Thanks for all the advice!
Degassing clarification: I notice that when I run my tap water at cold, the pH changes. I attribute this to us getting it from a mountain reservoir, which screws with the oxygen levels. The pH changes drastically from what I remember being 8.0 to 7.4, so I assume this is too much oxygen in the water. I dose Prime at recommended standards to remove chlorine/chloramines.
pH clarification: I actually went to the local Petsmart to get my water tested (so it was a pH strip...) and not a solution test....
Should I use Equilibrium to bump up my GH/KH? The last time I did calculations for this was back in high school, so I'm kind of fuzzy on the math behind this.
For measuring pH/GH(hardness)/KH(alkalinity), is there a specific brand that you would recommend? I understand the importance of testing, but also I'm a college student who's going into academia, so if it's cheap and it works, then it's cheap and it works.
That makes more sense (I thought you were degassing the tank water). Given your water source, it's possible that it contains no CO2 (often it's the opposite) and allowing it to sit causes CO2 absorption and, subsequently, a pH drop.
It's rare that a LFS will do any reliable testing of water, and test strips are the worst form of testing. Based upon your LFS source, I wouldn't trust the results you have. Play around with this calculator to determine GH and KH loadings: Rotala Butterfly | Planted Aquarium Nutrient Dosing Calculator
. Although, I prefer Zorfox's calculator (which can better analyze GH: Zorfox's Planted Tank Calculator
. The API GH/KH and pH reagent kits are fine and cheap (<$10 each) and, in the case of GH/KH, you can increase their accuracy as I described, above. pH pens are better than reagent kits, but will be much more expensive.
If modifying KH, I'd recommend potassium bicarbonate (KHCO3). That way, you add potassium (which plants like) instead of sodium from baking soda (which plants don't like). Equilibrium will raise GH, but not KH.
However, before modifying these components, I'd work with @Discusluv
to decide what fauna you want and take their advice on optimal KH and GH levels. Then, you can modify the water parameters as needed. you may not need to increase GH at all, maybe will even want to lower it depending upon what they say.