Assuming you have the basics (oven, fridge, microwave, toaster) these are the items that will begin your journey to culinary glory:
1. A chef’s knife
A chef’s knife is the most essential part of this list, and with good reason. It not only will do almost everything you need a knife to do, but also the more you use it the better your knife skills will get. They can be an investment (hellooo, Bob Kramer), but even a $50 knife is good enough to start you off. Just make sure the steel (or whatever else it is made from) runs through the handle.
When you’re young and money is tight, pasta is a great way to fill you up without breaking the bank. So you’ll be doing a lot of pasta-straining and a colander is essential to the process. Pick up a used one at a thrift store or buy a new one for $6.60.
9. Sauté pan
This is like the chef’s knife of pans, in that a good one is better than five crappy ones. You can get a decent one for $20, which is a steal since it is stainless-steel (pun intended). Also, be on the lookout for cast-iron pans at thrift stores and garage sales; you can get major deals there.
14. Immersion blender
OK, I know this may seem non-essential, but you try making a velvety cream of tomato or butternut squash soup without one. Buying a cheaper one for $20 is not too much for perfection, since it can double as blender/food processor as well.