That is totally true, @geneboe . It was so long ago that I forgot. Virgen was the "impractical" deck - each Pokemon was ~$20-25 and you needed 8. Very tough.
While there is no question that buying singles is the cheapest way to to build decks, I think the tension in my mind (at the time) was two-fold: First, we kind of needed bulk. We just didn't have the cards we needed to build decks for testing. One thing I didn't mention that might bear mentioning was that PTCGO was totally useless at the time. It is much more practical now to test online then it was when we got into it. Second, my kid loved cracking packs. My youngest still does. Cracking packs was part of the joy of the game for us and tins gave us a nice combination of guaranteed outcomes and pack crackin' good times.
I didn't really continue the narrative, and this is a dimension where I could have expounded on what a good time it was for us to get into the game, but our first full year I think the only regionals we went to were Philly, VA, and MA. I lived in Philly for many years and we stayed at my best friends house. Our travel expenses were negligible. We bought him a fancy dinner. VA was local for us. MA was a "fun trip" at the very end of the year. And there were no fees for juniors. So our out-of-pocket expenses were incredibly low. Getting an invite that year and the following year were pretty easy, as most people know and we didn't really travel that much. I think we added one regional the following year.
We traveled a lot this year because I felt like I had an obligation to my son after winning Nats to give him enough at-bats to have an extraordinary year. To our misfortune, James Kowalski was too good and his success at Pheonix and Australia locked us out of Top 4.