I have a New Home machine (I think their new name is Janome) and I love it. They are pretty well priced, and I got a discount for being a student aswell. There is a little shop downtown that specializes in that brand, and they were much cheaper then chain stores like Walmart, joannes, etc.
I got a serger by the same brand, but I love my machine much more. Your friend is right- if you start sewing alot, you're probably going to want a serger eventually. But, I wouldn't go for one instead of a regular machine. The tension on sergers is a little tricky for me, and I think a sewing machine is much more versatile.
Good luck on year search!