> TEOTWAWKI Blog: The Budget AR-15 Rifle



The Budget AR-15 Rifle

AR-15s are often seen as high-dollar rifles, coming in at $1000, $1500 or more. This perception can lead the survivor on a budget to assume that an AR is out or their reach, and therefore exclude it from their survival rifle search, in favor of AK-47s, SKSs and Mini-14s. Fortunately, while there are certainly a number of very expensive ARs on the market, there are also a number of cost-effective solutions for those of us with tight firearms budgets.

The first thing to look at, obviously, is out-of-the-box budget rifles. Most decent gun dealers will have at least a few ARs that come in around the $700-$800 mark. CDNN has a S&W M&P rifle on sale now for $799. These will be totally serviceable, well made guns. Buy from a well-known manufacturer and you should be good to go. Make sure it has iron sights, or at least factor purchasing back up iron sights into your budget--DPMS sells several budget rifles at around the $650 mark, but these usually come without sights.

Another option is to build it yourself, which is what I did for my personal rifle. Assembling the rifle's "lower" isn't particularly difficult and can be done in about an hour with some very basic tools and instructions available online. The advantage here is that you learn the inner workings of the rifle and can also choose the components you want up front, vs. buying a factory assembled lower, stripping off the OEM parts and replacing them with the better stuff. You can also buy parts a bit at a time, allowing you to space purchases out. Finally, if you really want to try to go cheap, you can hit up message boards on places like AR-15 and look to buy lightly used parts at a discount.

The general advice is to build the lower receiver group and then buy an already assembled upper receiver group. The upper is not considered a firearm (the lower is), so you can easily purchase one via the internet. The upper is also supposed to be harder to assemble than the lower. I purchased a Stag upper for somewhere around $500, which has been great.

For the lower receiver group, expect to spend about $200 to $300, and the upper receiver will usually run you $450 to $550 with the bolt carrier group. You end up at about the same price range as buying an out-of-the-box AR-15, but again, you can pick the individual components and get some familiarity with the weapon by assembling it yourself. If you really watch for deals on forums or Gunbroker, you may be able to do better and get down to closer to $600.

All-in, my AR-15 ran me around $750. CMMG lower and parts kit, Stag upper. It's run flawlessly for over 1K rounds now, a good portion of which has been crappy steel cased Wolf.

Yes, compared to most com-bloc, slave-wage AK-47 rifles, you will spend more on an AR-15. It's not radically more though, only a few hundred bucks. It's not the budget-busting rifle that many often make it out to be. You can get an awesome AR for well under a grand, and, if needed, you can buy components and assemble as your budget allows. If money is really tight though, you will need to look at other options...I haven't heard of a $500 AR-15--at least one that shoots 5.56mm.

If anyone knows of great deals or sources for budget AR-15 components, post away in the comments section below.


  1. An AR is extremely high on my list of priorities. I think it's a great home defense weapon and if TEOTWAWKI it ever happens - you are going to want some fire power to protect yourself and your family. When you figure a mere ~$800 is all that is keeping you from that scenario, it seems like a no-brainer.

    "Good, Bad, I'm the guy with the gun."

  2. Every so often "bargain bin" ARs are available for or just under $600. They seem like an ok deal if you must have an AR. For the same price, I'll stick with a new Mini-14 Tactical, which I consider a much tougher carbine (AR still has advantage in the cost of mags).

    I also recently picked up a Kel-Tec SU-16C new for $570 (after FFL fee and shipping). Haven't shot it yet, and definitely not heirloom quality like the Mini-14, but it uses AR mags, can shoot with the stock folded, uses a long-stroke piston (like the Mini) so runs cleaner/cooler than an AR, and uses AR mags. It also comes in at just over 5lbs with sling and Eotech, so good for the BoB.

    If I was going to get an AR, I'd save up for the SIG 516, but that's ~1,350+.

  3. Not sure why I'd spend the extra on an AR v an AK and spend the difference on ammo/training etc.? IMHO, the ability of the individual massively outweighs the kit, especially when we are talking about well tested tools.

    But I may be missing something?

  4. Well, the difference is a case of Russian ammo, so it's not a huge cost. There are definitely pros and cons to every weapon system, and cost is one of them. You need to weigh those benefits/weaknesses and decide which is best for you.

    However, the $400-$500 AKs that I've seen don't have real capability to mount an optic. If you're planning on putting a red dot or other optic on the AK at some point, you'll need to pony up some extra coin for a mount or rail, which puts you up into the price range of budget AR anyways. In that case, the AK loses much of its cost advantage.

    1. Recently got sick of the "superior AR", and discovered what the origknal author said was true, built my "franken m4 gery" using a delton stripped lower, psa lpk, core 15 chrome barreled upper with 1:7 twist popped in a bcm NIb bcg, bcm charging handle, magpul 6 position collapsible stock, mil spec buffer tube and bcm H buffer. Ran my rfe up against several colt 6920s, even traded rifles with a colt owner to try out, saw NO difference in feel weight and performance. I plan on bugging in, unless it gets too rough, and laying real low, so an AR makes more sense to have. I also have a saiga 7.62x 39 with 20 in. Barr that ,after trigger conversion to "proper form" is one heavy tank beast. In shtf scenario, you want light accurate and mobile, my M4 at 7 lbs beats my 11 lb iron curtain cannon any day!

  5. @tiny Parts. AR-15 parts are everywhere. Every gun store I've been in has ar-15 parts and glocks. Lower parts are mostly compatible with the M16. Ammo, uppers, mags, and accessories are the same for both guns. (I think the bolt is also slightly different on the M16.)

    I think AK's are great weapons. But unless you keep a safe full of AK's, you'll be hard pressed to find parts 10 years after shtf.

    Besides, ar-15 are like Barbie dolls for grown men.

  6. Thanks for the clarfication - I don't get to play with either of them, but it is always nice to understand

  7. AnonymousMay 01, 2011

    It kind of depends what you're after - I hit a $550 price point with a Spike's stripped lower and a complete Del-Ton kit on sale. It's not top-tier, but it does fire 5.56...

  8. I dont think you can beat a Spikes Tactical Upper And Lower for the price point and the fine quality and finish.I have had really good luck with them.

  9. I just hit a price point of $561 for a complete Palmetto State Armory build. If you watch their web site they drop the price of their stripped lowers to $49.95 a couple times a year. Their complete rifle kits come in at $489. That includes complete assembled upper and their excellent lower parts kit. Just don't order the stripped lower and the rifle kit at the same time, if you do they are required to charge you a federal excise tax of 11%. Order the lower, wait one day then order the rifle kit. www.palmettostatearmory.com . The quality of the parts in these kits are excellent. A friend of mine who uses nothing but Rock River parts looked at the stuff I got from Palmetto State,next thing i know he has ordered enough stuff to build three complete Palmetto State rifles. In his opinion PSA is of equal quality as Rock River. Just a little something to consider for you guys and gals who are looking for a budget build.

  10. Get a decent barrel and bolt carrier group, and the rest of the gun will follow. Going cheap is OK, but keep some quality in the most critical parts.

    1. Word.

      I will say, if you have aspirations for adding on upgraded parts that it can make sense to buy once and cry once, versus buying cheap stuff and replacing it when you upgrade.