Most gringos seem to gravitate to Playas, and I looked there at first too, but I ended up buying a house in a different area and have no regrets about the decision. I heard too many negative things about Playas and security issues there, plus the additional commute time.
I found the first 2-3 months pretty challenging, and I speak Spanish fairy well. I can imagine how it would be for someone who doesn't speak the language. You'll need patiance to get through the initial period.
As Mary Ellen and Jan point out, it's easy to get taken down here and if you are a typical wet behind the ears gringo, you'll find plenty of people willing to help you out by inserting themselves between you and your objective as a middle man. I think there's one other factor you need in addition to Spanish to get the best deals. TIME. If you live down here and don't have to commute every day across the border, you'll have more time to get things done in cost effective way.
Good luck. And welcome to the forum.