As you have found, using other peoples settings does not work all that well.
First you should start with a calibrations disk like the free one here on AVS that you download burn to DVD and play in a BR player. This will let you set the basic settings and provide all the patterns you will need when/if you take the next step in the process.AVS 709 Calibration Disk Link
There has been much discussion about buying meters on the cheap and in general it is a bad idea. Here a thread on that subject and one on the Colorimeter vs. Spectro (2 different types of meters..)http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/showthread.php?t=1407176http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/showt...ight=one+meter
Spectracal has a new rental program that is of great value as you get quality hardware at a very affordable cost for long enough to get you display calibratedhttp://store.spectracal.com/consumer/rent.html
And one final thing, place your location in your profile so DIY enthusiast like myself that have purchased the equipment and want to use it, know your location. I am going to help out another member next week who lives about 25 miles from me to calibrate his projector. He will get to calibrate his projector with my equipment and help, I get to play with his projector and use my equipment! It is win win for both!
So to answer your first question, you need a meter also called a prob that measures light and color and software the tells what the meter is doing. You need a source of reference patterns (BRplayer and disk) and the knowledge of the complete process. This takes time to learn and sometimes sets don't work like they should or we think they will.. more time trying to figure out what is going wrong. You may want to hire a pro to start for your first calibration if your budget allows, make sure the person you hire will educate your as to what and why the are doing. Once complete you will know if you want to invest the time and money in the tools.
Many of the people here are like you, we made the investment in time, hardware and software to be able to keep our video equipment properly calibrated as it ages.