We strive to include stories that are of broad interest to readers at all income levels. By Janet Bodnar, Editor-at-Large July 31, 2011 Cathy, a Kiplinger’s friend on Facebook, has a request. She asks that we “profile real middle-class people who make $50K a year, not people who make $200K a year.” Fair enough, Cathy. Let me explain that in choosing real people to profile we try to select folks who represent the whole range of income levels among our readers. Flipping through the past few issues, for example, you’ll find stories about a college student who is paying his way through school without loans, a young couple who have dug themselves out of debt, a 27-year-old woman with a modest amount in old 401(k) plans, and new parents of twins who just bought a used car for their growing family. More broadly, we strive to include stories in every issue that are of interest to readers at all income levels. A case in point is our cover story this month, our annual guide to the best deals we’ve found on everything from stocks and ETFs to restaurant meals and running shoes. Everybody loves a bargain, now more than ever. With the economy less than robust, Americans seem to be experiencing a classic case of coulda, woulda, shoulda. In a recent survey by TD Ameritrade, the overwhelming number of those interviewed said that if they had known before the recession what they know now, they would have spent less and saved more and lived within their means. Advertisement In addition to the bargains we found, we suggest smart strategies for getting the best deal on anything. Plus, I’d like to contribute my two cents’ worth on how to stick to a budget and live within your means. Regardless of your income, smart money management is a matter of mind over money, and small, easy steps yield big results. For starters, keep your goals simple. Zero in on the one thing you most want to accomplish. Know your plastic personality. Choose a debit or credit card based on which one suits your spending habits. And don’t dismiss paying with cash, which is making a postrecession comeback. Track your spending, if only for a month or two. Use your debit and credit card statements as a guide. Advertisement Pinpoint the one area where you’re leaking cash—restaurant meals? tech gadgets?—and staunch the flow. Be positive. Think of budgeting as a way to control small expenses now so you can afford bigger goals later. Tales from the trenches. Another query we often get from readers like Cathy is where to get financial advice if you don’t have the million-dollar stash that many advisers require. If you’re in that boat—and most of us are—our story Financial Planning for the Middle Class is an excellent place to start. Maybe you’re among those who are underwater on their mortgage or facing a layoff. Ever considered converting your basement into a rental to raise cash? At least two Kiplinger’s staff members have done just that, and we show you the ins and outs. Advertisement Our story on no-contract cell-phone plans was inspired by another real person—the author herself. Staff writer Lisa Gerstner thought the $70 per month she was paying on her cell-phone contract was way out of line, so she switched to a no-contract plan that comes with unlimited texting and data, for $26.75 per month. That would fit into just about anyone’s budget. P.S. Bet you didn’t know you had an advocate in your corner with the IRS. Meet Nina Olson.