Honestly, if you want free, I recommend you keep at figuring Blender out. It doesn't get better for free, and later, when you want more complex models, you will be grateful to have learned what you did.
I honestly don't know of anything better than Blender for free. There are some easier programs, but they tend to be lacking, some in important areas. Some are missing things you want, like any method of animation, and going by what you specified you want, Blender is the only one that does all of it. It can make the models, animate them, and even "paint skins." There is nothing else that does all of this for free, though you can find a paid program(or two) that does it.
If you have trouble with Blender, you can always try again, and post on forums, either here, but probably better on dedicated Blender forums, to help overcome the problems. I'm no expert, but if you want to PM me, I may be able to help as well.