Does wargaming really need to be expensive?
No, I will not tell you that my wargaming hobby has been cheap, quite the opposite, but I do believe it's very easy to play miniature wargaming quite cheap.
For starters, miniatures, there are tons of great looking miniatures on the market, Games workshop is the spearhead & have very beautiful minis, but they are also quite expensive, it's often the first place a beginner will go for their first army. While the miniatures are of good quality (though definitely not the best) they are getting increasingly pricey, especially if you're buying your paints and terrain from their stores, even when you go down the rather cheap route of say Storm of Sigmar, you need to pay at least 15-20£ for what can only be useful in skirmish gaming. I don't find this to be a bad thing, but sometimes you want to play other formats than skirmish.
Instead of going straight for the mainstream minis, shop around online. There are loads of sites selling quality minis at much lower prices, even as little as £7 for 50 men!
EM4miniatures are offering the same ones as the ones found in the Fantasy Warriors game, Orcs & Dwarves, they look rather ok:
There are 3 variants for both races, which gives you plenty of troops, 21£ will give you 50 of each sculpt, that´s 150 models! If you don't feel the need for 50 of one type of troop, the cost a measly 0.21£ per model.
& the best thing, they paint up really well!
Note even if you´re not into fantasy EM4 is still great for you as they also offer some decent looking futuristic models such as these:
Reaper is another Company which offers very cheap models, these can be found in their Bones range, these are a bit more expensive, but still cheap & combined with the models from EM4, they can be used as excellent characters, making them stand out a bit, Reaper also offers some nice monsters such as these:
The russian Company known as Tehnolog is another Company that offers great models for wargaming, their plastic is a bit soft, but still take paint rather well, it´s hard to find their models in 28mm scale though, but they have plenty of 56mm scaled models that work great for Ogres & other such monstrous infantry:
So you can get rather cheap armies full with monsters & characters for way less than 50£, in fact I think you can get a decent army for a mere 30£.
Great looking Tanks can be found from Tehnolog:
In fact I bought 2 of these tanks myself to expand my 40K 2:nd edition Chaos army. They look really nice in the flesh & offer lots of options when it comes to assembly.
Mantic is another company that offers cheap models in masses, both for fantasy & Sci-fi games. They have some of the best zombie miniatures out there imo:
So now you have your army, but paints seem to be expensive as well!? Well my answer to that is the same as with the miniatures, shop around, there are various art outlets that will sell the appropriate paints for half as much as Games Workshop & even other companies focused on wargaming offer cheaper paints, I really like coat d arms paints myself.
Finally you need some terrain, for this I'm going to suggest something that can be used for models as well, toys. I haven't found many toys I like for wargaming, at most maybe a dinosaur to use with Lizardmen (which are all unpainted & a much later project), but something really useful from the World of toys is army men accessories, look at these great toys:
They're perfect for fantasy wargaming, paint them up & no one will even notice they're old toys & they cost next to nothing on ebay, there's a bunch of other stuff available as well, such as bunkers, trees, Watch Towers etc etc.
You can make excellent hills by just using some cardboard, glue, green paint & baking powder (to fill in the holes of the cardboard).
Another thing to remember is that wargaming isn't all about huge battles, and although they might look cool, you can have just as much fun (or more!) with skirmish games. These types of games give the players control of small warbands of typically 5-15 minis with a focus on personalities and special abilities. Obviously buying a handful of miniatures costs far less than forking out for 100 and it also means you can afford the high quality ranges if you prefer that route, I still believe Storm of Sigmar is one of the best releases made by GW over the last couple of years, even if you don't like the rules. Mantic has their Vanguard kickstarter which looks promising & also offer full warbands for a mere 20$!
Personally I think Song of Blades and Heroes is one of the best fantasy skirmish games out there and well worth a buy. I've heard that Ganesha games is currently working on some sci-fi rules that work well with the 40K universe.
PS. Don´t forget that you can buy stuff on the second hand market as well, flea sales & Ebay allows you to sometimes get a real bargain, that´s how I got my second Fantasy Warriors box, it cost me roughly 12 $ with close to 100 models!