I don't have thousands to spend on 3D Studio or Maya, but is there any alternative to Blender?
Do you think, that using 3dmax or maya is easier, that you simply press a few buttons and have a rigged,skinned,animated model ?
Since blender 2.6 the interface has changed a lot, and that 3dmax/maya is superior over blender comes often from professional artist (but most advantages are not really helpful/necessary for beginner !).
Blender has auto-rig scripts, blender have an autoskinning features (this works like a charm, I do not have skinned a single model by hand in my game), blender supports lot of constrains (you dont animate your rig manually, you let it be animated by drivers ).
Is there a cheap okay rigging/animating tool that isnt blender?
Yep, I'm sure that there are some alternative tools available, but it will not help you a lot to create your own decent looking,rigged,skinned,animated model, because this process is a lot of work which can't be done automatically.
Personally I've searched for years to find this kind of magic tools, but eventually it was a lot easier than I thought to get used to some tools and learn modelling,rigging,animation,texturing, and believe me, blender is not the barrier to create decent,animated,textures models