I don't understand how anybody cooks without good knives. I just don't get it. You should never ever have to saw through a piece of meat or a vegetable. Nor should you have to hack - gravity and the knife's weight should do most of the work for you.
The thing about knives that sucks is that knives are expensive. Good knives are really expensive. I'll readily admit that I'm a knife snob, but there are far worse things to be a snob about. I'm also lucky - my father is an even bigger knife snob and he will habitually clear out his knife drawer. I get the leftovers, and now I'm set for life.
Knives, like anything else made well, will last a long time. You can get them sharpened or buy a sharpener yourself, depending on where you live and how comfortable you feel sharpening your own knives.
Here are a few tips to remember when you are knife shopping:
1. Start small. Don't buy more than you can afford at once. If you can afford a fancy Henckels knife block, power to you, but you might not need all of those knives. Start by investing in what you really need. Think about what you chop the most frequently - for example, if you chop a lot of vegetables maybe you should be looking at a flat bladed santoku, and if all you cook is meat, make the investment in an 8 inch meat knife.
2. Do some research. Look at different brands, different companies, different styles of making the same knife. Read reviews. Ask other people you know who cook.
3. Know how a good knife should feel in your hand. This sounds stupid, but people have different sized hands and one brand might not work for you.
4. Comparison shop. Get knives off of e-bay. Just because knives cost a lot doesn't mean you have to pay full price.
5. Don't be a blockhead! All your knives don't have to be the same brand just so you can have a "clean kitchen" without knife clutter. Don't just buy a set, or think that all the knives you buy have to fit into your knife block. Explore other options - both magnetic strips for hanging knives over your stove (not suitable for clumsy people or homes with small children), or consider the Kapoosh Universal Knife Block .