In all honesty you are going to hear all sort of suggestions for receivers that are based on personal preference and the receiver a person owns.
I personally own a pioneer and like it. A lot of people swear by Denon. The watts generally aren't that important since some companies might just fudge those numbers.
The rule of thumb I have always heard is that you should only spend less than half of your budget on speakers, on a receiver. This is because receiver technology outpaces speaker technology in growth and Speaker quality will effect your sound quality a lot more than the receiver (Not to say that it doesn't).
Some brands to look for
Onkyo- They seem to have the best bang for your buck especially with entry level models, but I heard they get real hot. This may or may not effect you.
One thing I will mention since I know you were strapped on cash is that their is this company called Harmon Kardon. They released a receiver that had a lot of bugs when it first got released. What they did was buy back all of the receivers they put in stores, fixed their problems, and now sell a basically new product at heavy discounts on ebay if you get lucky. Some people have gotten the AVR-254 which would go $600+ for as little as $190 (Generally a lot of people had luck getting them in the $2xx range)
Link to Harmon Kardon's ebay page: http://myworld.ebay.com/harmanaudio/
Another good forum to go to would be avsforum. The guys there know a lot about what they are talking about.