FIRST, before you even go further in thinking about becoming a beekeeper, you MUST spend a day or two with an experienced apiarist. In addition to learning what equipment you'll need for yourself and the bees, you need to actually experience being around an active hive, and you need to see firsthand - not just read about - what it takes to manage a healthy colony. It would be ideal if you could visit a apiary now, later in the fall, in mid-winter and then early spring before you order your own equipment and bees. I can't stress enough how important this visit to a working apiary is BEFORE you invest in your own beekeeping.
Before we even glance at the equipment needed, consider, too, that keeping a healthy bee colony is not always something you can control. Bees are subject to a number of challenges, as the recent past has shown. Two or three years ago, mites wiped out many a hive in New England. Happily, we've noticed a full rebound in bees in our fruit trees and bushes and flower beds this year. But, just be aware...
I've heard estimates of $250 to $1,000 to set up your first hive or two. And a beginner certainly shouldn't consider undertaking any more hives than that. You might be able to get some equipment secondhand, but take some care there as you certainly don't want to take any chance on compromised equipment. I've found the website for New England Beekeeping Supplies, Etc. absolutely invaluable. The following link will take you right to their page that helps you estimate your first year costs for setting up a couple of hives. New England Beekeeping Supplies, Inc.
Your state university's Cooperative Extension Service also has much helpful information, and of course, your local library probably has books on this subject too.
You'll need gear to protect yourself even if you do believe that bee stings are good for treating arthritis, etc. There are helmets, hats, veils, those long leather gloves and full protective suits, all of which adds up. You can buy a beekeeping starter set for well under two hundred dollars, and plans to guide you in building your own hives are easy to come by. So you can get started inexpensively if you work at it.
Now what about getting the bees themselves? Well, you don't just go down to your local seed-/feed store and pick up a hive's worth!! Most northeastern suppliers get their bees from the south or mid-west, although I do believe there's one apiary with their own stock in MA. Bee packages are usually under $100, while a sturdy queen may be $25 or so.