In following this thread, what first struck me was Thumper1279"s choice of retailers: ShopNBC.com, Dillard's and Fingerhut. Each of them was limited selection and, most important, likely an "easy credit" web (ShopNBC.com or Fingerhut) or local to Florida (Dillard's). And then, of course, Thumper's status as a student (not to mention being recently out of work) would suggest that such retailers were within Thumper's accessibility.
Of course, that does make a certain amount of sense. Since the beginning of time, almost all students have been impoverished - and "easy credit" has been almost all they have been able to find.
(Thumper, if I'm off on my guess that you're an impoverished student, then my apologies in advance. But I also hope that you will realize that this forum is as much a general community bulletin board, which is used to communicate not only with the directed original poster, but also with the overall audience.)
But what it also means, in this increasingly wired world, is that, unless you have good and established credit, access to such retailers as Amazon can be tantalizingly visible but (economic status) out of range. Hence, "easy credit" sites with limited choice, relatively higher prices than the lowest price leaders and higher interest rates.
That means that alternatives need to be located - often, if not always, local brick and mortar retailers that will accept cash.
Thumper, I commend you about your choice to stay with the Mercer knives - even if they are (choose and insert your own favorite expletive here). I also commend your choice of first purchase being a sharpener.
Now, for my recommendations, I'm going to assume that you either will go with "easy credit" internet retailers, or you will have to buy on a cash and carry basis from local (to you) brick and mortar stores. From the choice above, I would suggest going "brick and mortar" only. If you can access the Internet, such as Amazon, that would be great. But, I'm going to proceed here as if you can only look and not buy through the web.
Here, the Internet can be your friend - even if you cannot purchase through the internet. What it can do is help you find local brick and mortar retailers who have what you seek. They may not be as low priced as big internet operators, such as Amazon, but they will accept cash.
First, I'm going to assume that you have access to a steel. That will minimize the number of times you need to use the sharpener.
Second, your sharpener will work for a while - but likely will soon slow down. It will also chew up your knives, to a degree, level and extent that better (meaning sharpening stones) will not. And the quick fix here will be getting and learning how to freehand use a good or reasonable quality set of sharpening stones.
Besides the learning curve, the major problem will be finding a local retailer who will have stones in stock, or who can order one for you. Quality sharpening stones are (to a very large degree) one of those specialty items which are secondary to ordinary sales of knives. Most search engines will not list retailers who stock them - with the noted exception of Internet retailers. Great (sarcastically). Just what I WASN'T looking for. So, in my search, I got slightly creative and went searching for woodworking tools. I also stretched out the search to encompassing not just the Boca Raton area, or Miami or Ft. Lauderdale - I went whole hog and looked at all of Florida. I then mentally scanned the Google results, eliminating Jacksonville and Tampa, but had a Bingo with one of my first hits.
Constantine's Wood Center of Florida, in Ft. Lauderdale, has an 8 inch by 2 inch India Combination Stone for $20 (Constantine's also carries various grit water stones and an Arkansas natural combination stone,)
You don't HAVE to go to Constantine's - I just grabbed the first name on my Google search which looked potentially workable as a brick and mortar retailer. Then I went to the web site, and started a by guess and by golly search, until I either found what I was looking for, or exhausted the web site in confirming that what I would be seeking would not be there. No magic trick here - just guesses and work through a process of elimination. If you find a better retailer, either closer to you, or less expensive, or a better product, that's fine. My purpose here is to show that someone reasonably close to you can be found.
My next recommendation is that you go to a local thrift stone, find an appropriate knife or two for as little money as possible, and work at developing freehand sharpening skills. Other people have given plenty of advice about how to sharpen. I am concentrating on how to keep your budget at a minimum. Once you are confident in your freehand sharpening skills with stones, you can switch from the Wusthof sharpener to the stones.
Next, eventually the stones will wear and will need leveling. Plenty of advice from others on this web site and other sites on how to do it (check out BDL's suggestion).
Finally and eventually, you will want to replace the Mercer knives. Whether you will NEED to may still be debatable, but I'm not going to bring that up or rehash it here. Since the go-to suggestion for inexpensive basic quality was the Forschner, I'll use that as my example.
