I wish I'd seen your post earlier. As you can see from my call, I got my ticket not too long before you did. The first radio I bought was an Icom IC-W32A. A very nice HT, but an HT none the less.
Shortly after that, I was lucky to come across a used, but mint condition Yaesu FT-100 at HRO for $400. This is a great radio that can be easily found at a price similar to what I paid. It does everything except 60M, and has a decent built-in DSP system. A couple of days later, a used Yaesu ATAS-120 came in at the same store, which I snapped up for $100.
As I'm a backpacker, I was also very interested in the Yaesu FT-817ND, so I picked one of those up some time later, along with the LDG Z-11Pro tuner and the LDG/W4RT radio-tuner interface. I have to say, after getting the FT-817ND, that I wish I had not bothered with the Icom HT. As I said, it's a great HT, one of the best out there, but I could have put the $400 I paid for the W32A (including accessories) into the FT-817ND. The only thing I'd be missing is the cross-band repeat, which I don't see myself using that much, anyway.
I heartily recommend that anyone looking for a first rig look for an FT-100 or FT-100D. Since they're "last generation" models, they can be found in good condition at good prices, and the performance is very close to the latest generation radios (some say even better). They're all mode, all-band, and even receive WX and broadcast freq's.
I also recommend an FT-817ND over any HT. The price, size, and weight is double the most expensive/largest HT's, but what you get in feature set more than makes up for it. I bought mine new, but the FT-817 series has been out for a long time now, and many used examples can be found from those who discovered after purchase that QRP isn't for them.