First, this is a great time to buy cookware sets. I've seen sales all over the place. (And back when the economy was good, if you were patient it was easy to nab good deals.). I have 2 sets, because I prefer both types for different types of cooking. One is 18/10 Stainless steel with glass lids and gold handles. I choose that set over others because I liked the design of the set. And if you go with the stainless, as long as you get 18/10 weight, there is NO reason to pay 300 and up for a set that will be identical to any other 18/10 set. Mine was $69. (retail on it was over 400 btw). My 2nd set is Hard Anodized Cookware. It came from Macy's and the price was similar. Both are great quality, I just prefer the different finishes for different cooking. Since the anodized has the non-stick coating on it, I prefer it for any dishes that won't require a super hot pan and where I'd like to use less oil. The stainless I like for steaks, high heat fast cooking and so on. I could go on and detail the differences if you like.
But the key here is shopping around. I guarantee you can get an excellent quality set for what I paid or under. Shop the sales at Macy's. If you have have a Homegoods near you their clearance aisle is an excellent place. They are esp good if you want to buy some individual pans and mix and max versus one set. The pan I use the most didn't come from either set btw. It came from BJ's (btw the warehouses, BJ's, Costco, etc have GREAT deals sometimes and you can check out with any member if you don't belong.). It's an oversized non-stick chicken fryer w/lid. The great oversized pan makes it excellent for everything from frying to dishes you need to simmer for awhile ie Chicken Cacciatori to anything that you want to easily fit in one pan. If I had to, I could function with that one pan and a couple saucepans. (19.99, once hit a 9.99 one day sale but it was the only one time I saw them that cheap). Other good stores to check out are any overstock clearance stores (we have a chain of Building 19's here in New England and they always have great quality brand name pots and pans. It's where I got my stainless set), and any large stores with a kitchen section such as Linen's n Things etc. Between regular markdowns, open box returns and clearance sales they are always going on sale. The key is to look for the 18/10 weight if you get stainless (and a style you like) or good quality, Hard Anodized Cookware--I preferred ones you can put in the dishwasher--not all have that feature). Long as they have a thick, even bottom they will do a great job. Beyond that they are basically all the same and you are paying for brand names etc....a waste IMHO!
So there are some reasonable, functional options. Both are lighter and far easier to deal with than cast iron. Hope this helps!