I was like you and kept putting off getting certified etc... I am just in the beginning and it's as addictive as anything I have ever done. Either spend decent money now to get want you want to last a while or spend more over a length of time upgrading. Either way just go talk to the guys at MBT. They will explain it all to you better than we can. But getting certified should be the first thing you do before you buy any gear. You'll need the fins, mask, snorkel, and bootiesfor the cert, but go talk to them and they can point you in the right direction for that gear as well.