The good money should be spent on a rod....I use a 7.5' Shimano Clarus, and I buy Shimano AX series reels 2 at a time off Ebay. I can get away with spending less than $20 per reel, and one lasts me about a year...even if I rinse them off regularly.
What pound test are you going to fish with? I basically fish 4-6 pound test for the surf perch, corvina and yellowfin croaker. Using sandcrabs or bloodworms turn up quite a few nice fish for me. I use a bass pro microlite 7'6" UL 2-6lb and a Quantum XR-1 spinner. The rod is on sale right now at Bass Pro for $29.99, item # 38-152-304-00. The Quantum is 10-12 years old and cost $19.99 at the time I purchased it and has lasted thru quite a few surf fishing trips and a few rounds of trout fishing. Its a great rig and fits into anyones budget.
I'll 3rd those cheap Shimano $10 buck reels. I have one that's 15 years old and it wasn't used if for yeeears, give it a tune-up last month and it worked perfect. Went down to BPS and picked up 2 more for the kids. Drop it in the sand, rocks, water, send it to the bottom of the lake, I don't care, it's a $10 reel.
Funny thing, I think I spend $20-30 for the old Shimano and now they are $10. Guess they can't be all that bad if Shimano is still making them.
I have Two Cabelas Salt Staiker Metal Spinning Reels and they feel real nice. 10 bb and 1 roller bb. The drag is smooooooooooth and fit and finish is good. I have the 40 and the 60 size, I paid 69.99 for each of them. Only draw back is the weight but if your fishing a big-o 12' glass rod whats an extra 8oz. or so? For the price I dont think you can find anything else with that many bb and a drag that feels this smooth. But in the end keeping your reel clean and salt free is what makes a big deal. Pflueger makes a bunch of nice reel but not sure on the price.
Generally, I agree with the "cheaper is better." On the other hand, I went through five Daiwa Samurais one summer (no shit) before I figured I could have bought a Symetre for the same price and it's a much nicer reel.
Bedad is spot on: get a Sedona or a Symetre and a Clarus. My Symetere 2500 is five years old; I've had to send it to Shimano three times (at $20 a pop),but I get a rebuilt back and it's perfect for what you're fishing for.
I have been through 6 spinning reels in the last 3 months from inshore bay fishing. They were either Daiwa or Shimano reels from $20 to $50. After 3 fishing trips, the handle simply doesnt turn anymore. Running fresh water and even using reel cleaner after each trip doesnt patch the wound. You get what you pay for. Keep those low cost reels in the fresh water lakes if you plan on keeping them around. The guy who suggested the 2500 Sedona by Shimano for $50 is your closest bet. Take a look at the Spirex from Shimano also. Set that up with any 6-6 or 7-0 rod, with light line, and your set.
Penn Fierce II 6000 For $80 its one hell of a reel! Did me lots of good on the surf, it even took a swim with me and was still smooth. My old 4000 caught me a 50# 5' leopard shark. Cant go wrong with it!