I am struggling with this same problem and one of the significant drawbacks to Xbee is it's cost. At $19 for the simplest module, it adds significant cost to the final product. The other issue is their physical size. For my purposes, these things are huge!
Thanks for the link to that Microchip board. I had not seen that one and it is certainly worth looking into.
Two other possible options that I looked into are the Linx 433Mhz chip but it is not FCC approved. So I had to discard it immediately at the sacrifice of range.
The other is a TI chip. These are FC15 approved and meet the Europe and Canadian requirements and they are cheap. However, you would have to handle a couple of peripheral components (minimal) and an antenna. However, did I mention that they are cheap. They are also a QFN package so they have a VERY small footprint which is a serious consideration for me. On Digikey they are $4.20 for one. Mouser is even cheaper at $3.97. The datasheet is very clear and I think setup for these would be minor. If you ever thought you could get to 1000 of them, they are $1.40 direct through TI. If these work out for me, I would even be willing to split an order with someone to get the savings.
For proto purposes, you can get breakout boards for QFN packages that bring the pins out to a standard 2.54mm header. I even found a service that will order your Digikey part and assemble the breakout for an additional charge.
Anyway, here is the Digikey link. http://search.digikey.com/us/en/products/CC2500RTKR/296-19586-1-ND/1014208
And last, while that Whizbee link above looks interesting, where in the world do you buy them and how much do they cost?