When I first started out brewing I bought the standard and least expensive beginners equipment set. This included a thirty quart brew pot, plastic bottling bucket and an assortment of miscellaneous bits and pieces to make and bottle a five gallon batch of extract beer. I think this is probably the way that the majority of beginners start, modest and cheap at first to make sure the hobby is going to take, before spending too much on what may turn out to be just more clutter for the garage.
Scrap metal yard
Here's the interesting discovery about myself as the hobby indeed did 'take' and my passion for brewing beer grew. The new upgrades that I purchased for my system were not the brand new off the shelf items from the local homebrew store but instead tended to be found items located in unusual places. I learned that I enjoyed the hunt for brew gear and began to consider it a big part the creativity of the brewing hobby. I also found that being a homebrewer brought out the cheapness in me, I didn't want to pay retail on a new item if I could find it used or find an alternative item that had a 'cool' factor to it. This satisfied my desire to hunt and to be cheap while making my favorite chilled beverage. As time went on, my attention to locating brewing stuff became a natural focus, enabling me to find obscure items from long distances, that's right, I discovered my super power. Often the best items would be found in the most unlikely places.
For instance, while spending the day with my wife wandering the historic down town area of Anacortes Washington, we happened upon a boat supply store that carried salvage parts for resale. Off in the corner of this dusty store packed with shipyard surplus was a bin of mercury thermometers made of brass with glass covers, apparently stripped from the boiler an old tug, what a score. I picked one out and spent only a few dollars for not only a functional tool but a showpiece for my hot liquor tank. It's strange how I remember that moment so clearly, I think the sun was out the day too.
I don't think I'm speaking just about myself when I say that as a homebrewer I'm also interested in saving money and that this often comes across as cheap. Whenever I talk with other brewers this subject ranks right up there with what to call a black IPA and what's in the oak barrel. But I like to consider that this is just about the enterprising attitude that seems to go hand in hand with brewing my own beer. I sincerely hope that I'm not cheap to begin with and that's why I brew. Anyway, for me, found objects to brew with is as important as full bag grain prices and buying hops by the pound.
I've also come across some scrapped beer kegs that I use for boil pots at the scrap metal yards along with other stainless steel items like the perforated false bottom material and beer faucets and a bunch of corney kegs. There are many unorthodox places to locate brewing equipment gems if you're willing to keep your eyes open and your mind focused.
Here is a suggested list of other places to explore that may have the potential for great finds:
Flea markets are a great source of brew stuff for example I've found carboys, kegs, tap handles and more over the years.
Hardware stores with an eye for brewing equipment. I've picked up parts for braided hoses for my mash tun filter, parts to make hop bag device,etc. I also, keep my eyes open for anything plastic, stainless steel, copper, brass, or wood as any of this could be used in some fashion for brewing.
The local homebrew club. Other homebrewers with stuff they don't need. Make an offer, sometimes they just give it to you because they have more than enough or it's in the way. A fellow brewer gave me a great deal on a mill because he upgraded to a better style.
The recycle bins at the dump. I've got a couple extra 20lb. co2 tanks from there not to mention another keg.
Manufacturers. I noticed some nice food grade bins at a candy manufacturer recently. Although I didn't ask for one I will keep the information in my head for any future need, they could make great open fermentors.
When I'm focused on brewing, anywhere I wander my eye will catch that chrome or stainless metal that could be a brewing related item or could be made into one. I abruptly pulled off the side of the highway recently because I saw a nice gas hose and regulator coming from the side of a propane tank. Turns out the road paving crew was currently using it but hey, can't hurt to look (I was a little embarrassed).You'll never know where you'll find the next great score, and with an intention to discover the brewing equipment you want or even don't want, it will surface when you least expect it. Cheers, and good hunting.