Twenty years ago when I was buying my first batch of pro audio gear I was really in a sweat. There was really no internet to speak of, and I didn't have a lot of contact with others in my field. All I had to go on was magazine ads, magazine reviews (more ads) and hype directly from the manufacturers. I had to wade through mountains of tech specs, that weren't always given in the same values, and try to determine what the best options were.
Now it's a lot easier, but you still have to beware of the hype. There are plenty of ways that manufacturers can massage their data to make the specs look good on paper. There are also a lot of articles out there on how to understand those specs and find out if they even mean anything. It's important to know what it is that you're looking at.
As a kid breaking into the business in a small town, I didn't have any access to a peer group. Other guys that were mixing live were using stuff from the 70s and 80s and I was looking to buy stuff that was a little more cutting edge. With the explosion of the internet, a kid in a situation like mine can reach out on a forum and get answers from peers, and more importantly people with more experience.
It's still very important to know what you're looking at though. A user might have a great opinion of a piece of gear that he uses in his home studio, but will it hold up to the rigors of club work? Can you do what you need to do easily or do you need a laptop to get the most out of the programming? Touring pros might think a piece of gear is junk, but guys mixing bar bands might find it a godsend. Is it great for rock but terrible for theatre? You need to get your brain into this kind of critical thinking mode.
I've seen it thousands of times where guys that mix on Midas consoles bash the hell out of Behringer and Mackie stuff. But when budget is a real concern, and you need features that the old Peavey powered mixer you're currently using can't offer, a little console in the sub $1000 range is right up your alley. Don't get discouraged if a piece you're looking at is getting bashed by gear snobs. Try to find out what people in your same situation are using and if they're happy with it.
What's even better is if you're in a position to get a demo. You could hit a lot of forums and still not find the guy mixing in the club down the street, so it might take a phone call or two, but it's very easy to make friends and then head down to a venue and see and hear a piece of gear in action.