Buying a sewing machine is a big investment and the type you get depends on your needs and desires. It’s so easy to be swayed by a good sales person so be on your guard when you go shopping (I bought one of the first free arm sewing machines that way and regretted it every day I sewed on the darn thing).
Write down all the things that you need starting with the most important item(s). For some it’s the perfect buttonhole, while others just have to have all the stitches for heirloom sewing while others just have to have all the embroidery stitches. If your needs are simple there are plenty of sewing machines out there to satisfy your needs. You don’t have to pay thousands of dollars just to have a machine to sew simple stuff, that’s way over kill on your budget. Besides there are better things to spend your money on, like supplies for sewing or better yet fabric for your stash. If however the digitized embroidery machine is absolutely what you need then please do some careful research. There are tons of websites offering original designs for your machine, and it is appealing to be able to draw in something and have it embroidered for you. Pretty cool in fact.
When this is done it’s time to investigate where you buy your machine. From all that I have heard and read on the sewing boards (see list below) this is a major factor in purchasing a machine. Sure you might be able to snag your ideal model off of the net without customer support nor lessons, and for some this is the way to go especially if you’ve sewn for a while and are good at teaching yourself about your machine. But many people need those lessons offered by dealerships. Next step is to ask about customer support and repair policies and warranties. Some shops offer extra incentives to people interested in purchasing machines like free classes and a 30 money back guarantee, satisfaction guaranteed. Also some shops offer free lessons or include a set in the price of the machine. Many times dealers welcome you back for more questions as this might be the perfect place to buy your notions or thread. Net places are trying to emulate walk in shops but you don’t always get the personalized attention that you do when you see a machine and repair person in person. IMO this is one of the flaws of buying your machine off the net.
Where to go to get information? There are plenty of sewing boards out there on the net which have lots of posts of info by sewing machine owners. I suggest that you mosey onto boards which match your interests and see what the ladies say about their machines. For example quilters may want to look at the quilt boards to see what machines their peers suggest while heirloom sewers should haunt the heirloom boards too see which machines match their needs and budget.
Personally I own a Bernina 930 (nope I don’t want to sell it but I might be coerced into a trade for an Elna Diva), which was the last of the mechanical machines that Bernina put out. I purchased it over 13 years ago and it still is running like a champ, with only one trip to the shop which was my fault due to sewing with metallic thread in the bobbin without adjusting it, but I have to admit that my machine doesn’t do all those nifty heirloom sewing tricks that I want. If I had my druthers I would get an Elna Heirloom Edition (or that Elna Diva) or a similar machine. I don’t need fancy embroidery stitches and no matter how many ideas I can come up I always ended up feeling like my “I wants” have kicked in instead of my “I need”.