It would be worth saving the frustrations of a crummy cheaper machine and get yourself something like a Bernina in the $600-$700 range if you can find one on sale. I waited til the Bernina dealer near me had a Black Friday sale and got mine that way. They let me try out all the models in the store that fit my needs. Also most good dealers offer free, or very cheap classes, when you buy a machine. They will help teach you the basics of how everything works.
Well, I don't sew but my wife does. If you don't want to pony up for a Bernina, then get a mid-range model with all metal gears. Pass up on the cheap Brother sewing machines made of plastic that have no real power. Look for something powerful, heavy and reliable. For the most part from all the machines we've bought, stay away from Amazon reviews. They are far too nice to the low end machines. Also, don't be fooled by fancy stitches. Most likely you won't need the vast majority of them.
I would third the Bernina statements. Bernina still makes an all mechanical model (the 1008) that is tops in my book. Of course, you're lucky to get one for $799.00 nowadays.
A good alternate option? If you can thrift or craigslist and older, all metal, belt-driven, tabletop Kenmore, Singer, or Brother for uber cheap and the drop $100.00 to get it serviced and up to speed. Or just go to a mom-n-pop type sewing machine store (preferably on e that specializes in repairs), and just buy an older model from them. You should be able to get in under that $300.00 mark.
My wife is a sewing genius. She helps with my 501st gear plus sews a good deal of our kids' clothes. Your choice of machine will depend on what you need to do with it. Do you need a heavy-duty stitch for nylon straps or thick materials? Do you need fancy stitches or embroidery?
I started with a Pfaff 833, which was(at the time) the standard school home-ec model. It is easy to use, and for us costumers, it does buttonholes and stretch stitches. After that, you really should get a serger. Your work will look far more professional with it. Then, grab a night school course to understand how to read a pattern. The rest will fall into place.