The Cornered Cat

My grandma was fond of telling her family, “You can’t save money by spending it.”

To her Depression-Era mindset, it simply made sense that the best way to save money would be to fold it over and put it in your pocket. Plenty of wisdom there! But Grandma, who was Welsh by descent, also frequently used an old saying that expresses the flip side of that coin. Many years ago, before decimalization struck the United Kingdom, the Brits used pennies, shillings, and pounds as their basic monetary units. A penny wasn’t worth much, but a pound was worth quite a bit—and someone who wasted lots of money trying to save a small amount by cutting corners was said to be “penny wise and pound foolish.”

Times change, but human nature doesn’t. My grandma went to her rest several years ago, and the UK renumbered its currency some time back. But we still see people who delight in announcing that they “saved money” by buying something they didn’t need, just because it was on sale. And we still see people wasting dollars while pinching pennies.

It doesn’t have to be this way! Here are some ways you can make sure you’re getting full value for the money you spend on concealed carry.

Try the Tried-and-True First

A lot of folks go through a depressingly expensive succession of alternative carry methods before they ever try belt carry. Here’s a dirty little secret: no matter how good they can be in certain specific circumstances, alternatives are alternatives for a reason. Sure, you might eventually end up using one, but it’s much more likely that you’ll solve the bulk of your carry problems with a traditional belt holster.

Again and to be clear: there’s nothing wrong with alternative devices. I use them fairly often myself. But the time to try alternative devices is after trying the carry technique most likely to work: a good holster affixed to a sturdy belt, with suitable clothing that fits appropriately.

Avoid Cheap Nylon

This modest pile of inexpensive holsters that simply don’t carry the gun securely or fit it well cost a cumulative total of around $200—roughly the same cost as an excellent belt and a custom-made holster from an established holstermaker.

This modest pile of inexpensive holsters that simply don’t carry the gun securely or fit it well cost a cumulative total of around $200—roughly the same cost as an excellent belt and a custom-made holster from an established holstermaker.

Consider the stereotypical holster box, stuffed to overflowing with dozens of very inexpensive but almost entirely useless nylon or fabric holsters. These holsters often fail in several ways: they fail to hold the gun securely. They fail to conceal the firearm. They fail to be comfortable. They fail to adequately protect the trigger. They fail to allow regular, safe practice. Rummaging through the box one day, you suddenly realize that you own dozens of holsters, but you still don’t have a way to carry your firearm. What a waste!

The monetary cost of researching and then buying one truly excellent holster lands far below the cost of accumulating these dozen or more cheapies. Save money by doing your homework and investing in quality.

Shun Bad Belts

A lot of folks who are new to concealed carry think it’s all about the holster. They go through product after product looking for their “one true love,” but they can’t seem to find it. Every holster seems uncomfortable and difficult to conceal. And every firearm seems too heavy or too bulky. When they have trouble concealing even a tiny gun, they blame their height, their weight, their sex, and their lifestyle. But mostly they blame the latest holster purchase (understandable if the latest holster purchase happens to be a cheap monstrosity as mentioned above). But all along, they continue using the same flimsy, floppy, flexible—but fashionable!—belt, never realizing that the belt may be the source of all their concealment woes.

Here’s the deal with that: a solid belt designed for concealed carry will set you back about the cost of a good restaurant meal with the family. But unlike that meal, a good belt will last you just about forever. Investing in a solid belt saves you money in the long term because it eliminates the most-likely variable when holster after holster isn’t working for you.

Crummy Guns

Now we’re really getting into it. Let me start by saying I’m no gun snob. I don’t care if you just dropped $1500 on a fancy 1911 or if you’re toting around a battered old budget gun you picked up for $150 back in the day. Whatever works.

But… that’s the key, isn’t it? Whatever works. If the firearm you have isn’t working well for you, stop making excuses. Either get it fixed, or move along to something that will. No matter how much or how little you spent on your gun, don’t waste money and risk your life by carrying something that works only most of the time. After all, if you need to use that thing, it will happen on a day when luck isn’t on your side.

Think about all the money you’ve spent on ammunition looking for something that your unreliable gun “likes to eat.” Think about all the range fees you’ve wasted on practice sessions where the gun just didn’t feel like working that day. Think about the wasted time, the wasted energy, the wasted emotion. Is it really worth it?

Bad Ammunition

Think about all the money you’ve spent on ammunition looking for something that your unreliable gun “likes to eat.” There’s a flip side, and that is that some ammunition doesn’t function reliably in almost any gun.

Here’s a surprising way to waste money while trying to save it: shooting the cheapest available ammunition, but then needing to spend a small fortune on cleaning supplies afterward. Similarly, consider the expense of needing lead toxicity treatments after molding your own lead bullets or shooting unjacketed rounds in poorly ventilated areas with inadequate safety measures in place.

