No, there is no other option. I need to use this specific (originally hand lettered) font. If using 'Ariel' was acceptable I would do so.
A font editor makes a lot of the scut work easy. If you try and bang it out in Illustrator or a generic app then yeah, it might be hard. I can get one letter in about 5 minutes with a mouse, and I would buy a proper digitizer before I spend 'a ton of money' because it is relatively simple with the proper app and hardware.
If you'd like to get specifics and make a bid, PM me for details.
Even if you have the entire typeface fully digitized in vector format... a ton of work still goes in to making it a complete, bug free, working font. So if you need that, in addition to creating the actual vector shapes, done by someone who knows what they are doing. It's going to cost a ton of money.