I have to disagree with the handout analogy, when a filmmaker is offering perks like a DVD, a T-shirt or digital download through Kickstater or IndieGoGo it's essentially a pre-order and not charity.
That being said, I think you make a good point about bootstrapping a film. Even with a social media following or fan base, a crowdfunding campaign is a helluva a lot of work - especially if you're trying to raise five or even six figures. If all you need is a few thousand dollars, taking a part-time job at night or on weekends and saving might save you a lot of time and effort.
Every situation is different, but I think it's good that crowdfunding is in the mix as an option for filmmakers.
Have to echo what the comments above have already said...buy something cheap and start shooting asap. If you're not worried too much about shooting stills my advice is to get a DSLR that's $500 or less and learn how to shoot. If you have extra money, invest that in good lenses.
A lot of people fall in to the trap of spending too much before they've actually learned how to shoot. Be patient, get yourself something cheap with a kit lens and a couple of primes if it's in your budget. If you're looking at the T3i/T5i, that's a great option especially if you run Magic Lantern on it.
I have heard good things about the GH4 (I haven't used it myself), but for someone starting out most of the cameras between $500-$2500 usually are not worth the extra expense unless there is a specific feature you must have. And don't diss that iPhone, someone shot an Oscar winning film on one after all!
Great gear is great, but filmmaking is first and foremost about craft, not equipment.
I work in Canada (Toronto) and primarily work on self-produced projects, with side gigs here and there to help pay the bills. I work primarily from a home-based studio on self-produced projects and while I occasionally have to pull long hours for a few days or a week or two, I find this approach works well for me.
A few years ago while working on development of a large documentary project that required the assistance of several special FX technicians who usually do TV shows and movies up here, they were frequently blown away by the hours our studio kept - 10am -5pm (sometimes 9-6 when we're on a deadline). One of the guys used to tease me all the time saying things like "don't you know how this industry works? Where's the panic? Where's the overtime?!"
I think that says a lot about the industry.
Contrast that to a recent shoot on someone else's set where I did a 7am - 10pm days because of external budget pressures.
It's very possible to have a balanced life, but the trick is being able to control your schedule and having the resources as well as the will to budget them in a way in that are conducive to that. It also sometimes may mean passing up opportunities.
Some of the smartest, happiest people I've met do a lot of corporate work, which isn't as sexy as films or commercials, but often pays just as well or better and usually has much better hours.
You have to decide what your priorities are and make decisions accordingly. If your goal is to be a rockstar Hollywood filmmaker, you may find that necessitates sacrifices that make marriages and long-term relationships difficult.