Since becoming licensed as M6BYR I have enjoyed taking part in the monthly 144MHz UK Activity Contest run by the RSGB, it is one of the most affordable contests to enter and can give a good sense of achievement and an excellent way to test your set up.
I currently use a Trio TR-7010 with a home made dipole in the window of my shack, powered by a cheap eBay 3amp PSU, in all the set up cost about £50. With the radio being almost 40 years old there are no luxuries but it does the job, with the channelised VXO covering 144.100 to 144.300 and then 4 extra crystals allowing access to about 144.320, missing a chunk of the SSB section it does put me at a disadvantage, but it is something I can live with. Putting out only 8 watts there are no licence issues with this rig.
The contest schedule can be found here on the RSGB VHF Contest Site, along with the other band contests they run, but the 2 Meter on is on the first Tuesday of the month and by far the busiest in terms of enterants.
So if your newly licensed, experienced VHF FM or HF operator, give it a go next month.