I'm definitely not married to having that particular light, I mostly just liked the price (heh) and the fact that it's waterproof, which is nice for someone clumsy like me. But I think I can see more benefits with upgrading to the Stingray, so I'm going to wait for my next payday and splurge on that one.
I was planning to use gravel, since I already have it and it's easy to clean up, but when I move back home and get the tank set up more permanently I will definitely consider switching substrates. I've never had anything but either gravel or bare bottoms, so it'll be an experience if I try dirt or sand or whatnot. :)
Looks like anubias is going to be at the top of the list for plants! And a bottle of fertilizer. Thanks for your advice, guys.