I'm at the beginning stages of planning out my saltwater tank. I heard different story's about getting started. I don't want to spend a ton of money on the live rocks and live sand. Can I use regular sand and regular rocks and just cycle the tank until it all becomes living? If so want are the steps I need to take?
yes, you can buy aragonite sand and base rock, cycle it, and go on that way. I've done several salt tanks this way. Or you can just through in two or three live rocks with your base rock to seed everything else.
The "rocks" that you'll see described are very porous hunks of coral reefs. Some break off naturally, some are excavated by locals. In addition to being porous (which enables it to maintain beneficial bacteria colonies), it's also largely calcified coral skeletons which help maintain Ca, and Kh at desired levels.
As suggested, seeding dead base rock with a few pieces of established "live rock" and a pound or so of similarly established "live sand" is enough to get the cycle started. But I'll just warn you that if you're at all concerned about the $ you need to invest, do a LOT of reading before you go any further.
"Why can't my wife see all of this stuff as an investment?"