Save or spend: SpendA good set should last a lifetime, at least. To get this kind of quality, look for materials like 18/10 stainless steel (with or without copper core) or enameled cast iron.
These are durable, they're good at conducting heat, and they clean up well, which in combination can't be said of the alternatives. (All-copper is more expensive but hard to clean; aluminum is cheaper but less sturdy.)
You'll spend a lot on this type of cookware - $300-plus for a set - but you shouldn't ever pay full price. Department stores have sales of 10 percent to 50 percent off, with the best often around the holidays.
And you really need only a few pieces, like the sauté pan, stockpot, saucepan, frying pan and lids that come in this All-Clad set.