I have one with dirt for almost a year and it looks decent, imo. But I agree that it is def a hassle if you don't do it right. I made mistakes for sure. but if your patient it can look really nice. And I can find the right kind of dirt very easily in home depot but i would have to order aquasoil online and pay for shipping. I live in nyc, cant get aquasoil in any LFS.
But anyway, this sounds like a pretty good experiment. cant wait to see the result.
Basically everyone who isn't in Houston, CA, or Hawaii has to order online as well, but a lot of people still use it for a reason. What you're 'saving' by buying potting soil, you're just paying for later with your time and energy by actually having to deal with potting soil.