The most important gear item is what is between your head! :)
I may get banned from this forum and have to turn in my Real Outdoors Person (TM) membership card, but gear is the least important part of backpacking.
When I started backpacking, I had an old external frame pack, a Campmor Hollofill II (synthetic bag), a Eureka Tent with fiberglass poles, an old cookpot, an acrylic sweather and a Coleman 1 burner propane stove (which I still have and use! Great for truck bivvy's before a backpacking trip at the trailhead)
If you notice the gear, it is heavy and bulky, but serviceable. I knew enough to not wear cotton jeans, but at 22 yo was in no position to buy "real" backpacking gear.
I hiked the White Mountains with a buddy and then solo. And learned to love the wilderness.
Two years later, I was on top of Katahdin with a smile on my face as I just thru-hiked the AT.
And after THAT I moved to Colorado.
Over the course of the years, I started getting the "right" gear and clothing that fit the style of backpacking. I learned to appreciate the lightness of down after I saved my pennies. And that aluminum poles work a lot better than fiberglass!
It is laudable to buy the "right" gear but frankly you won't know what is the "right" gear until you use it and gain experience. A tarp may not work well for you. Everyone loves inflatable mattresses..except for Luddites like me who can't stand them. :) An alcohol stove IS light and cheap..but maybe you want to cook more? You get the idea.
A good sleeping bag is well, a good investment. Other than that? Too easy to get gear paralysis and not actually gain the experience and love for the outdoors you need.
Try using things you may already have. Buy a few choice items you know won't change too much (again, like a sleeping bag)but don't sweat the gear too much. Just get out there and go hiking! You'll learn far more from getting out there than any REI gear sale. :)
Finally, I wrote an article for going on the cheap. You won't want to follow ALL the ideas..but they are still ideas that may help:
EDIT: Maybe I should have read the whole thread. :) Looks you are getting out there..coolio.