The RPG Pundit, Final Boss of Internet Shitlords, has an opinion on Theater of the Mind.
I've come to find that most people actually play the game as a game--as it's meant to be played--when the table looks like a game. That means a map, tokens (if not miniatures), and adherence to procedure. They associate the seeming with the substance, and while you can work around it using Theater of the Mind you're going to waste a lot of time not-playing because players won't pay attention when they should and you have to recap the situation time and again- something having that physical presence on the table prevents.
And yes, you can do that on the cheap. Paper map, paper tokens, pencil (not pen) to show facing/field of view. Get yourself a sheet of grid paper (a blank Car Wars map will do) and use paper tokens instead of any permanent markings to extend useful lifespan; collect tokens of all sorts to use with it and you're good for decades.
You can find Star Adventurer at DriveThruRPG here.