Ditto on going used; it's really your best option. Look around on ebay, you should be able to find a nice Mexican made Fender strat or tele for $250.00. Maybe a used Epiphone Les Paul if you're lucky.
Yamaha and Ibanez both make quality lower end instruments, as well, so you should look at those too.
Out of the loop? I didn't know there was a loop!