People Like You Sometimes we can learn more from one another than we can from experts
By Robert Safian/Managing Editor

(MONEY Magazine) – In an ideal world, we wouldn't have to choose between saving for retirement, taking that once-in-a-lifetime vacation and buying our dream car. But here in the real world, financial trade-offs are a fact of life. Experts and advisers may offer their particular rules of thumb on how we should set our priorities, but in the end how we use our money is a personal decision--about what matters most to us, in our lives.

That's why here at MONEY we routinely turn to a different set of experts when it comes to these trade-offs: people like you. Writers Joan Caplin, Ellen McGirt and Cybele Weisser, pictured at left, are among the staffers here at MONEY who spend hours and hours each month talking with Americans coast to coast about their families, finances, job security, planning for tomorrow vs. enjoying today--in other words, all of the areas where money touches our lives. (And we are always eager for more conversations, so if you're willing to be interviewed, please let us know; contact information appears at the bottom of this page.)

Will the experiences of the people we profile in the magazine provide a perfect match for all of our readers? Of course not. But we do hope that by seeing how others reach solutions that work for them, you will be both inspired and reassured as you face similar decisions in your own life.

In this issue you'll find these real-life experiences in several places: in the 30 Days column (page 42), in our cover story (page 50) and, perhaps most important, in "How I Paid for College" (page 72). College bills are daunting; calculate how much you'd need to put away each month to cover your youngster's total tab, and chances are you'll feel overwhelmed. But as the stories in our article show, every day real people manage to find new, creative ways to meet their education obligations--without mortgaging the rest of their lives in the process. It's a formula for success we can all learn from.