The current market for AR-15s seems to be hotter than ever. Unfortunately, that means some manufacturers are marking up their prices, but not all of them. 

There are still many affordable options on the market, whether you’re looking for a complete rifle or to build one. I always recommend that folks do not spend all of their money on the rifle itself, as there are plenty of other items you’ll need to buy along with it. 

From ammo to accessories to training, the rifle is just the first part of the process. So, if you’re on a budget and want to save some money for all the “extras” while still getting a solid rifle, this article is for you. 

PMC X-TAC 5.56NATO M855 62gr Green-Tip 20-Round Box
PMC X-TAC 5.56x45mm NATO M855 62gr Green-Tip Ammo
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For the sake of this article, I’ve imposed a $1,000 ceiling. That amount doesn’t get you as far as it did years ago, of course, but you can still get a rifle you can grow with and depend on.


You can always source parts from different places when they go on sale. Source: reddit

Things to Consider

Staying under $1,000 can be tricky, as you don’t want to just go for the cheapest parts possible. But determining your purpose for the rifle will allow you to start tailoring your search accordingly and finding deals. 

For example, if you’re looking for a home defense rifle, you’ll want to stick to a shorter barrel length for maneuvering in close quarters and make sure there is appropriate handguard and rail space for a light and optic. 

Regardless of the exact purpose, you’ll want to make sure you purchase a rifle made by a reputable manufacturer, that it has room for attachments/accessories, and that it has the mounting system you prefer for said attachments. 

M-LOK handguards tend to be my favorite because they offer a nice blend of comfort and versatility, but some other shooters I know prefer Picatinny quad-rails. The choice is 100% user preference.

The smaller parts, such as the controls and furniture, can easily be upgraded and swapped out later, making them less important to focus on. However, if you can find a complete rifle with the components you know you want, even better!

Now, you need to decide whether to build or buy. If the latter, here are several suggestions.

Recommended Rifles

Palmetto State Armory M-LOK Rifle

If you’ve ever searched for affordable AR-15s before, I’d bet that Palmetto State Armory (PSA) popped up in your results. 

PSA offers not just affordable rifles but quality rifles. It has really stepped up its quality control in the last several years, earning a solid reputation among the shooting community. 

I left the recommendation rather vague because PSA offers a ton of different AR-15s, many of which fall under the $1,000 price point. No matter what configuration of barrel length, handguard type, rail type, etc., you’re looking for, you can likely find it available from PSA. 

Many models come with upgraded furniture and backup sights, too, so they can really be an “out-of-the-box” solution that’s ready to hit the range immediately.

AR-15 with accessories

With all the money you save, you can go all out on accessories. Source: reddit

Smith & Wesson M&P 15 Sport III

Now on the third version of the classic M&P 15 Sport, Smith & Wesson delivered much of what consumers wanted with the full-length free-float handguard and Picatinny rail, a versatile 1:8 twist barrel, and a mid-length gas system, all at a great price. 

This is one of those ARs that serves as a reliable base rifle to build upon as your skills progress and to make your own. There is plenty of room for attachments, you can upgrade the parts and furniture as you go, and you can count on a solid warranty if anything should go wrong. 

I had a Sport II model for years and put it through a lot of serious use and many thousands of rounds, and the thing never skipped a beat. I’ve upgraded rifles since, but I’m confident that if I still had it, it would still be ticking and kicking. 

Please note that this AR doesn’t come with backup sights, so save a few extra bucks to buy a set.

Magpul MBUS Gen 2 sight
Magpul MBUS Gen 2 Flip-Up Sights
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Smith & Wesson AR-15

Smith & Wesson continues to put out slightly updated models. Source: smith&wesson

Springfield Armory Saint Victor

Springfield Armory does a great job of offering different rifle tiers for each type of shooter. 

The Victor is a middle-tier model with a free-floating M-LOK handguard, a nickel-boron flat trigger, and a newly designed muzzle brake. It also has a high-quality steel set of spring-loaded flip-up sights. 

The upper and lower receivers are constructed from 7075-T6 aluminum and the BCG gets HPT/MPI testing to ensure top-notch reliability and durability.

Since the rifle comes with upgraded furniture, sights, and even a range bag, all you’ll need is some ammo, and you’re ready to hit the range!

full-length Picatinny rail

Even without a full-length Picatinny rail, there is plenty of space for attachments. Source: springfield

Aero Precision M4E1

You’ll often have to buy a complete upper and complete lower and put them together, as Aero Precision does not sell complete rifles on its own site, but you can find some complete rifles on other websites or at your local FFL. 

With an Aero M4E1, you’ll likely be right at the $1,000 mark, but you’ll have the quality to justify it. 

Many of its upper receiver offerings feature M-LOK handguards, full-length Picatinny rails, and low-profile gas blocks. The lower receivers aren’t necessarily fancy but do have a flared magwell and integral trigger guard. Depending on your needs, you can order the lower with all types of furniture configurations or even without a stock if you have your own lying around.

After everything is said and done, you’ll have a serious quality rifle on your hands.

Piecing everything together

Piecing everything together can be a very satisfying project. Source: aeroprecision

Final Thoughts

As you now see, there are some great rifles out there that don’t break the bank. Do not let the YouTubers and influencers fool you into thinking you NEED that top-tier $4,000 rifle. 

Price does tend to correlate to quality and performance, but only to an extent. As long as you stick with a reputable manufacturer and a well-built rifle and train just as much as you would with an expensive rifle, you’ll be all set. 

Training is the most important thing; granted, your rifle is at least reliable. So pick a rifle, make it your own, train with it, and most importantly, have fun.