Here's my own experience.
I'm low budget too, and I don't want to go into debts for photography. So it takes long to build my gear, and it's one thing at a time. I have bought a basic lights and backdrop kit early in the course. It worked like a charm for still life, like your apples, because you're on tripod and can use a longer shutter speed. I had bought for $180 a kit with 2 lights and fluo bulbs + light stands + 2 umbrellas + backdrop stand + white-black-green chroma key muslins. The fluo bulbs are 45W and worked great with still life. Then, I got to Unit 4-portraiture. OMG! Couldn't do portraits without faces being blurred. So, I bought really big 68W fluo bulbs. It was better, but I still needed to crank ISO (so, grain invloved) and shoot portraits on tripod ALWAYS. Not very handy. I don't know how, but I managed to do my Unit 4 photo project with them, urging my models not to move an inch, not even to blink. Then, I had to shoot a 50th wedding anniversary, and I installed a studio in the corner of the ballroom. OMG, I was frustrated with the lights. That was it, I started looking for strobes. I was going for Alien Bees, which are expensive but reliable. Then, a photog friend of mine told me about his strobes-shopping and what he had bought; that was no name but same power as Alien Bees, for A LOT less expensive. So that's what I bought. For $700, I got 4 strobes + stands + 2 med soft boxes + one large softbox + backdrops+ snoot + barn door + wireless trigger + more accessories. I would have paid less had I bought the 3 lights kit on Ebay ($450), but I wanted 4 lights and a large softbox. I HAVE NO regrets at all. I love my strobes and I just can't believe I went through unit 4 without them. That's power my friend (4 X 300W with modeling lights). The same thing would have cost me $2500 with Alien Bees.
At that moment, my washing machine died on me! So, with the price difference, I was able to buy my strobes, a new washing machine AND a light meter for less than $2000. http://www.ebay.com/itm/AIKIPHOTO-900W- ... 43a47233c0