Since this article is written by a shop owner who earns her living (at least in part) selling you ritual tools, you might expect the answer to be "of course! And you should buy the most expensive ritual tools that you can possibly afford. They will make your magick more powerful." But guess what? Kestra tries very hard to give you the honest truth about her views about Wicca, Wiccan practices and ritual tools.
So, do you really need to buy ritual tools? "Need" is a very strong word. Of course you don't "need" to buy ritual tools. You can make just about anything you would ever need. For that which you can't make, you can compromise, for example using your finger as a wand or athame. Now if only we could use our finger to light candles like in Charmed :-).
So why DO people purchase ritual tools and ritual supplies? A ritual tool is used to help you to focus your energies. It is used as an extension of your body, to channel your energy into a specific task, or to "save" energies for use later. Examples are using your energy projected down a wand for consecrating an object, storing energies into a crystal, or drawing down energy from Deity into a statue.
Do you need to buy a wand? Not especially. You can find a stick in the woods and use it. However, if you want to "tune" your energies for a specific purpose, or use that extra "boost" of using a specific type of wood that corresponds to a particular Deity or a particular intention, either search for that wood on your walks through the forest, or purchase a wand of the appropriate type. You can find out more about woods' correspondences at Magickal Woods, another Enchanted Works article.
But what about an athame? Don't you HAVE to have that special Klingon dagger athame with the spines on the side as your ritual tool in order to make the most powerful circle? Well, uh..... NO. If you feel better with that kind of a tool, and it helps you project your energies best, then by all means, buy one, or even two. That way you'll have one for each hand. Can you use your wand in place of an athame? Sure you can. Can you use a dinner knife as a ritual tool? Of course. But there's something about beautiful athames that evokes something in the brain. Holding it gives you a special feeling of power that comes only with that particular tool. If that is the case with you as well, that is the athame you must have. You can always make your own, or use what you can, but there is just something special about the power you can channel through a really nice knife. Call me materialistic, but there it is. More about athames at our Wiccan Athames article.
What about those cool offering bowls? Yeah, they are nice ritual tools aren't they? Do you HAVE to use them? Course not. You can use paper cups, household bowls, anything else you desire to hold your salt and water (sea salt is best, but table salt will do if you have to). Do you need a bell? Well, you can try a water glass and a fork. That makes a nice "ding" if you can't afford a bell. Candles? You can always make your own. If you aren't that handy, however, votives are inexpensive. So are "chime candles." However, a really beautiful pentacle pillar or a Triple Goddess pillar can certainly set the mood, and bring your head into the appropriate ritual space. And, of course, there are the color correspondences that help your mind focus on the working ahead. To help choose candle colors, you can always try What Color Ritual Candle Should I Choose from our Enchanted Works articles.
Now...do you really need to buy a cauldron as a ritual tool? If you're going to be burning incense on charcoal, you most definitely need an appropriate vessel for that. It would also be a very good idea if that vessel were FIREPROOF. Things that ignite, or ooze plastic goo all over your altar are not good choices, and I would imagine that your focus would be rather scattered as evil smells permeated your ritual area. Might be useful for a ritual celebrating the wonders of swamp gas, but likely not anywhere else. So if you decide to use a substitute for the good ole stoneware or cast iron cauldron, please ensure it will do the job. You can read more about cauldrons at About Wiccan Cauldrons in our articles section.
So, if you don't want to buy your ritual tools and supplies, you CAN, with a bit of creativity and thought, make/find/use substitutes. Will your focus be as strong? That varies from individual to individual, as well as with the situation. If you find that a ritual tool makes a big difference, perhaps you should use it. Just please be certain that you choose the RIGHT kind of substitute to avoid unintended consequences, and uninvited ritual guests who arrive in a large red truck and wear strange robes with funny black helmets. Their favorite ritual tool is often called a "firehose."