Man used to garden with stones and sticks. Now, gardeners actually have hoe COLLECTIONS (I'm serious, click that link to see it.) There is a happy medium between the two and especially as a beginner gardener, you really don't need much beyond plants, soil and sunshine, but a few good tools will make your life easier. This is the Freshman 3. 3 tools you will absolutely need and 3 tools that you should spend a little bit of money on.
I end up buying a new pair every two years or so, so I buy a good, but not great pair. You should avoid the cheap store brand pruners and even the smaller "packs" of garden gear from big name companies. Buy a solid pair of sharp pruners. Make sure they are BYPASS, not anvil pruners (you want to make clean cuts, not crush your stems). Bypass pruners have two blades that cross each other like scissors (like the photo above). Anvil pruners have two blades that meet in the middle and "crush" the stem. I bought Fiskars this year. The gold standard is Felco and I would go all out, but I lose things too often, so I go middle of the road. These cost $10...if you are a smart girl, you would have bought them last summer when they were clearanced.
Second, you need to be able to dig and weed. You can get lots of little trowels like this white one. It literally cost about 12 cents or something on clearance, so I bought a bunch, but they break easily. I end up letting the kids have them and save my nice AMES trowels for myself :)
I love this particular tool because it has marks on the front for measuring and those wonderful ridges on the side are pretty sharp and can cut through small stems and weed roots easily. It is often the only thing I have out in the garden.
Finally, you need a shovel. If you are planning on planting potted plants or dividing perennials, you need a shovel. I bought a cheap one for $5 and it is about to die. I will be replacing it with a mid-range tool that is made from a piece of steel between the handle and tool so that the handle won't break off. (I just broke off the handle of another tool yesterday...make sure your tools are made from ONE PIECE of metal at the joint!)
When you have your 3 basics and maybe a good pair of gloves if you want to protect your hands (!), come back for the sophomore list!