One item not mentioned above is to join a local dive club. Often the members there will let you try gear so you can see for yourself whether you like a jacket or wing BC; what style regulator (low profile, larger 2nd stage), and especially what type tanks - steel, alum, and size. Most places only rent alum 80's as they are the cheapest tanks. Here is cold water Washington, few dive with less than a 100 cf tank and many now going to 119 cf. OTOH, many smaller persons, esp ladies, are opting for steel 80 cf tanks. Steel tanks require less on the weight belt. In cold water, a dry suit is usually the best first purchase. In warmer areas a wetsuit may be the last. Most shops rent good regulators, so that wouldn't be my first priority, despite those who say it's "life support equipment." In general, both owned and rental equipment will be safe, so prioritize based on local area and desire. If you find you want a plate and wing BC, and local shop only rents jacket style, buy that first. Owning is more convenient as it's fewer trips to the shop, no on-going expenses except gas for every dive, can night dive and not worry about returning gear next am when you have to work; more comfortable; no weight changes every dive if suit, BC, or tank isn't exactly the same rental, etc, etc, etc. And, you'll usually get a better deal on a full package than buying one at a time. Still, it's your budget, your comfort zone, and obviously rental gear has served you so far.