Do your research...
I use to enjoy when people would ask me what they should get for equipment, but have become exhausted by this question. I use to start off with "It depends on what you want to do". I would also not steer anyone towards one particular manufacturer.
Over the years I have come to learn that people don't want to know the real answer, as they want to skimp on the quality of the lens. Only to wind up regretting their purchase and upgrading their lens when they find it wont provide the results they are looking for.
I too went through this motion of trying to save money on camera equipment, and soon learned I wound up spending more money in the end. A great lens on a Nikon D70 can produce a clearer image than a cheap lens on a D3.
I listed my old lens's on craigs list. I warned the people who inquired about the lens's as to why I didn't like them and was getting rid of them. It took me a little longer to unload a couple of them as I scared off a few people who were interested and the people who bought them can't come back and blame me for their purchase, after all I did warn them.
What camera should you buy? It always depends on what you want to shoot and use the images for. If you want pictures to email the grand parents on the opposite coast, then pick up an inexpensive compact camera, also no need to spend the extra on the higher mega pixels.
Manufacturer - We all have our own reasons for using the manufacturer we have chosen. Mine was simple, I have used Nikon since the 80's so why change. Do your home work, select the manufacturer you want to use. Look for locations where you can rent the equipment before purchasing it, a number of these places will also apply one days rental fee towards the purchase price.
Lens's - Don't skimp on the glass. I can't say that enough, don't skimp on the glass. Ensure it will meet your needs. Decide weather you want prime or zoom lens's.
You will have lots of decisions to make, and homework to do. In a good shop, the sales people are well informed but don't expect them to know the answers. Be well informed when you make your purchase.
Photo credits: James Boardman.