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New Tank Ammonia back?

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I'm new to this hobby and would appreciate any and all advice on a few issues I'm having. I apologize in advance for the long post.

First, my tank;
20 gallon high, substrate aquarium sand, some rocks, whisper 20 filter.
planted a couple of Java ferns, Amazon swords, Argentinean swords, and a small Anubias. Using root tabs. 15watt f8 bulb.

One surviving guppy (out of three) and two Julii corys

Ok, so I did a bit of research online and started cycling my tank with 3 guppies (from Petco, I know..) and 2 corys (LFS, twice as expensive as Petco) about two weeks ago. The fish did fine for a week then two guppies died one after the other across three days (sank to the bottom overnight). I got them replaced and also tested my water with a strip kit; pH 8.4, no/very little ammonia, and ~5.0 nitrite. I realize this may not have been accurate as it wasn't a liquid test. I also did a 50% water change and proceeded to do daily ~20% changes. The new guppies did fine for a few days then one lost its color and died overnight. The other one followed suit two days later, but after displaying symptoms for a full day/night before it died. Its tail fin became more or less black and white and it seemed to have trouble swimming (did not really use its tail fin). I didn't test ammonia but at that point my nitrites were at 3.0 (strip kit) The surviving guppy (female) and corys seem to be doing fine.

After the second time my guppies died I started using Seachem stability and Prime to condition my water instead of the Tetra dechlorinator I had used previously. I didn't add any more fish. When I got my water tested yesterday with a liquid kit my nitrites were still at 3.0, but I also found ammonia at 0.6. I was really confused, and the guy at my LFS actually suggested I stop doing daily water changes. What do you guys think? I'm at a loss.

A couple of things I did notice which may or may not have any bearing;
1)the guppies like to hang out near the heater regardless of the water temperature.
2)I have white 'dust' or 'hairs' on the rocks, glass, and plant leaves. It's very fine and you have to get close and squint to see it; there doesn't seem to be much on the upper levels of the glass tough.

I also realize my lighting is inadequate for a planted tank (wpg and all); I bought a used tank for cheap and am stuck with the generic hood; I don't really have enough money to invest in expensive lighting. Any cheap alternatives under $40? At this point I'm thinking of getting a Solarmaxhe T5 Single Strip 10000k 24" ( and using it together with my 15 watt hood somehow.
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