A 1GB stick of ram for my particular laptop is $18 from Newegg, regular price. I still don't have money for it though, I have more important things to do.
Also, I disagree with what you said about when the system starts using swap. My desktop computer has 1GB of ram and usually never goes above 40%, and yet I -still- found the swap being used on occasion, about 15MB of it just like my laptop. In response I turned the swap function off entirely, as it got a bit annoying. And I haven't had a problem since.
On my laptop, I have vm.swappiness set to 10, and that seems to work just fine. It rarely tends to swap, and using the swap does not use more CPU cycles. It only takes longer for things to load that are in the swap. That's all.
edit: Also, all of my fancy graphical eye-candy uses less than 10MB of ram collectively. I don't think turning that off will make much of a difference.
Watch your words spread Hope like Fire.