Softwoods are often softer and more delicate woods in general, as the name would suggest, but aren’t necessarily always weaker than hardwoods. Although, they are generally less dense and not as durable as Hardwoods, which grow at a much slower rate than softwoods creating a denser and stronger grain in the wood. Softwoods come from coniferous (or gymnosperm) trees such as Cedar, Hemlock and Pine and lean towards a yellow to reddish tone by nature. Hardwoods come from angiosperm (seed producing) trees such as Oak, Cherry, Maple and Walnut and are generally darker toned woods. Softwoods tend to be less expensive than hardwoods, as they grow much more quickly and can be milled at a faster rate. While hardwoods are generally more expensive, the durability, strength and overall look is often worth the additional cost depending on your project needs.
I wouldn’t give up on Craigslist or garage sales.. For around $1K or less, you can pretty easily find the four big ticket items (TS, BS, Jointer and Planer) and have the extra $2K to spend on accessories, material, DC, other goodies, etc. The key is patience and persistence, and if applied correctly, you can have a fantastic setup for very little compared to purchasing new. If you are setting up a business, you don’t usually have the time to scour for good deals, but for a personal shop, there is no pressing need other than that itch to get something done.