The solution? Be sure to factor in gun cleaning costs and effort when you compare the price of less-messy jacketed rounds against unjacketed ones. And if you decide to use bare lead bullets, especially if you pour your own, save money and avoid potential medical woes by being absolutely scrupulous about good hygiene and other protective measures.

Not Renting a Gun

Good equipment such as this tuckable, ultra-concealable rig from Ted Blocker Holsters can cost more than you’d like to spend, but investing in good gear usually saves money in the long run.

Good equipment such as this tuckable, ultra-concealable rig from Ted Blocker Holsters can cost more than you’d like to spend, but investing in good gear usually saves money in the long run.

You’re shopping for a gun and you don’t have a lot of money. Should you still take money out of your limited budget to rent before you buy? Absolutely! Sure, renting a firearm costs money. But failing to rent the firearm so you can try it on the range often ends up costing you a great deal more in the long run.

Would you buy a car without taking it for a test drive? Me neither. A motor vehicle is a major purchase, defined as any purchase that affects both your life and your finances. A concealed carry gun is also a major purchase. Even if your finances allow you to buy a new firearm without a blink, the choice of which firearm you buy for concealed carry will affect your everyday life for some time to come. Every time you decide whether to wear the firearm or leave it behind, that decision is affected by the utility and comfort of the gun you bought. Every time you decide whether to practice—is practice enjoyable and meaningful, or a painfully annoying chore?—that decision goes back to which gun you bought. Every time you consider taking a class, or entering a competition, and every time you look for a comfortable holster—yup, that goes back to your gun choice too.

Especially if finances are so tight that you can’t just shrug it off and buy a different gun if the purchase doesn’t work out well, take your prospects for a test drive before you buy. You’ll be glad you did.

Forgetting the Ammunition

No matter how much or how little you spend on your firearm, over its life you will spend far more to feed the gun than you did to buy it. Since filling the magazine will eventually cost more than buying the gun, smart skinflints factor ammunition costs into their purchase plan. That old Makarov might be a great bargain at the gun show, but how much does 9×18 ammunition cost these days, if you can get it at all? Everyone’s raving about those great little .380 pocket guns, but the cost of practicing with one might be prohibitive for your budget. Save money by comparison-shopping ammunition in different calibers before you buy that gun.

Accessories After the Fact

You can usually save money, sometimes quite a lot of money, by purchasing your carry gun only after you’ve checked on the availability of accessories for it. Can you get what you need within a reasonable budget? How much do magazines cost, and how many do you need? Can you easily find speedloaders for your new revolver? How common are aftermarket sights designed for your firearm? Can you find holsters and magazine pouches designed for it? Popular firearms usually offer great deals on accessories because there’s a lot of competition that drives prices lower and improves the quality of the offerings. In contrast, oddities and oddballs often force their owners to search hard for expensive, difficult to- find accessories—gear that may not even be well-made, since there’s no competition to improve quality.

No Training

It takes far fewer repetitions to build good habits in the first place than it does to erase bad ones after they’re already formed. Because of this, a few dollars spent on quality training early in your shooting experience can literally save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars in the long run, when you factor in the cost of the ammunition it will take to erase previously-practiced bad habits.

How much training is enough? That varies with the person, but around 40 hours total (that’s two or three weekend classes) seems to be enough for most people to build the core skills needed for safe and efficient gun-handling appropriate to self defense. The value isn’t in the round count, by the way: it’s in the instruction, which should also provide you with a solid understanding of the type and variety of practice you’ll need to do on your own to maintain your newly-acquired skills.

No Practice

Failing to practice proves to be a really expensive mistake if you pay for some training, and then don’t practice what you learned in class. Because shooting skills degrade readily, people who shell out good money for excellent training but never practice what they learned might as well have thrown their money to the wind. But failing to practice is spendy enough even for the untrained. Sure, practice puts wear and tear on your firearm. And it costs money, too: you have to pay range fees, purchase ammunition that seems spendier every trip, and buy targets. But not practicing costs a great deal more, as those who have lost their criminal encounters could tell you (well, those who survived, anyway). Although shooting is a perishable skill, regular practice is a good preservative.

What about dry fire? “I read somewhere on the Internet that dry firing is bad for your gun,” someone said, “so I never do it.” Understandable, but foolish! Dry firing costs, effectively, zero. Nada. Zilch. Nothing. Of course it puts a little wear on your firearm, but so does shooting the gun live. And unlike shooting the gun live, you can do it in your own home, saving range fees. Where else can you practice a smooth and efficient drawstroke (especially from deep concealment) without prying eyes to watch or prissy range protocols to interfere with your practice?

The Bottom Line

You don’t have to spend a fortune to be well-armed and well-prepared to defend yourself. Smart shopping, which includes doing your homework and planning specific expenditures, can help reduce your costs in the long run. And that’s the kind of foresight Grandma would praise.