Another long one.
Barbara if you buy Designer Studio you won't need SCAL. It's pretty much the same software. I have to use a variety of software because I have different machines. If I only had the Silhouette I would probably not even look into MTC or SCAL.
The cutting blades last forever with good care. Like ceramicat I had to replace my blade every four years. The cutting mats last a long time for me too. Pretty much the life of my machines. I usually recondition mine. If you type in resticking a Silhouette mat in your favorite search engine you will get a lot of great tutorials. I recommend the quilting spray for the best method.
The machines themselves upfront are an expense but once you get the machines they are pretty frugal in the long run. I make my Nesties, border punches, doilies, home decor, clothing accessories, jewelry & even nail art with these machines. I almost forgot you can make your own embossing folders to use in your Cuttlebug. I am a power user.
When you order the machines Silhouette includes a $10 gift card for their store. When I had the Silhouette SD I received a special $25 gift card. I haven't even spent $30 yet at the store. I take advantage of the Silhouette sales and really stock up on images. The sales run quite frequently.
I design most of my own files. I am blessed to have a Cricut with a very large library of images. I don't have a Silhouette subscription. I don't really need one. I recommend a Silhouette subscription to most new users. You will want to have a nice image library to work with. It just makes working with these die cutting machines so much easier, especially when you are trying to learn all the settings and how the machine works.
There are a lot of beautiful files on the Internet for free or very cheap.
SVGCuts: SVG Files for Sure Cuts A Lot - SVGCuts.com
is a gold mine of beautiful images for a song.
PennyDuncanCreations: Penny Duncan Creations
is a treasure trove of beautiful intricate files and Nesties that are free. Penny is one of the treasures in the die cutting community.
You can also use fonts with the Silhouette Cameo.