I agree that if you are flying into Orange County it makes more sense to rent a car there rather than flying to the Palm Springs airport. I've been going ever since they moved to the current site -- 1999 or 2000. I can't remember which. It can be expensive, but I suppose no more so than a nice vacation in Italy.
You'll need a car unless you stay at one of the expensive hotels with a shuttle. If you can book a hotel at 150 a day at this date, you'll be lucky. A little known place that's not far from the site is the Inn at Bermuda Dunes. It's in a gated golf course community. I think the rates there are around 100 to 110 a day. I've not stayed there.
Anyway, the advice on the cheap seats and then going to the outer courts is good if you are on a tight budget. I go from the opening day of the women's qualifying on through to the final. At first it's really lovely because there are practically no people there at all. Now with that they've expanded the men's field and have begun night play earlier, it's a bit more hectic than it was. At the peak, there are 8 courts being played at once, so there's plenty to choose from, and it's hard for me to sit through a complete match, because I'm always wanting to get a glimpse of a player I haven't seen or someone I'm interested in. Fortunately, it is fairly easy to hop from one court to another. Although I have to say that each year they make it a little more difficult and the seating becomes a little more inconvenient.
As for food, you can bring in practically anything. Where I sit, the people bring in beer and wine and all kinds of food they munch on throughout the day. As for lodging, it's expensive right in Indian Wells and Palm Desert. To get the cheap hotels, you must book very early. There's a tiny place in Palm Desert that even has some units with kitchenetts that is very resonable, and about 20 minutes away from the site. The name will come to me, and I'll pm you about it. But if you want inexpensive lodging, you really have to look at Indio which adjacent to Indian Wells to the east. It's very convenient to the site, but it's the working class community in the area so sneered at by most of the IW tennis types. You have to book early though. The motel 6 in Indio is quiet -- but right by the railroad tracks. I know a woman who stays there every year. It's a straight shot to the tennis site -- maybe 10 minutes total time. There are quite a few places to stay in Indio -- some of them more palatable than others.
I've found a really inexpensive condo near the site so I'm quite happy. It's small but far less than most hotels.