Thanks for all the input. It looks like there is no wrong answer.
The only wrong answer is buying a gun that you don't shoot well, or something you will end up leaving in the car or at home because of size or weight, based on what other people tell you to buy. What works best for me may not be to your liking. For example, I am leery of buying Fords because every single one I've ridden in or driven for more than 30 minutes gives me the worst lower back pain. I don't know what it is, something about Ford car seats just don't agree with my lower back.
As for costs, yes, there is a difference between a cheap gun (piece of crap) and an inexpensive one (a good deal). I paid $274 for a 4" Ruger Police Service Six a few years ago and it is stone cold reliable. Tough as nails too, and plenty accurate. Makes a fine fighting handgun at a very reasonable price. I carried it for a couple of years, until I started carrying a 4" S&W Model 19. And 4 years ago I bought a Ruger Redhawk in .44 Magnum for $300 (included a carrying case, nylon shoulder holster and 50 rounds of 240 grn .44 Mag JHPs) that I would trust with no qualms.