So I finally got my license, holster, the gun I like. I'm good now, right?
This is the common thought process I encounter as an instructor. When someone asks, "How much?" They are really asking, "What is the least I can spend (time and money)?" First, buy the best pistol you can afford. Do you really want to trust your life to the discount pistol you found? I would rather buy a pistol with a known reputation for accuracy and reliability!
I've seen a large selection of pistols come through my classes. Some just work, every time. Some work great as long as they have plenty of oil and don't run dry. One popular brand went on sale over Christmas one year and they began showing up in class. About half functioned flawlessly. The rest either struggled or had to switch to one of my loaner pistols half way through qualification. Do your research. Then follow that up by a minimum 1,000 (yes, one thousand) rounds of practice/ break in. This will help you to get to know how your pistol will function, build memory channels, and bring the failures to the surface.
Next, how will you carry? Find a comfortable holster or you will not wear it. I prefer a leather holster for comfort, but I have used many styles and they all have positive and negative aspects.
I would suggest you carry unloaded, around the house, doing projects or something. Get used to the feel, in a safe environment, and determine that the pistol will not accidentally discharge (AD). Practice drawing, unloaded, until you are comfortable with hand and finger placement, and not covering yourself with the barrel. Start slow, smooth and correct. Increase to combat speed and continue to practice at that speed from then on.
What about ammo? Well for starters you should have chosen your pistol in the largest caliber you can consistently control and afford to feed (live practice) often. There are many arguments about the minimum caliber, but if you don't like shooting it then you will not practice. Not practicing means your skills will diminish over time making you more of a liability to others than if you had just chosen a caliber you could control. With that choice you need to carry good quality ammo designed for self-defense, not just what you found on sale.
A good quality hollow point is the generally accepted standard. There are always new ideas coming out, I will post more on those later. Whatever you choose, plan to spend more per box, on a smaller box. Buy two to start, one to carry, one to test. Anytime you choose a new brand of ammo, verify that it will function properly in your firearm before you carry!
That's all for now...coming soon, practice sessions!