Before I got my Vitamix I just used a regular blender. Well I should say I used 3 other blenders because I burnt them out pretty quickly with all the frozen fruit I was using.
I would consider a couple things to help you make the decision. first, what are you blending? Is it frozen? Are you blending vegetables like carrots and beets? If you aren't blending frozen fruits or hard root veggies any regular blender will work. If you ARE blending frozen fruit and root veggies you might want to consider purchasing one like the Ninja or the Vitamix or Blentech. Just my opinion. I LOVE my Vitamix and have used it every single day since I bought it in July.
If you simply can't make that large of a purchase baby whatever blender you do choose. Blend in batches. Put a small amount in the blender give it a whirl then add more and so on. If you get one that has an ice feature you should be fine for a while. My brother-in-law used a stick blender for a while until he got a blender. I wouldn't recommend that because his smoothies weren't smooth at all, in fact they were quite chunky. LOL