Forschner is a name that is being phased out by its corporate owner in favor of the corporate owner's name, Victorinox. Eventually, Forschner will be nothing more than a dim memory But, until then, look for Forschner, Victorinox and/or Victorinox/Swiss Army. They all mean exactly the same knives, just different labels made at different times. No differences in steel, manufacture, price or design. BDL covered this point, But for the sake of everyone else's commentary, I'm covering the ground again (apologies to BDL for my redundancy).
Forschner makes both a forged knife line and two stamped knife lines.
The forged knife line comes with a riveted rosewood handle and a forged bolster which extends along the heel of the blade all the way to the edge of the blade. The blade is also thicker than the stamped knife. And, it is by far the most expensive of the Victorinox cutlery lines - approaching the Wusthof Classic in price. It is also the most difficult to find in brick and mortar stores.
The more expensive of the stamped steel knife lines has a riveted rosewood handle. The significantly less expensive stamped steel line has a molded handle ("fibrox"). There is otherwise no difference between the two stamped steel Victorinox lines.
Almost all of the recommendations I have read call for choosing the stamped steel line rather than the forged line. The steel in all of the knife lines is the same - X50CrMoV15. And the heat treatment is exactly the same. Therefore, the edge and its sharpening abilities are exactly the same, no matter which Victorinox blade you choose, forged or stamped. Besides price (the forged line is MUCH more expensive), the bolster running along the heel of the blade makes the forged knife MUCH more difficult to sharpen its entire length. And, to drive the points home (intentional pun), the forged blade is thicker than the stamped steel blades - so the thicker blade will be much more prone to wedging and the accompanying physical effort on your part.
One point will likely be raised here - about how "a heavier blade will let its weight do much of the work". I would suggest you look up and read BDL's comments on that. Yes, there will be more mass to allow gravity to do its thing - but that will be offset by the amount of work your hands - and ESPECIALLY your wrists - will have to do, hour by hour, day by day, week by week, etc., etc. Think of repetitive stress injuries.
I do realize, Thumper, that you much preferred a bolster along the heel of the blade. If that is because of sharpness of the 90-degree edge, a bit of 500 to 600 grit silicon carbide sandpaper can help relieve both those edges and the edges of the spine just forward of the handle and bolster. But, please keep in mind that without the bolster, you will be able to sharpen and use the entire edge of the blade - something which is much more difficult to do with a bolster.
About availability - this is where I think I can shed some fresh light. Once again, use the Internet. I would suggest you look at Victorinox's web site home page and use their "find a store" button. When I started the search, the first page shown listed a large number of product lines (besides cutlery and pocket knives, Victorinox sell quite a bit of Victorinox-branded merchandise. Only cutlery is of interest in this search. Choose your starting point, your search radius distance and measurement unit (kilometers or miles) and then begin your examination of the results.
For simplicity's sake, I went by the two large retail chains with brick and mortar stores in your area - Bed, Bath & Beyond, and Sur la Table. Both offered both an 8 inch and 10 inch fibrox-handled chef knives, though BB&B charged $45 for either length. Go figure. S-l-T charged the same for the 10-inch blade, but only $40 for the 8-inch blade.
On paring knives, each had its own solution. BB&B had a 3-paring-knife set with different knives (all stamped, with fibrox handles) for $15, while S-l-T offered a single fibrox handle stamped paring knife at $6.
I'm assuming that both chains will require any Victorinox knives to be special-ordered. However, I will also assume that you can do that as a cash-up-front process, with the stores notifying you by e-mail or phone when the order arrives. It's still a lot cheaper than Wusties.
The other alternatives are to take Victorinox's search results, and do a store-by-store internet search. Eventually, it's highly likely that you will find a Victorinox cutlery retailer, who is a restaurant supply store. Very likely, they will have the (fibrox, stamped steel) knives of your search in stock, and very likely much less expensive than BB&B or S-l-T.
My apologies to all for the length of this ramble, But, I thought it was important to consider how to find a purchase solution (and detail how it could be done) for those who might not have every (financial) resource at beck and call.