1. It might be a good idea to get fit for a set of irons. This might be more important for somebody with a good and repeatable swing.
2. Find an iron head that looks good at setup but that also has the forgiveness you need depending on your skill level. But more important than the iron head is the shaft....it is the engine of the club. Depending on your swing and swing speed some shafts will fit you better than other shafts.
3. You can get some great deals on used and even new clubs online. globalgolf, rockbottomgolf, golfio, 3balls, and callawaypreowned are all great sites to find a good deal on. And as far as new vs. used, on those sites, a very good to like new condition club is pretty darn close to a brand new club. Then there is also ebay. You can find some very good deals on ebay, but you need to know who you are buying from....look at the details, pictures, and seller rating and don't be afraid to email them questions before you buy.
Oh and they have some used golf clubs or just good deals at some golf stores and you can verify the condition of the clubs and pick the brains of the employees...also a good option.
4. Most of all, know what you want to buy and do your homework before you pull the trigger. It can be a process, but it is worth it to get the right clubs.
Hopefully i didn't make this too difficult or overwhelming, good luck on your purchase!
"Good but cheap" irons = Tour Edge. The Exotics range is great. Any of the Exotics XCG series of irons would be terrific value, as they can generally picked up new on ebay or through the big online dealers for not a lot of money. I have the XCG-3s and think they are wonderful, but I think the company is up to XCG-5 or XCG-6, now.
They sell for very low sums compared to their quality - and all because, it seems, Tour Edge has no interest in paying tour pros stupid money for advertising their product, and because Tour Edge seems to have become labeled as a manufacturer of woods rather than irons...
Currently (7/21/14) there are over 11,000 right handed iron sets for sale on eBay for $300 or less.
If you use eBay, I suggest that you look at the seller information and use one with a 95%+ positive feedback. I have never had a problem.
Get fit somewhere with irons that you feel fits your abilities, then find a pro you like at a golf course and get him to buy it for you. They'll get you better deals than you'll find at any golf store. Also gets you to know your local pro and get other good deals for lessons or golf deals.
Just a couple of things to double check...
Global Golf, the seller, has almost 400,000 sales with 99.6% positive feedback. I've used this company. They are a winner.
RETURN POLICY - Your satisfaction is important to Global Golf. If for any reason, you are not happy with your item, it may be returned within 14 days.
The condition is very good, meaning that normal ball marks on the faces; minor scratching on the soles; no significant dings on the heads; no significant wear on the shafts.
The clubs you are buying are 3 and 4 hybrids and 5-pw irons. All clubs are right-handed.
All shafts are senior graphite. The hybrid shafts are TaylorMade Burner RE*AX 60. The irons shafts are TaylorMade Burner 2.0 SuperFast 65. All clubs have standard lie.
There is no headcover on the hybrids.
If all of these meet your needs, go for it.