Nota Bene: I write this post not as an expert in skates, because I'm not. This is a commentary on my experiences with buying skates and in listening to the words of others as they have bought and broken in new skates. I have found this process to be challenging, and so this is written as a "you aren't alone" guide to those being challenged and likely confused by the process that is Skate Purchase.
Fewer Topics in skating are more esoteric, complex, and obtuse than the selection and purchase of the very thing that you skate with: Your Skates. New skaters are often confused, and rightfully so. What's the difference between a $150 skate set with the blade attached and a $600 Boot without a blade? (Clearly, skate manufacturers are scam artists!) Three hundred dollar boots in competing brands have descriptions that are practically identical, so what's the difference? How much skate do you need for your level? Where do you buy skates, and how can you be sure they fit right? Why is one person telling me to see one skate tech, and another is telling me to avoid him like the plague? Why does one skater swear by one brand, and another skater won't have anything to do with that same brand? And why is the blade separate, and what makes one blade different than another? Is there really a difference? Are used skates okay?
The reason why you can't find answers is because there is no one answer. No one is going to sit you down and say, "This is the right skate for you, blade and all," because they aren't you. Skate preference is unique to the skater.
The introductory Boot and Blade Sets are fine to start with, but once you start getting into your edges and jumping and spending a lot of time in your skates, you're going to start developing tastes. You're also going to start learning more about your feet than you ever thought necessary, and how to get skates that cater to your particular set of feet.
I learned that my right foot is slightly longer than my left, which is why my right skate has to be punched out a bit. My heels are narrower than a stock boot thinks they should be, so I need custom widths. This is pretty common among skaters, and in talking to people I learned that just about everyone has custom widths in the Freestyle levels. I pronate, so blade mounting can be a bit tricky. I used to use an insole, but since I switched to SP Teri's I find I no longer need it. This is just the boot.
Blades are something else. I started off on a 7' Rocker, but I was really tippy on it, so switched to an 8' Rocker where I feel more secure. (I'm debating switching back since I hear spins are easier on a 7' rocker.) I find I like my edges super sharp, so I need a blade that will hold a decent edge for awhile. I also really like my crosscut picks. Blades come with different rockers, hollows, picks, materials, colors and makes, and what makes any given one better than the other is simply a matter of personal preference and where you're at in your skills. They're separate simply because they are a completely separate factor in the skating equation. I like my Ultimas, I think they're just the right amount of blade and pick for me. But my skating partner likes a heavier, beefier blade with a huge pick.
So, how do you buy skates?
Take an objective look at your skating, and think about where you're heading in your skills. Get measured by a skate tech, and work with that person. Try things on. Talk to other skaters. Ask questions, be detailed, be honest about what you like and what you don't like in your current skates. Used skates are fine. Be open to whatever brand works for you. Be patient. If you aren't getting the answers or results you need, be Pushy. Be picky. And when it comes to cost... be prepared. Introductory skates aren't so bad, but when it comes to better boots, consider the costs of injury before putting a price tag on boots.
It's true that Expensive Skates don't make you a better skater. It's also true that settling for Cheap skates can hold you back from being the skater you can be. (My half flips and all toe work disappeared as my Jacksons became problematic, but everything and more resurfaced with the amazing stability of the SP Teri's.)
So, if you're just starting out and need to buy new skates, and you came to this post looking for answers, I hope it helped a little. I know that how much someone spends on their boots and blades can sometimes be a matter of humblebrag at the rink, but price isn't always indicative of quality of product (or skater.) And remember, what is super comfortable in the skate shop is a different story on the ice when you're breaking them in!