Well, depends on where you are really. For instance, here in the Netherlands, you barely follow courses (20-25 EC in four years) and the teaching load is small (usually at least one 5 EC course in four years, more if you want).
So, you can dedicate ~80% of your time to research as a paid employee of the university, including ~ 1.5 months paid leave including weekends, holiday money (8% of year income), 13th month (one month extra salary per year) and benefits (retirement fund, unemployment benefit).
I have just finished my thesis, and during the last four years I have felt as welcome and as much part of the staff as any other employee.
I worked as a Research Associate (contract researcher) for a UK university in the 1990s - this paid a decent salary, had minimal teaching requirements (a couple of hours a week) and if your supervisor was decent the topic you were paid to work on was pretty close to your PhD research topic - usually they would find money from some contract to pay you for the 6 months or so required to do nothing but write your thesis.
Most people doing things this way took 4 or 5 years rather than the 3 of full time PhD students - but at least you got a decent salary - not a bad trade off (not to mention the other perks of working on EU funded projects).
[Of course, some supervisors were good some were awful - I heard some horror stories from colleagues].