I'd recommend a new desktop computer (a laptop would work too, though honestly I don't see the point in having one and a tablet too). Simulation software will take you far in to learning and by the time you need to buy gear you'll know what you need. Don't let someone trick you in to dropping coin on gear when you don't need to. If the Cisco certifications are a goal of your classes the Cisco Packet Tracer software is rather good in my opinion and far more useful in learning than purchasing switches or routers for awhile, GNS3 is also useful though not as easy to pick and requires some hunting for iOS images (though I'm sure you could get those from an instructor if you ask nicely). When you start looking towards a CCNP is when you'll need gear.
I do plan on building one ASAP. I have the keyboard dock for my tablet so I guess a laptop would be a bit extraneous. Good to know that I don't need to spend much more money than that.
You should have a basic understanding of binary and hex to start off with, and some Linux skills might help because of the tools available on that platform.
Expect to spend money on notepads and pens. Diagramming stuff out is very helpful in understanding how the data flows, or what you want to do.
The important thing is getting the theory down. Knowing the theory will be much more helpful then any gear you can buy.
Binary is simple. I know what hex is and what it's used for, but I never learned exactly how it works. I've never touched Linux but I have a friend who knows it like the back of his hand. I'm sure he can teach me what I need to know. I did (fail) a class of programming in high school, so idk if minimal C knowledge will help but I've got it rattling around somewhere up there.