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I'm modding on a budget too..(check out the bay area house prices) and my 2 cents is this:
1. the rear sway bar cancels out the massive understeer and is cheap mod, less than $200 fitted....a definate must have.
2. Engine management, get the Cobb Accessport for $600 and it makes you boost sooner and get rid of that loss of power when you hit 5,500 revs...in the future you can also get a custom tune and load that map....
3. Rubber....get rid of those RE-92's....$1200 gets you rims and tyres from Subydude and that makes a massive difference....
if you still have money left, think about a catless downpipe (less than $300 for the helix from Gruppe-s) and a stock, gutted up-pipe from Ebay ($70)...but do these before a custom tuned map.
Like I say, I'm a noob on a budget, but these are the mods that have made the biggest difference to my car....
Personally, I would have put some springs on my car first, the springs are way to soft and cause so much body roll and then a rear sway bar to counteract that understeer. Then get some rumble, you can pick up an Apexi N1 exhaust for a really reasonable price. Then downpipe and Accessport with a custom tune. The Accessport is pretty easy to use, as long as you understand electronics well and can follow instructions you'll be fine, pretty simple to use for me and I suck at those kind things
Turboback exhaust, catted or catless, new or used ~ $400 - $1000+
Then start fine tuning the suspenion like springs, swaybar, endlinks, ect...I like power stuff first myself Just dont buy an intake, BOV, boost controller or heavy wheels, all will hold you back in regards to performance.
Cobb AP was my first mod and well worth it. Some people say they can't feel the difference on the butt dyno with stage I, but they're retarded.....stage I completely smooths out the power band.$600
Then get rear sway bar and end links, cheap$250. K&N (or other co.) drop in filter, cheap $40. 600+~300=900
I'd get wheel and tires next, now you're looking at ~$1200 for cheap wheels and decent tires.1200+900=2100
If you have $400 left over i'd go with springs or other assorted cheap items like Kartboy ss w/bushings $125, shift **** $50-100, etc....
I'm really pleased with my Cobb AP, even though I'm only running Stage 1. It seemed to smooth the idle out a bit and I noticed a bit more power up top. I guess I'm "retarded" though, because I didn't really notice much in the terms of the "butt-dyno." Then again, it is an AWD car so some power is going to be sucked up through the drivetrain......
I disagree with you regarding wheels. Wheels aren't going to help the performance UNLESS you go with significantly lighter ones. By doing so you will cut unsprung weight, which can take a serious toll on overall performance. As an example, a buddy of mine had some aftermarket 18s on his '05 STi which he said weighed nearly 21 lbs each , and he ran a 13.70 1/4 mile. He swapped the aftermarket wheels off and reinstalled his stock BBS wheels, which I believe weigh about 16.5 lbs each, and he cut his time to a 13.0x. Not to mention, he also picked up 2 mph!
Swaybars and end links would definitely do wonders for the handling of the WRX. You could have an excellent performer for minimal cost. With the Cobb AP and minor suspension components you will have a very well-rounded vehicle.
My first mod was a short shifter. After that, I went with a bunch of suspension parts. Springs, struts, swaybars/endlinks. If you could hold out on power mods, I'd go with suspension bits. The car already has decent power so it's shouldn't be too much of a set back. Sway bars are pretty easy to install. Shouldn't take more than an hour(per side) with the proper tools.