Drums are expensive. Personally, I've broken the bank more times than I'd prefer to count because of either necessity, or purely "I gotta have that." So, how do we manage our costs of what we need? I think the key to that is knowing what we actually need to get the jobs done. Generally, it depends on the music you intend on playing. If you know you only have enough money for a cheap drum set, then get the closest version you can to what you need. There are ways to make even the cheapest set sound great. Of course we want the $7,000 set, but if you can get the job done with a $300 set, why not get that one? Generally, go for function, not form.
Things you can think about along these lines are: what do i need to accomplish this, what options are out there and how do they compare in quality and price? Specifically for classical musicians, we have a lot of instruments we need to be able to take auditions, like tambourines, cymbals, and snare drums. So how do we make those decisions on a tight budget? Well, here's how I went about it initially. My teachers told me what to buy and I bought it. Sound familiar? So that got me some mallets, a drum and luckily other things. Then, in college, people had things of their own and said that either it was good, or that everyone who was "serious" had it. Sound familiar? Finally, I had my own ideas about what I liked and what I thought worked and I now make my purchases more decisively. Not everyone makes it to this point soon enough, I think, and I would've saved thousands, literally, had I known what I know now. Here's some tips to save you the headache.
First, generally to all musicians. Whenever you are getting an instrument, whether it's cheap or expensive, find one that works for you. It shouldn't be hard to play the instrument, but easy to do what you want, at least at that time. As you improve the instrument will either be even easier or show you it's limitations, then you can change. If the bass guitar is too big for your hands but is $5, you'd do better getting a smaller one that's $40 in the long run as to not create any problems in the future. If your hands grow later, then you can get the bigger one. So whatever you buy should be catered to you, not just cheap for the sake of saving money. Anything else you buy for the instrument after that should improve that ease of play and not hinder it. Yes it takes time to get used to things, but you shouldn't be straining to accomplish what you want.
Second, to percussionists. Know how your body works and what items make it easy to move. If you have small hands, why buy sticks too big for them, unless they work perfectly. Everyone's body is different, and if you have a tall and skinny teacher that tells you to buy his sticks, but you're short and stubby, they may not work as well. Some sticks are very versatile and can be used by multiple people, but others are specially made for a certain person with certain tastes, hence specialty or signature sticks. Make sure the throw, rebound, weight/distribution of weight and size are to your liking before buying the sticks. Same goes for the drum set. If you are extremely tall, why buy a short set, unless that works perfectly for you. Again, we have different body types and tastes. If you like a small set then get a small set, just as long as it works for you. Otherwise, buy the set that is catered to your body. If you don't like over reaching, buy a set that eliminates that and vice versa. If the cymbals are hard to play loud with and you have to work really hard, it's better to get a cymbal that makes it easier to do that rather than always straining to play.
Lastly, generally to orchestral percussionists. There are a lot of excerpts, but in reality, many can be played with similar materials. I've heard of musicians winning big orchestra auditions playing all the xylophone excerpts with one pair of mallets. Yes. One pair. So, if that's all you can afford, you can make that work. Generally, I think we need more glockenspiel options than xylophone options. With xylophone all we have to worry about is the wood. So, get hard, medium and soft in both plastic and rubber, all on rattan shafts, and that will get you through an audition on xylophone. Anything passed that has to do with different types of plastic, rattan differences and mallet head sizes, which you can make personally decide which combinations you like.
Glockenspiel is a little different, as far as purchasing goes.. The main thing to consider is the two types of glocks that will be at auditions: wide bar and "regular". Usually, if you have smaller mallet heads, specifically plastic ones, they sound very ticky on a wide bar glock and won't help the bars ring, even though they may be fine on a regular glock. So, I would probably purchase mallets that can work well for both. So, get two pairs of metal (probably aluminum), hard plastic and medium plastic and one pair of soft plastic, all of which should be on rattan shafts. I feel birch shafts, on glock specifically and xylophone specifically, don't allow enough rebound off of the bars, making your strokes sound harsher in my mind.
With marimba and vibraphone you have to consider the articulation and projection of your mallets. Usually you want as much sound and articulation as possible without getting too harsh. I feel that having medium, medium hard and hard mallets will be a great start. Deciding between birch and rattan shafts, I believe, is a personal preference here. I tend to think that rattan works better on vibraphone, for the same reasons I had for their use on glock. Marimba on the other hand I think either can be used. Personally I think birch mallets get more tone out of the bars because of the stiffer wood. It also makes movement more rigid and precise, not having to worry about the bending aspect of rattan. Again, this choice on marimba and vibraphone is a personal preference.
Drumsticks are easier to buy. If you can play easily at all dynamic levels with the pair you have, all you need then is just one pair. You don't necessarily need to buy sticks to play loud and soft with. Snare drum is exactly the same. If you are required to bring your own snare to an audition buy one that works at all dynamics and helps you express what you want. I'd recommend a drum that is 14x5. Generally if you want more punch to the sound, metal is the way to go. For more warmth go for wood. Timpani mallets are more subjective as far as what shaft and core is more to your liking, but generally wood core mallets will be warmer and more articulate and I would definitely consider purchasing a hard, medium hard, medium and medium soft mallet, all with wooden cores. Accessories are fairly similar.
Often now the orchestra will provide instruments for you to use, but depending on the level of audition, having your own equipment might be expected, or they may require you to use their cymbals or other instruments. In the cases where it's expected to bring your own Purchase a tambourine that can work at all dynamics and is very clean and clear in sound (probably something in chromium) and maybe a cheap tambourine for extremely soft things. Cymbals, if you want to purchase them, I think 17" is the way to go as far as size, but you want a pair that you both know will work on all levels and is "easy" to play with.
Triangle? Exactly the same. Go for a instrument that makes it easy to play anything clearly on. I personally think brass triangles are warmer and therefore a little less clear when you play either loud or fast rhythms, so maybe don't start with a brass triangle. With beaters, two large, two medium large and two medium beaters will work great. Bass drum, you have a pair of articulate mallets (either shammy or wood), rollers, two medium hard and a nice soft mallet. Castanets haven't been on auditions lately, so if they were asked, more than likely they will provide them for your use at the audition. If not, you know what to do. Find a pair that works in all dynamic ranges, easy to roll with, literally, and is easy to play. Again, the audition may, or may not provide certain mallets, like for bass drum, and instruments, like tambourines and triangles. So don't be afraid to inquire about what will and will not be available to you.
And of course, the bag. Find a bag that is easy to travel with, protects the equipment well and gives you easy access to the equipment in any various situations. For set players, a bag that you can hook to the floor tom is pretty nifty. For audition takers, a bag that you can easily take from instrument to instrument is a must.
Well, that was a lot, but I wish that I had someone give me this kind of advice so that I wouldn't have wasted money, or thought less of my chances of a good performance because I didn't have the popular gear. If it works, use it and don't feel bad about what it looks like. Also understand that you have time to collect more and more things and to cultivate your own opinions and tastes, so don't feel rushed to buy everything all at once. I only have so many mallets because I'm a geek and I like different feels and colors of sound. I hope this helps you save a buck or two.