How to Setup the Best AR-15 on a Budget

Black Del-Ton ECHO AR-15 with Magpul furniture

When you work in the gun industry, it is easy to be caught up in the hype of buying the end-all-be-all of rifles. Often, we fail to realize that your average American shooter does not want, nor can they afford, a Noveske or LWRC. That being said, how do we arm the general populous with a rifle that meets all their needs without destroying their bank account? Here, we will find that middle of the road in quality versus price for the rifle, optic and light.

The market has become so flooded that it is fairly easy for the average Joe to have an AR-15 that not only withstands some of the more rigorous paces, yet is still affordable enough to escape murder by your significant other. Often, it is far better to pick up a gun at a decent price, so you can attach the parts you need instead of dropping your hard earned green backs on just the gun. By jumping on the first high-end rifle you come across, you are selling yourself short on being able to pick up an optic that will get you through the fight, and the light that will blind your enemy in the dead of night.


Black Del-Ton ECHO AR-15 with Magpul furniture
Just below the six hundred mark, the Del-Ton ECHO comes almost ready to rock and roll.

At just below the $600 mark, the Del-Ton ECHO comes almost ready to rock and roll. Not many AR’s in this price range will be able to perform as well as this gun. Typically, when you go cheap you can run into various issues such as improperly staked gas keys or dremel work on the feed ramps (yes, that is a common thing). You will not run into these issues with Del-Ton. For the comfortable price of $600, this rifle features a 1:9 heavy profile Chrome Moly barrel great for reaching out and dropping hogs, MOE furniture with almost limitless options for attachments, M4 feed ramps, and the reliability that only an American-made firearm can achieve. Couple this firearm with some 55-grain ammo such as Federal V-Shok and you have a force to reckon with.Click Here to Start Shopping Online at Cheaper Than Dirt


Trying to decide on an optic is by far the hardest part. Looking for an optic that is capable of intermediate range work to CQB is no easy task, so I hope this helps you in your adventure. The fact is, most people can’t afford a new ACOG. Are they some of the best? Sure. Will they ever fail? Probably not. But at an average price of around $1100, it is just not a feasible option.

Barska AR-15 red dot sight
Few optics out there will give you the flexibility to engage a target at 350 yards and still be able to defend the home in a CQB situation.

After careful consideration, the 4×32 AR-15/M16 sight from Barska became the obvious choice. At a sub $200 price tag, it is a contender for even the most frugal of gun owners. Few optics will give you the flexibility to engage a target at 350 yards and still be able to defend the home in a CQB situation. The Mil-Dot reticle will assist when compensating for range, while the shockproof design gives you the versatility to not have to baby a gun that helps defend your life.

One thing to keep in mind is that even with a great optic, a must have is a backup sight. Sometimes we have to quote Murphy’s Law and remember that what can go wrong will go wrong. Optics go down and that is an unfortunate part of being a shooter. My go-to back-up sight is a flip up from Mako Group. Going with flip up sights is always a great option because they are easy to keep on hand, yet rarely do they get in the way or get caught on things. Flip-up sights from Mako will run you less than $40 and be ready to save the day when things go south.


Black, tactical SureFire flashlight
The G2X will light up any target at home defense distances.

Lights can be a tricky road to travel when we are looking for quality and affordability at the same time. Often, I have found the best thing to do when light shopping on a budget is to go with a handheld light and add a mount. Most lights from reputable manufacturers will have a standard one-inch body that fit a plethora of very affordable mounts. For this setup, we will go with a Surefire G2X Tactical. Ideally, we would like to go with a higher output light, but for the topic of budget guns, this is one of the best options out there. The G2X will light up any target at home defense distances. For those of you who have never been hit with a high output light such as the G2X, all I can really tell you is that it hurts. The upstanding gentleman creeping around your house at night is not going to be able to see much of you at all—just a painful light to leave him disoriented. The only thing left is to add a mount so that you can attach it to the gun. The BLACKHAWK! offset mount is quality that you can depend on.

Any of us can be armed and ready to defend life, liberty, and property with the right tools and a little bit of nudge in the right direction.

Have you set up an AR-15 on a strict budget? What rifle and parts did you use? Share your build with us in the comment section.

Kyle has been very active with firearms from a young age when his father gave him his first .22 and a brick of ammo. This led on to deer hunting in southern Illinois to doves in west Texas. He is an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran, and currently works as a product tech for Cheaper Than Dirt!


The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog. "The Shooter's Log", is to provide information - not opinions - to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decicions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (42)

  1. “and the reliability that only an American-made firearm can achieve.”

    One of the most asinine and incorrect statements ever written.

  2. Wow, Of all the comments I’ve read no one has mentioned laser attachments. In the home target acquisition would be from around the corner of a door or hallway. I mounted a $50 laser light combo to the bottom of a 4 rail gas block, remote switch on them both. Got a reasonable deal on a set of 45 degree flip-up open iron sights and an under $100 4-16 x 40mm illuminated reticle scope for some distance, my eyes need all the help I can give them. I pieced this setup together as I could afford it. Also added a 4 rail froward hand guard, bipod and forward pistol grip, single point sling because its heavy now, but I don’t care about the weight, with the laser I don’t need to draw up to acquire the target, hence, “Shooting from the hip”. The rifle is a double star that I got for $500 .223/5.56 NATO second hand.
    Thank you “Cheaper than Dirt” for making this rifle affordable. Totaled out under $800. My friends think I went over the top with this thing but they can’t stop looking at it and wanting to holding it.
    I also built up a Remington 870, added an adjustable rear stock pistol grip combo with a matching forward stock, and a mag extension that holds nine in the tube and one in the throat. Yep, certainly more fun than humans should be allowed to have.
    Funny thing is, in a hurry I grab my S/W Mod 19, .357 magnum. I loaded it with the first 3 rounds of CCI 38 spc #6 bird shot followed with 3 rounds of .357 magnum semi jacketed hollow points ( out on my 5 country acres in Florida, we have dangerous snakes) yes, there is a shotgun shell for an outdated revolver.
    Consider this, you can have all the hardware in the world, however, all this is worthless without training and practice, make your actions a reaction verses trying to learn under real-world duress. In the country as a family we set up a private shooting range and practice scenarios that we could possibly face, children of ten years and up included. Not everyone can put in their own range, however, I’m sure your local range would be more than willing to accommodate you.
    Happy practice, TT

    1. “Wow, Of all the comments I’ve read no one has mentioned laser attachments”
      The local Bass Pro has a decent looking rifle laser attachment with a momentary on button (only on as long as you hold it) for only $29.
      It would be easy to add a regular on/off button in addition to the momentary button.

    2. at Archangel
      The remote switch is the same as what you described as a momentary on button, only comes on when the button is held. Have you seen lately the prices of attachable lights. The laser/light combo for $50 is a sweet deal, never guess where I got it …(Walmart). This set came with both on/off button and remote switch.

    3. The flash light I would rather not be attached to a rifle or pistol as I see them as a “SHOOT HERE” indicator more so than a laser would be.
      On a shotgun however, I see the flash light in the same “light” as a laser on a pistol or rifle.
      Lighting up the area of the shotgun pattern impact area.
      I have seen lasers that place a pattern of dots for shotguns, but I’m too much of a cheap old Ba5tard to buy one.

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