If I were to trust my fellow DCers and just buy some of that stuff because it is dirt cheap, what programs have you folks used, and which ones do you suggest I purchase?
You might well have tried it, but if not, download a copy of Paint Shop Pro from Corel. I find it to have the nicest, most intuitive interface of any graphics program I have looked at. If you like it, go on ebay and look for a cheap version there. I bought a totally legit copy of PSP there for $27 (plus shipping). Now, I have a new hobby.
Also, if you decide to get it, let me know. I have a lot of website URLs and other free resources I can give you.