As a firearms instructor, I work very hard to keep up on guns, gear, training, learning, trends, laws, products, pending legislation, skills... and so forth... which is why I usually take the approach when asked for advice of, "I educate, you decide." That may be a good philosophy or approach for many, but learning can be expensive as you work your way through various guns, holsters, ammunition, training, and developing your skills and mindset.
With that in mind, I often still get folks trying to pin me down to tell them exactly what they need and how much it will cost. So here are my thoughts for one-size fits a lot of folks at the beginning of owning a hand gun and wanting to carry concealed that fits a lot of the time.
We should start with why you want to carry a concealed gun and what your current mindset is, but instead we'll start with the question that most folks want answered first... What gun should I get? All things being equal (which they are not), I typically recommend a 9mm semi-auto from a major, reputable manufacturer and you should plan to spend $400 to $600 with tax, etc.
I'm not going to debate caliber here. New shooters are still developing skills and the lower cost of 9mm ammunition for practice, the lower recoil than comparably sized guns in .40S&W and .45ACP, and the higher capacity for a similar sized gun make the 9mm a great choice for a first gun that someone has decided to carry, develop skills, and bet their life on. Leave the snubby .38s to the gun-counter guru's tryin' to impress gals with bad advice.
Three guns I personally like are the S&W M&P9 Compact, the Glock 19, and the Ruger SR9c. These three guns are in the price range I mentioned, are smaller than their full-size counter-parts, have good capacity, can use an extended magazine to provide a full-size grip for new shooters... and while smaller, they have enough size, heft, and sight radius (the distance between the front and rear sights) to make for effective grip, recoil control, training, and skill development while still being very concealable for a lot of folks. I also recommend that you have at least three magazines for your gun... while I personally have a minimum of six magazines for any gun the gals or I own.
You should ideally carry the gun holstered on you, so you will need a holster and that can be quite a journey in itself if you ever get a chance to see my multiple holster boxes. Let's make this simple... get a quality, inside the waistband (IWB) holster to carry on your strong-side hip. Kydex, leather, or a hybrid Kydex-leather holster specific to your gun from a reputable manufacturer will run you about $100 with tax or shipping thrown in. I think outside the waistband (OWB) holsters are harder to conceal and you should have some experience built up before going to appendix carry... ankle hosters are not a good primary carry location... and leave the shoulder holsters for cop-show re-runs from the 70s and 80s.
My personal preference is a hybrid IWB holster with good quality leather against me from manufactures like Comp-Tac, Galco, Cross-Breed, or Blade-Tech. The Kydex half of the holster will keep it's shape, allow you to adjust tension/retention, and hold it's opening for re-holstering. They usually have two good clips, like my Comp-Tac MTAC, instead of one to hold the holster in place on your belt/waist when drawing or re-holstering your gun. You can probably throw in $25 to $50 for an spare magazine carrier and another $50 to $75 for a quality belt or belt designed specifically for concealed carry.
When it comes to ammunition, stick with major-brand bulk boxes of 9mm, 115 grain FMJ for practice and then select a major-brand defensive round like Winchester PDX, Federal Hydra-Shok, Speer Gold-Dot, Hornady Critical Defense, or other similar cartridge. Again, I'm not going to debate specifics right now because this advice is for folks who don't want an education, just an answer. How much will it cost... see my thoughts on Handgun Break-In for Self-Defense, which is as much about breaking in the gun as it is about breaking in the shooter.
OK, so now you've got your gun, holster, and ammo... lets go over what you should have taken care of first... mindset, legalities, and training. Do you have the proper mindset? Are you ready to take on the responsibility and cost... both emotional and financial, of carrying a firearm for your defense. Are you ready to take the life of another in the process of stopping their immediate aggression or threat or serious harm or death against your life? Your family's lives? Your friends' lives? Strangers lives? Where do you draw the line? Family but not friends? Friends but not strangers?
What about the law, legalities, and liability of carrying a concealed gun in your state or area? Do you need a CCW license in your state? Do you know how much it costs? Do you know where you can and where you can't carry? Do you know the law? Is training required? Are familiar with the legalities of self-defense and the use of deadly force? Can accept the liability for your actions with a concealed gun for self-defense? My personal answer to all of these is yes... but what about you?
Finally, let's end with the beginning... training. As a firearms instructor for many years and a professional educator... I believe that learning and training is essential to every endeavor in life... especially for the safe use and carrying of a concealed handgun. Before you even by the gun, the holster, the ammo... start with training! Seek out quality instruction in your area. If you are just beginning, an NRA Basic Pistol Course is a terrific place to start.
If you know the basics, then get quality training from a local, regional, or national trainer or program with a solid reputation of training folks AT YOUR LEVEL! Tactical-operator-door-kicker training is probably not the place to get your first training under your belt as a new gun owner or concealed carry licensee.
Good training isn't cheap so plan to spend $100 to $200 (including ammo) for an NRA Basic Course or $300 to $700 between the ammo and cost of the instruction for a higher skill-level course that addresses techniques, tactics, and mindset. Look around, there's probably good instruction locally or regionally you can take advantage of to begin your journey.
So, you can do this on the cheap... or you can do it right... but you better budget $1,000 to $1,500 for your first year as a new gun-owner and CCW licensee. If you have any thoughts, feel free to add your two-cents worth... about... Getting into concealed carry, quick answers......