I frequently tell people that if they’re looking for a carry gun and don’t have the budget to buy a SiGlockM&P that they should probably just hold off on whatever purchase they’re trying to make until their budget improves.
However, I also realize that sometimes you need a gun, and you need one right now. In those cases, I almost never recommend buying a “new” gun, because the guns you can usually buy for about $250 such as Kel-Tecs and Hi Points are garbage. My favorite option for someone looking for a carry gun on a budget is to go the military surplus route, such as these Bulgarian Makarovs for $239. Milsurp guns have the advantage of being readily available and reasonably priced, and because Maks have been around for basically forever, you can even get decent holsters and other accessories for them.
Don’t let the caliber fool you either. 9×18 Makarov may not be the ballistic equal of 9mm Luger, but there are plenty of decent defensive loads available for it. Buffalo Bore and Hornady both offer defensive loads for it, with Hornady making both an XTP and a Critical Defense load for 9×18 Makarov. Practice ammo is normally easy to get, although current circumstances have made that a little more dicey. The guns themselves tend to be fairly reliable, even when using the aforementioned cheap steel cased ammo.
However, one of the biggest advantages of guns like the Makarov at a low price point is that you can buy three or four and use them to outfit friends in an emergency. Three Maks will run you the same as what a Glock is going for these days, and 750 rounds will run you around $250. So for less than a grand out the door, you can arm three friends with a decent, reliable pistol and 250 rounds each of ammo. That’s actually a pretty good deal, and you could definitely do worse when creating a community defense strategy.