I'm in the process of applying to grad schools now, so I can answer about the application fees: they vary widely. I've had to pay anywhere from $20 to $80 per application. I'm applying to 7 schools total and it's going to cost me over $300 altogether. Plus other costs: school transcripts if your undergrad charges for them, plus when I took the GRE I was allowed to send the scores for free to four schools; the rest I have to pay for at something like $27 per additional report. Plus, one school didn't GET my GRE results and ETS wants to charge me to re-send the scores.
It's expensive, and annoying.
I'm applying for master's programs, and the actual application itself is simpler than a job application. It's basic info: name, where you're getting your undergrad from, what program you're interested in, phone number, address. That takes maybe 10 minutes, tops. For personal statements and essays, I wrote a skeleton of things that don't change: why I'm interested in my field, what I plan to do with it, my interests and accomplishments at my undergrad institution. That took me about an hour between outlining, writing, rewriting, etc. For each grad school, I have a list of things that attract me to the school already (I made these lists while I was searching for grad schools and narrowing down my search) so I work those things into my essay depending on the school. "I'm really interested in Dr. Smith's research into Funky Smelling Chemicals" or "I am familiar with Snooty Nosed University's reputation for working with the local community to provide legal advice, and a community connection is important to me" and so on. When I first began applying, it took me a good half hour, 40 minutes to get through that tailoring process on the personal essays. Now, it takes me 5-10 minutes because I have had practice.
I think the elective thing will depend heavily on the culture of your graduate major. I know chemistry graduate students who would never even glance at electives; they spend like 210% if their time in the lab. However, I also know graduates in other disciplines - usually music, English, etc - that have a little bit of time to take electives their first year.