There are great resources to cut down on the cost of supplies. This is what I did to get around those hefty price tags:
Containers: you don't need to go to the store and buy planters. Any container that can hold dirt and survive the weather is fine. This includes:
- Buckets (like the $5 paint buckets at places like Home Depot)
- Wine crates (most liquor stores are ok with handing these over for free)
- Reusable cloth shopping bags
- The bags that the store-bought dirt comes in. Just open the top of the bag, plant your veggie, and recycle the bag at the end of harvest
- Old, broken wagons (these are best for shallow-soil veggies like lettuce)
- Drawers from a dresser that's being thrown out
- Trash cans
I mean, really, anything that will hold dirt and won't be destroyed by water will work. Just remember that they need to be able to drain. This means have holes in the bottom (which you can make with just a hammer and nail, or an ice pick, a drill, whatever) and it needs to sit at least an inch or two off the ground (you can set the container on bricks).
If these options aren't for you, try looking Craigslist.org for free planters, or try Freecycle. I complained about the price of containers in my Facebook status, and a friend told me to come get her old containers that her husband bought but was never going to use. You can also find really great deals on planters after Labor Day. As soon as you see Christmas decorations going up at stores, run right over to get great deals on containers, dirt, all that stuff. Those deals won't help you if you're looking to start gardening right this minute, but they're great money savers on stuff you'll use next year.
As for dirt, there are endless possibilities. First, getting dirt from a public park, forest preserve, etc is actually illegal in most places so don't bother. Next time you see a construction site, go talk to someone there to see if you can haul off a little dirt. They usually don't care, but you have to ask first.
My favorite source of free dirt came to me every other week at my boring desk job. We had a company that cared for our office plants, and every other week they changed out the small flower pot on my desk. I asked the guy if they were just throwing out the flowers and he said, "Yeah. Why? You want this? Here take it. Enjoy!" So every other week, whether I liked the plant or not, I took it home and lovingly nurtured it, watering it, talking to it, giving it a good home. None of them lived longer than two weeks in my apartment. So I threw out the plant, but saved the dirt in a shopping bag. I also saved the plastic container the plant came in to use when my seedlings sprouted. From November to March, I managed to get one and a half shopping bags of dirt for free.
So go now, and get your reused containers and dirt. Ask your friends, relatives, and neighbors who garden about their gardening tips. Seasoned gardeners are usually pretty excited to help out novices and sometimes they'll throw some freebies your way - food spikes, gardening gloves, planters, etc. I'll post more on this as the season goes on.