Slumming It

Help me!  I need your advice
I’m spoiled.  My job as a landscape architect has distorted my notion of how to install a garden.  For years, I’ve devised grand plans for gardens and landscapes.  Plants show up to the site by the thousands, and the contractor installs them over a period of a week or so, creating a dramatic and instant transformation. 
Now my wife and I prepare to move into a new house.  All the money went into the down payment and renovation (we essentially gutted the inside).  So now, penniless, I turn to yard and wonder: how the heck do you install a grand garden for cheap?  I mean, really cheap.
This spring, I will dig up several thousand square feet of lawn to create garden beds.  It will take thousands of plants to create the lush, richly layered garden that I want.  So I’m wondering: how the heck do you populate a garden with no money? 
I’m thinking about ordering plugs from wholesale perennial nurseries, but even those cost hundreds of dollars.  I guess I could grow the herbaceous perennials from seed, but the last time I did that, it took a couple of years before the plants looked like anything.  And how do I do shrubs?  I need a lot of screening plants.  Do I buy them super small and nurse them along?
So I’m asking for your help and kind advice.  Have you ever gardened on the cheap?  What’s worked for you?   Can I have a glorious garden without cashing in my 401k?
This is how I'm used to plants arriving: by the truckload.
Is there any hope for me?
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