the hank thing, aside from it being pretty, they say it is the "safest" way to keep the fiber, no pulling, even consistency, etc., so when you're dealing with more delicate fibers, oftentimes you will find them in hanks.
as for the cost, i'm getting ready to learn to quilt and the same thing has popped up again. i could go to Joe Shmoe's Fabric Store and get 100% cotton for 99 cents a yard and hypothetically could probably make a quilt for under $20, batting, backing, and all. I can go to Jane Shmane's Specialty Shop and pay $12 a yard for similar looking
fabric and spend hundreds of dollars making that quilt. The choice seems obvious, but if I am going to spend 500 hours crafting something, not only do I want to enjoy it while I'm doing it, I want it to last as close to forever as humanly possible. 99-cent fabric and $12-yard fabric are just not going to wear the same, wash the same, fade the same, etc. however, as a beginner, heck if i'm spending $12 a yard on some stuff i'm going to mess up and not like.
having said that, i still have to go back and support what everyone said about personal preference. that is my personal preference. if i am going to invest the time, etc., but you know what, even with that, there are times when more inexpensive acrylics, acrylic blends, and 40% coupons at Jo-Anns are just right for me and my budget and my project. As a beginner, I definitely wouldn't start spending a fortune on fibers yet, but I do love the idea of buying one special hank for a special little project. When it comes to down to it, though, this is your hobby, your time, your pocketbook, you do what is best for you! With time, you will find your favorites (and you'll also find sales and alternatives! i.e. my first felted project called for cascade 220, around $7 a hank, bringing project total to around $70 but then I discovered KnitPicks and made that same bag for $35) I must also reiterate, have fun fondling! That's one of the BEST parts!