While there are some gadgets that aren't necessary in a kitchen, and while it can be daunting to build a kitchen from the bare walls, the temptation to cheap out on things should be confined to those things that won't matter. Here are five things you should be willing to lay out the cash for when you are getting your kitchen in order.
1. Stand mixer
Yes, they're expensive, but they are the workhorses of a kitchen. The base model usually has a whisk, a mixing paddle and a dough hook, but for not terribly much money you can purchase attachments such as meat grinders, a pasta maker or a juicer. Not bad for one machine.
You don't need to go over to Williams-Somuchmoney and buy the fourteen-piece Henckels or Wüsthof knife set, but you should own three or four quality knives. Absolutely indispensable is a good, forged, carbon steel chef's knife, no shorter than eight inches (nine or ten if you're tall). Also required are a serrated knife (for bread and tomatoes) and a paring knife. While a boning knife isn't required, it is extremely useful, particularly if you cut apart your own chicken or fish. Go to a reputable knife shop with a bunch of crisp celery and a cutting board and try out knives, and remember that knives are always, ALWAYS a hand-wash item.
Nothing says, “I just moved out of college” like a motley assortment of plates, glasses and silverware. While people can eat off of anything, if you're likely to entertain you might want to think about having at least a starter set of four of each thing. Don't go for the ridiculously expensive stuff if your budget is limited: plain white ceramic plates, standard stainless-steel knives without interesting patterns and plain glasses will be cheaper and easier to replace when the inevitable break happens.
Given that you can buy a skillet for as little as $10 at a kitchen-supply store, why pay $40 for a cast-iron skillet that you'll have to keep seasoned? Because absolutely nothing cooks like cast iron. It retains heat, it is capable of becoming rocket-hot for things like steak, it will slowly become completely non-stick, and unless it rusts you can pass it down to your grandchildren.
The one that came with your set of cheap knives doesn't count. If you are equipping a kitchen from the ground up, you'll need at least two cutting boards: one wooden one (butcher block-end if you can afford it, because it's the fasting cutting surface there is) and one plastic one. The plastic one is for foods that aren't meant to be eaten raw (chicken, for example). You may also want a plastic one for particularly fragrant items like onions and garlic. Whatever you buy, get the biggest one you can fit on your counter (and still lift). It's frustrating to try and chop on a too-small board.