First, the study material and sample questions were way out of my league. I studied physics in college so I am not completely ignorant when it comes to things like frequency, phase, modulation, etc. However, I could not figure out what the hell I was reading in the study guide.
Second was the cost. I am ok with building my own equipment out of repurposed electronics, or spending a few bucks on some type of add on card, but the guides I found were talking about $500 beginner radios.
It is quite possible that I was looking at some very advanced type of ham license and communications equipment. If so, what is the best place to start. If not, then y'all must be some kind of rich geniuses!
When you test you take the first, if you pass you can take the second - no extra charge. Same with the third level.
It is easy and inexpensive. For a starter radio, as low quality as they are, a Baofeng UV-82HP is the way to go. Find out if you like it, use it and have anyone in your area to to talk to before spending the big bucks. I went more than a year with the cheap radio, learned who is in the community and which repeaters I want to use and finally put down the money for a decent mobile radio.
Also, radio needn't been too expensive. Check out the Baofeng hand held units that retail for about USD 30 on Amazon. These are only for UHF and VHF. For HF (international), you could either use repeaters, or Radio gateways on the Internet, or EchoLink. I use EchoLink on my mobile phone when I'm in countries where I don't have a license to operate.
If you passed college physics, you can study enough to pass technician and probably general in a weekend. I passed all 3 in one sitting on my first go.
I used them with great success to pass all three tests on my first attempt.
> y'all must be some kind of rich geniuses!
The issue is that it's actually a really fun hobby, so it ends up feeling reasonable to spend a fair bit on it, but you certainly don't have to in order to have fun.