I started with a T2i, 430EX II, light stand, umbrella, and a $30 ebay full manual trigger. It made me really learn how to adjust my shutter/aperture/ISO/flash power ratios to get the shot I want. Took a lot of trial and error, but it was totally worth it. Now that i've got my EOS 6D and PW Mini and Flex, I can dial my settings in without thinking about it, and the ETTL does the rest.
ETTL isn't a magic bullet that does it all for you... you have to be able to get your camera set for the shot you desire. Go the full manual route first. It's cheaper, and you'll be better off in the long run! Best of luck!