I tend to go for a lower model of CPU and max out RAM; the Intel i915 video stuff seems to work well enough, more RAM is always better. They will most likely come with Windows installed; I typically pick up a new drive (SSD, mSata, NVME), take out the one from the vendor, put the blank one in and install to that.
I may be doing an SSD upgrade later because I am on a strict budget of $800 right now. I would like to invest in a laptop with better processor right now and upgrade RAM and SSD later on.
Fair enough. I understand budgeting for "projects" just make sure that what you start with is at least adequate or you'll frustrated. Web browser with lots of tabs, you want a lot of memory. Photo editing you want a lot of memory and a good GPU and a lot of storage. Calculation intensive work (scientific data modeling) you want a better CPU and more memory.
You want a 64 bit CPU (pretty much everything nowdays).
Memory: laptop memory is typically not as expandable as desktops. Usually only 1 or 2 slots, so upgrading may include replacing existing memory. I'd look for at least 4GB now in a single slot so you can add another 4GB to bump to 8. 8 is a nice number for a general use computer.
Look for a laptop with space to add storage so you have 2 drives instead of 1. That way you can do the smart thing and separate your user data from the OS (your data is priceless, the OS you can always reinstall).
Again, these are simply my opinions, based on preference (which is why I use a desktop for my primary machine).