I have been in the fortunate or unfortunate position over the years to try almost everything available at one time or another. From the cheapest Clearwater Orvis, to the most expensive Winstons and Sages on the market at any given time.
I feel there is a tremendous difference in rods and IMO performance drastically improves as the price goes up. The problem is what used to be high priced is now twice as much, and now low end rods of the past cost as much as high end rods used to cost.
One of the best all around rods of all time the Sage SP was considered extremely expensive at around $400. Now the top end sage rods run around $800.
I have fished all of the TFO, Orvis, St. Croix etc etc etc, and not any of them compare to the higher end rods that Winston, Sage, and Loomis offer each year. With Sage clearly being the best of all in terms of on stream performance.
The issue becomes that to fully realize the abilities a rod provides, the caster must be competent to cast the rod the way it was designed to be cast. And in my opinion the worst thing for newbies is low end rods which are far too slow and use outdated materials which make casting challenging.
Money is tight for everyone these days, but I would advise saving a little longer and spending the money for higher end rods. They absolutely cast better than lower end equipment.