My experience was more like, "hey, you're poor and can only work with what you're given or can get ahold of on a shoestring budget" for many years. I learned most of what I know now on a late PIII machine, a Dimension 4100. 866MHz PIII, 256(later 512)MB of RAM, 32MB GeForce2MX. It's only been relatively recently (within the last three or so years) that I've actually managed to get to a point where I've been building machines I've wanted. First a PPro, since I just thought they were so cool when I got to mess with some PPro hardware in late high school, then I got bored of it and sent it on its way.
Then a Tualatin PIII that I lusted after since working with my Dimension 4100 back in middle school. I quickly learned that Tualatin isn't all its cracked up to be, it can still be held back by its FSB and it's difficult to get ahold of everything you'll need for one. This isn't even to get into the quagmire that is motherboard choice -- do I want the 815, stability with an absurdly low RAM ceiling, making WinXP a chore, or do I want to trade some stability (and even more money) for a VIA chipset with a more reasonable RAM limit?
My current project is a 486, where I learn more every day and slowly eke out a fully-functional mid-90s system for DOS and early Windows stuff. I've wanted one of these boys ever since I got into the hobby -- I'd always been curious about pre-Pentium machines, since they hail from that mysterious time before I was born but not so much before that it's completely alien to me. I have very specific goals in mind for it -- being able to play MP3s and FLACs, play Duke Nukem 3D, and hopefully get to the point that Diablo is fully playable while still having a stable machine. Is this the best machine to accomplish those goals with? Ha, no. A Pentium would do it easily and probably cost less money to boot. But I like the 486 platform. I want a faster 486, not a slow Pentium. This project started with me getting a great deal on a basic but decently-rounded 486 board with a DX2-66 and 32MB in 30-pin SIMMs. Only once I got past my first (failed) CPU upgrade did I realize that I was probably spending more money than I wanted on this. Realistically, the upgrade train on this machine ends once I get my BIOS upgraded to fix my L2 issue with my DX4 overdrive.
Future projects include a rebuild of an XP machine, hopefully using an 865 board with around 2GB worth of dual-channel 400MHz RAM and at least a 3.2HT Northwood. Hopefully I can use my X1950Pro AGP with it, since I still don't really know if that card even works. Ideally at some point I'll get a socket 7 or super socket 7 rig built, but I'm not holding my breath, as that stuff is expensive especially for anything I'd actually want. I'm not as vehemently opposed to AT form-factor hardware anymore since this 486 build gave me experience in mounting it and adapting it for use with ATX cases and PSUs, so that might help me get a decent deal on something in that realm sometime. Other things I actually want to mess with is MIDI stuff, hopefully some Roland hardware someday, but that's pretty expensive too. I'll settle for my OPL3, maybe I'll get a DreamBlaster S2 or something someday.