Ok, apparently there aren't any. All the plugin developers assume that if you're taking payments, you must be making a lot of money from your site. Or going to be making a lot of money from your site.
I've done a lot of searches, and there is a plugin called Wordpal that is still in development. There aren't many docs or talk out there about it, so it's really hard to tell what it will and won't do. It may be standalone for what I need, or I might have to use the free level of Memberwing with it. However, looks like Wordpal will take the customer back to Paypal with *each* new post they need to pay for, which is *not* what I want at all. But it might work for others who are reading this thread. Where I am talking to myself, LOL.
I found software that will do this for as much as $3000 and as little as $30. I honestly don't see that there is much difference between the $30-$50 ones in terms of one person using them for one site. Good developer options start at around $80. These are complete all-in-ones, where the scenario I describe in my first post can happen seamlessly. Or there are tons of other options in each to fit everything from pay-per-post/download, to having a full-fledged shop.
My top picks, by combination of price and features (including support and lack of wonkiness):
Your Member, currently $50 but about to go to $65 for a one-user license. Has all the features of the big ones, including prescheduled content releases to subscribers (so you can go on vacation!); has active and responsive developers.
Ones that *almost* made the grade:
Wp-member $44.99 + current coupon code for 25% off --looks terrific, does it all, but requires a yearly renewal. Sorry, but that's a dealbreaker. If ALL the software I use required a yearly renewal the fees would be well more than the cost of a new computer.
Wp-ecommerce -- Will do what I want, but only with addons that bring the price to $65.
Memberwing -- the free version doesn't include recurring subscriptions. Looks pretty good. For what I need it's $97.
Wishlist Member -- $97 Not sure that this is quite as good a solution; looks like you have to do some tinkering in Paypal's system to make it work.
Other solutions: amember, Suma, are around $200. Too much for microbusinesses just starting up.
Shopp -- $55 -- says recurring subscriptions are coming but aren't there yet. That *could* push this one much higher on the list, partly because of price.
Wordpal -- free? Hard to tell if it supports recurring billing because it's still in development
Wp membership -- $29.97 doesn't have recurring subscriptions, so really not a contender but could be if that was added
WP-estore -- $20 Doesn't do membership; doesn't do recurring payments but I'm putting it here anyway because it could be used with the free version of Memberwing to partially deal with this.
Anyone want to add to this?