Trace don't be put off by slightly fierce replies. We're on the other side of the fence looking out so we already know just how magnificent this particular garden is. To us the price of XF is actually ridiculously low for waht we get.
It's worth stressing that once you buy you can go on using your install as long as you like - and you can get support for most things here on the XF board community. You only need to buy renewal of the new delicious features get you buzzing!
That said RickM gave you some free alternatives. They won't be as easy to use as Xf but if your budget is a killer effort has to bridge the gap. Been there.
A bit of car valeting or house cleaning locally would kick the savings into gear
As someone who baulked at paying for forum software, I can see where you're coming from, Trace. I stuck with phpBB and was happy with it. However, I wanted to provide my community with more than it could offer and I also thought it looked dated, along with other free forum alternatives. I'd seen Xenforo on the Cyclechat community and really liked it so I took the plunge and bought it, hoping that I was doing the right thing. It turned out that I was right to buy it. My community love the software, I've found it very easy to manage and maintain, add-ons are a breeze to install and upgrading is very straightforward and takes me less than 30 minutes.
I'm so glad I made the purchase for Xenforo which I believe is very good value compared to other paid for forum software and I will have no hesitation in renewing at a mere $40 next year.
You'll find this community great to be part of. There are many helpful people here willing to help and some very creative add-on developers. So if you can, don't worry about trying to save a few dollars and come on in and join us.