastically when the adrenaline is pumping in a self-defense situation.”

    Oh yeah, that’s a fact. Its going to make changes in your body too, not permanent, for that stress response event. Its going to happen so fast you wont even realize it, in fact it happens so efficiently that it will do all this before you can fully comprehend the situation. Its all part of the natural fight or flight response also known as the ‘Stress Response’.

  7. I am a fan of DaltechForce bullhide belts. I have three, and I haven’t worn out the first one yet probably ten years later. Extra thick, made in USA, reasonably priced gun belts. both dress and causal styles, as well as a narrow dress belt with a steel reinforcement.

  8. Yea I’m pretty sure when I first started I was well over the $1500 mark from trying different holsters and then going to a WML and getting new holsters all over again lol. I also tried many different belts but now for IWB I just use a standard nylon belt. It holds up just fine. It’s all about the belt clip you are using. Those cheap plastic clips are garbage on any belt. Look into DCC Monoblock – although, there are probably many like it now days. Metal clips FTW. Of course, that is dependent on your carry type – but I’ve never been a gym short kinda guy that uses those ulticlips with the snaps inside.

    It’s a process. Be prepared to spend some money. Also, kind of nice to see some cheaper carry options out there now. When I was getting into it, they were all double stack and well over $500. Plenty of options around $500 but I’d personally recommend a red dot to anyone now days. At least get something that has the cutout for one.

  9. I recommend Kore belts. Even if I never carried, they are my pick. I’ve always been kinda rough on clothing but Kore seems to be plenty adequate to handle what I dish out. Handles my IWB holster very well too.

    This isn’t something that you spend a few bucks on and walk away. A couple boxes of ammo is not enough. Spend the time at the range when you can. Expect to buy things that might not work for you. Sometimes you just have to try something out.

    • I use Kore belts. Good belts. handles IWB and OWB very well. Have a few leather bull belts too, those are good too but more suited OWB for me. the ratchet on the Kore let’s me adjust more closely for IWB comfort that the traditional holes in the leather bull belts don’t let me do for IWB.

  10. Been using the same Bianchi holster for many years. Of course I have been carrying the same 1911 for many years. Been through several belts over the years. Just worn out, not because of other issues. Always wear good leather belts more because of personal preferences over any other considerations.
    Never liked the polymer or composite holsters. Again, just a matter of personal preference.
    Here’s the thing. Get out to a range where you can try out several different firearms. Go spend the money and rent the guns and try them out to find what you are comfortable and competent in using. You will likely end up buying at least 2 or 3 different holsters to get what fits your individual needs.
    Lastly, yes you can find lower cost firearms that should work well enough. 4 to 6 hundred dollars should get a decent weapon. Ammo costs will depend on exactly what caliber you chose. 9mm is cheaper than .45acp.
    A couple extra magazines are always a good idea.

  11. I like this article and I do not have any major qualms with it.

    I will suggest the following:

    1) If you cannot honestly afford $500 for a self-defense handgun, you can purchase very reliable self-defense handguns for about $300, at least on sale anyway.

    2) As for how much ammunition you need to purchase, that depends on which handgun you choose. If you choose a revolver, you can probably shoot three or four full cylinders to be confident that it works. That means you only need a single 50-round box of target ammunition and then just one box of 20 rounds of premium self-defense ammunition to be minimally ready. If you choose a semi-auto pistol, however, conventional wisdom says that you should shoot at least 200 rounds (four boxes of 50 rounds) of target ammunition and then another 200 rounds (10 boxes of 20 rounds) of your intended premium self-defense ammunition to be confident that your semi-auto pistol will function reliably. And then you still need to purchase another one or two boxes of 20-rounds of premium self-defense ammunition to be minimally ready. That is a total of four boxes of target ammunition plus an additional 12 or boxes of premium self-defense ammunition–which is a LOT more expensive compared to the minimal requirement for a revolver.

    Of course if you want to embark on any advanced training you have to purchase additional ammunition from there.

    • Gee you’ve made it sound about as hard as sighting in a .300 Walmart wthrby drunk while standing up.
      It does get expensive,,,,the booze I mean.

  12. Best leather belt Ive worn is Alien Gear’s Bigfoot gunbelt. Heavy leather with steel reinforcement but boy, is it comfortable for both my SR9 etc. If not wearing that one, Ive got a double ply nylon from Amazon that fills the bill.

  13. I wouldn’t recommend a dollar amount for a pistol aside from “what you can afford”. $500 is a good ballpark, but there are aspects more important than its price (reliability or reputation thereof, feel in hand, how it shoots, how it carries, does it fit the hand, etc.) unless you’re unavoidably hamstrung in the financial sense. I’d also leave it open-ended on the holster front; the tendency is to buy multiple holsters and eventually settle on one for most occasions.

  14. $1500.00? What? What? What? What? What? All anyone needs is a stolen handgun preferably a semi-auto, a handful of centerfire ammo of various calibers (no need to match the gun’s caliber), and a pair of tight fitting briefs I mean isn’t that how it’s done in the ghetto?

    • I thought it was pajamas or sweatpants. I wondered how they do the sagging without the dragging. So now I know, they’ve got their stuff stuffed in them briefs. I wondered my gunm kept falling on the ground, kinda of one of the reasons I decided to just drag it behind me on a string. Where do I by these Briefs and are they made out of leather or plastic, cause I’m not buying no plastic panties, stiff and uncomfortable I’d think. ,,,,,easy to wash though,,, Nah. Leather briefs or none at all.

  15. Where holsters are concerned the Concealed & Open Carry community should seriously consider Pusat holsters (out of Turkey). I’ve got four (4) of their offerings, the leather and craftsmanship are superb, their prices can’t be beat, and their customer service is amazing. My Rossi 685 2-1/4″ barrel (.38 Special), Ruger SP101 (.38 Special) 3″ barrel, and my Star BMs and Star PD all ride in them. Pusat holsters are available on Etsy.

  16. Aker Leather in San Diego supplied a number of my Department holsters. I liked them them so much that I continued to purchase from them, after retirement, for my new firearm acquisitions.

    Their gun belts are comfortable, stylish and last a looong time.

  17. You can get a Shield 2.0 for a lot cheaper than 500 if you look online, even if you pay state sales tax and a large transfer.

  18. “It should also covers the trigger completely for safety.”
    I am so sick and tired of this safety Nazi, one answer encompasses all, B.S. If you’re carrying a half-cocked, NO safety, striker fired some-thing-or-other sure. If your gun of choice is a SA/DA, DAO, or SA then not so much. Get a grip already will ya

  19. “…I recommend that everyone test-fire any pistol before they buy it.”
    Great advice, but maybe not practical. No gun shop is going to allow the firing of a NEW gun that has not already been purchased, and the prospective gun owner might only be able to rent something at a range that is only similar to the one he or she might want. A range can only have so many rental guns because of both cost and the inability to keep up with the rapid introduction of new models. Also, rental guns are not always in very good condition, and a prospective buyer can be put off of a perfectively good gun by renting a poorly functioning clunker. So, the only option might be to just handle that new gun at the gun shop to see if it fits and then rely on published reviews by experienced reviewers from such outlets as TTAG.


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