I started out my makeup-wearing life with a Starter Kit from BareEscentuals, which I definitely recommend. But when I just need my own bare essentials (rimshot!), I stick with just the foundation powder. It gives me a nice light coverage, reduces redness and covers up flaws without making me look or feel caked. I don't really have skin problems, so I've never really felt the need for anything with more coverage than this. And I apply it with:
The DVD that came with the kit (this is obviously very intense foundation) demonstrated how to use all three brushes in stages to give yourself perfect coverage. But some of us (hi!) are way too lazy to apply two coats of foundation and then do more direct concealing of the trouble spots. So I just use this brush for fuller coverage. (Their concealer brush is A+ and I adore its magic powers, but I only have room for one in my bag, so I need the one for all-over application)
Ammo was the first brand palette I ever bought, and it's still an invaluable part of my kit. It fits perfectly in my little travel pouch, so it comes with me pretty much everywhere. There's enough of a variety in it between the interesting neutrals and rich colors to be ready for any look. My favorites from this palette are Chopper, Smog, and Mildew, with some Sin for a highlight. I just use a generic angled brush for application, so no pictures. Your favorite angled brush will do!
I'd seen this mascara's praises sung on numerous blogs, so I had to try it for myself. And I dig it. It hasn't changed my life, exactly, but I've never had a problem with clumps and I definitely get some intense volume from it. I switched over to it from UD's Big Fatty Mascara, and I don't have any intention to shop for a new brand. There's a lot of stuff that I really prefer brands for (eyeshadows in particular), so it's nice to have products I can pick up at Walgreens for half the cost.
Despite the slightly snicker-worthy name (heh heh cheeks), I've been using this blush since high school. I'm definitely willing to look for a new one (I've heard excellent thing about Nars), but I don't really wear a lot of blush; I have fairly ruddy cheeks in general and am prone to actually blushing. But when I want to add a bit of color, I brush a bit of the middle tone onto the apples of my cheeks then blend out with my fingers. Blush Tip: you always want to apply your blush at least two fingerswidth away from your nose, because you blush from your nose out when you're physically exerted. You want to have a healthy pink glow, not look like you ran all the way there!
I bought the three pack of Kat Von D's Painted Love lipsticks Sephora was offering a little while ago, including Hellbent, Homegirl, and Lolita. Lolita was the real standout for me. It's described as "dusty rose" on the Sephora website and it's a perfect neutralish pink for my day-to-day wear. You can tell I'm wearing lipstick, but it isn't distracting. I wear it for everyday with my neutral eyes, but it also looks sophisticated and understated for more formal occasions. If I can only have one lipstick with me, that's the one I'm going for. (As far as the other lipsticks go, for the curious: Homegirl is way darker than anything I would wear day-to-day, but I'm keeping it for costume purposes and in case I ever get brave and vampy. Hellbent is nice, but I already have a red that I like a lot more, so I'm giving it to my little sister.)
I hope this was useful! There's a lot of things in my kit that I adore, but these are my absolute must-haves for creating a look for whatever I might be going to. They're all pretty flexible products that are basic enough to give you a nice look for an everyday look or something you might want to dress up a little more for. If you're a makeup beginner, the idea is not to get these products, necessarily, but things that will fulfill these needs for you and your makeup-wearing life.