ok,i am not good with working out how many fish to cycle with,
in my honest opinion fishless would be quicker and kinder
however when using fish to cycle with,you would need hardy fish,
like,platys,danios, these do seem to live out the cycle.
in regards of the filter,you could always check out the likes of
e-bay,craigs list,local papers,you could find a real bargain,
i would recommend an ex ternal canaster filter,however
i have used internal before and found it to be just as efficeint,
umm plants.... there are tonnes,and there are lots that
are easy to care for. :) planting i would say is what pleases
you with how they look,i have been known to change my tank
appearance more than twice a month.
i totally agree it's great to be able to talk to people who love this hobby
there is usually someone around,and it never hurts to ask something if you are unsure,so please do ask,it's not a problem. :)
you could always add some mopani or bog wood,there is the freshwater pictures page,pop in there and have a look you may get a bit of inspiration there,
anyway enough of my waffel lol, let us know how you get on. :)