>Above all when you get your kit don't be afraid to experiment with it; go out there and take pictures to find out what the camera will do, what limitations or quirks it has, and to refine your techniques before you need them in anger.
Agreed. A lot of learning comes from the desire to mitigate the shortcomings of an imperfect camera.
An aid to learning is having the camera with you often.
I started with a 3MP phone camera - horribly noisy, low resolution... but it made me think about just what is was in the shot that I was trying to capture - what it was that had an emotional impact or interest, and trying to accentuate it in Photoshop. I wasn't going for realism, or print-quality.
I then used a cheap Samsung compact camera whilst travelling - but it did have manual controls, enough to get a feeling for shutter and aperture.
Then a Lumix LX-5, a 'premium compact' whose competitors are the Canon S95 and Sony RX100 and the like. Small enough for a jacket pocket, I carried it often, and played with it a lot. I could get away with low-light photography - parties, street scenes etc - if I was careful in my settings. I learnt more about which compromises to make for a particular situation. Bokeh was possible, but only at the widest zoom... filling the frame with someone's face without zooming would make their nose look too big.
Currently I have an LX-7. It builds upon the LX-5, and offers an aperature of f1.4 - albeit married to a relatively small sensor - bigger than most compacts, but smaller than a m4/3rds or DSLR. Portraits benefit, because I can zoom a little, yet still soften the background.
Play, play, play. The more you use it, the quicker you learn. If a compact camera means you carry it more often, so be it. You will learn its shortcomings, and if you decide to more money on a pricier, bigger camera, you will have a better idea of what you want from it.