One great thing about buying cookware is that there are really nice pieces at reasonable prices. Even many of the the popularly priced brands made by Meyer have improved so much that you can get nice stuff at most price points. For the average home cook...They work just fine. One thing I would look at is what type of cooking do you usually do...and what pieces will you need. You could start with a set...or you could spend your money on a few specific open stock items.
If you want a nonstick set, you cannot go wrong with Emerilware. I was just telling my husband yesterday that it is really high quality for the price. I usually see the nonstick anodized set around $199.
There are certainly lots of options...I hear Sears has a fully clad set that goes on sale for $99. I haven't used it but I hear it is pretty good.
If you are into bargain hunting...there are certainly ways to get several pieces of higher end cookware and stay within your budget. I've gotten some great bargains at Home Goods, Macys, and the Williams Sonoma Outlet (I was at one in Virginia last week and got a All-Clad french skillet for $45). It is a great piece...add a saute, a sauce pan, a dutch oven, and a stock pot and you are on your way. It really depends on how much time you want to invest in hunting for a bargain...For some of us, the hunt is as fun as using it!
There are lots of knowledgeable people on this board...They can give you great advice. The only piece of advice that I can give you is to have fun in the process! I love cookware...I am totally addicted to finding a great piece at a bargain. I have a whole room full of everything from All-Clad, LC, Staub, Calphalon...and on and on! My husband calls it the "Pan Room."