We did it! decided to go with pea gravel. After doing the calculations, a small patio to the side of the deck in paving stone would have cost approximately 400 dollars. Yikes! If you have a kind friend with a truck, that same area cost about 40 dollars cash at a local aggregate place (plus a husband complaining of a sore back for 4 days). We are pretty excited with how it turned out so far!
We decided to put stone edging to contain the gravel, which cost about 26 dollars. Now hopefully the weather stays nice this weekend so we can keep working on our little yard (next step, sod, stain deck, and paint!)