Having no budget is not crazy, it's a luxury, one I don't have. My entire system costs much less than what you spent on cables. But that means you should be even more careful where you spend your money. I feel for you dealing with that horrible company.
- get well measuring electronics that have all features you will need
- get some Truthear Crinacle Zero in-ear, they are truly amazing for 50$ and great to have laying around
- experiment with headphones, they will differ a lot in how comfortable they are to wear, not only about the sound. Tryopen, closed, etc.
- always tell people you have a very limited budget
- most people there will swear their music sound like a veil was lifted after they tweaked x or y, just nod
- try to listen to stuff without listening to someone else raving or dissing it before hand
- many will make claims that to us don't (or no longer) make sense, sine it's proven to be placebo, all listening there is sighted with someone next to you telling you what you're hearing
A couple of things to consider re shows:
I found it best to tell people I would just be able to stretch to the product in a few weeks. For some reason that gets a better response.
When listening to headphones in particular, make absolutely certain of the other products in the chain. I've been caught out thinking I was listening to headphones with a basic amp, only to find that the cable went to a fancy tube job behind a screen. (in fact this worked against them, because the tube amp was pretty awful and I was blaming the sound on the phones!)
Watch out if someone tries to demonstrate cables and suchlike. They have a few tricks they can use, like playing different music files to make an expensive cable sound better, or using a very high RF source in the area to make a heavily screened cable sound better, when in normal use you'll get no difference.
Take your own music along (USB, CDs if you have them) and if you find something you are interested in, ask to hear them with that music. That way you know you aren't getting confused with a different master or something.
Only buy from a show if you are getting a good discount, and make sure you understand the terms of sale - and don't buy something refurbished with a 90 day warranty by mistake. A purchase where you can return the product and buy with a bit more leisure is better.