I've been taking photos since I was a kid (back when you had to wrestle with film, literally lol), and was lucky to buy a Pentax Optio 555 from a friend who was upgrading. It's only 5 megapixels, but perfectly adequate for ordinary photo taking. I find it hard to believe that anyone really NEEDS the 12+meg cameras that are coming out now. You'll only have to resize it anyway or lose great chunks of your HDD space.
I would advise trying to get a camera with a rechargeable battery if you can...seriously. Mine lasts for a good while in between re-chargings (unless I'm using its video-mode) and it was a total liberation from the hell that was constantly recharging batteries.
Do any shops in the US do good deals on reconditioned second-hand models? If so, you could pick up something decent and not have to have massive megapixellage of the new cameras?
Just my .2c