I want to get a AVR ISP MKII as well, but I also want to save money.
I can certainly understand that!
Is AVR ISP MKII completely dependable?
It has been for me, although my use has been limited to ATmega8 and 168 devices so far. With a little help from avrdude and libusb it even works well on a Mac, which is fairly rare for this type of device.
If you want to save some money, I think LadyAda
has a USB programmer kit for about half the price of the avrispmkII, but I have no experience with that one (already had my mkII when it became available).
The 74hc244 parallel port programmer worked fine for me, but my mac has no parallel port, so I could only use it at work - pretty inconvenient. If you have a parallel port and a 74hc244 (the HC doesn't seem to be critical, I think I used an ALS or HCT), you may want to try that route.