If you have no experience with microcontrollers, programming or basic electronics, I recommend that you check out Arduino before starting with AVRs.
Getting started with AVRs is not that expensive or time consuming as you might think, but you should have some basic electronics skills, and some programming experience will make things much easier.
In this guide, I’ll use the following hardware.
-AVR ISP MKII clone (~$20-30 from eBay)
-A simple developement board with an ATMega128 ($25 from ebay)
The ISP (In System Programming) programmer is used to program the chip via USB (or RS232 on older versions)