Thank you all. You echo much of what I already felt.
While I have a great warm three season bag that is correctly rated at 20 degrees it was heavy and bulky when new (which was just when synthetics were coming on strong). It is too heavy though. My synthetic Campmor bags are a bit lighter but still bulky and not reliable below 35 degrees or so.
My other gear is sound and good and my trail skills are up there, although perhaps a tad atrophied.
I thoroughly agree that the bag is critical and the one area in which I cannot go stone cheap. I am going to make a hard, hard push next season to try and get out more often.
Even $100 will hurt, but if I am going out, I think the Kelty Cosmic 20 is about as cheap as I can go and keep weight down within my price range.
For beginners without anything I personally advocate buying the pack first and getting the best you can by shopping discontinued lines and the like. I prefer a tougher pack than the ultralight crowd, but that is my choice and I am well fitted in that line.
It took me when starting a long while to get decent gear and a lot of stuff, shoes, packs, bags and the like hit the Salvation Army (or the dumpster) before I learned the difference between quality and cheap.
So your advice would mirror my own. Ease into it, buy as you can and get the best quality that your income and shopping permit.

Edited by EMT Dave (12/06/17 08:20 PM)