This one took me years to figure out.
For a long time I dicked around and dicked around. I would buy grain or dry malt extract in bulk, sometimes it took me years to use it all. I would use hops I found growing along the side of the road or in someones back lot. I would build a recipe a little weak and then add a pound or two of white sugar to kick the alcohol up a little bit. I would ride a yeast cake out for three or four brews.
If there was a way to cut corners I would do it.
My results tasted like homebrew. It was stale. The hops living on the side of the road were old Clusters, which tasted kind of like cat piss. My beer was thin and solventy. It was enough to get me loaded but there wasn't a ton of pleasure in drinking it.
Quality in is quality out. Now I order all my supplies from thebrewmasterswarehouse.com. Shit is fresh and I only order what I need. I don't screw around with cheap American two-row. In an English beer I use Marris Otter and with lagers I use Weyerman's Pilsner malt. It costs 30 cents more a pound but the difference is fantastic.
Talking to other brewers who haven't grasp this fact makes me want to scream. The difference between using quality ingredients and cheap grain and found hops isn't a ton, like $5 to $10. I would much rather pay an extra $5 for beer that I don't have to lick my ass to get the taste out of my mouth.
Barley wants to be beer and will do so with fairly primitive equipment. I brew on an incredibly cheap system made up of an $18 cooler, a $100 stainless steel 9 gallon pot and a $20 church sized coffee urn. This is about as cheap as one can go in an all-grain set up and it will turn out great beer, as long as the ingredients are of quality.
If you need to skimp on ingredients in order to brew then you can't afford brewing as a hobby. Stay away from cutting beer with sugar, found hops, cheap bulk grain and trying to malt your own barley.
If you get the urge to go a little cheap ask yourself: "Is this going to make my beer better?"
If the answer is no, then why do it? You may find yourself with your own interesting story to tell. "So I found this moon yeast cheap but a tentacled monster emerged from the fermenter. I had watched enough anime to suspect what was about happen would be horrible. I was right."