My wife and I have owned a Rossi M971 2 1/2" for about 11 years. It was the first handgun I ever owned, and we have been extremely well pleased with it. Like you, we were on a strict budget when looking for my first handgun, and I feel very fortunate to have stumbled upon a used Rossi .357 stainless! I purchased it for around $165.00 in 1997.
My wife hasn't shot with .357's in it yet, but she's seems deadly with .38's loaded instead! I have shot it with .357's, and man, is it a cannon!!! It's cool to watch the flame leap out of the barrel.
The only issue we have had with it is: from repeated trips to the range, the screw on the cylinder release knob backed out and was lost, and I had to get a new screw for it at a gunsmith. He put some Locktight on it and it hasn't loosened since. Also, I have to stay on top of checking the vertical sight adjust screw after using it at the range, it tends to loosen a bit after about 150 to 200rds of practice.
I now use a Beretta 92FS 9mm as my primary concealed (with Mec-Gar 20rd magazines), and my wife uses the Rossi as hers. She really likes it, and has tried it against other handguns. What she likes most about it is:
1. Although it is heavy (compared to say a S&W Airlight hammerless), it has less recoil.
2. It fits her hand better.
3. She can shoot much more accurately in SA mode, utilizing the hammer before firing.
4. She's much more accurate with it, than even the compact semi's she's tried.
5. With her arthritis, pulling a slide back to ready her handgun can be problematic, especially when she first wakes up from a sound sleep, so a revolver is a great choice for her.
6. We both love its sights. The red-painted forward sight is easy to place "on target."
Well, I hope some of this info is helpful to anyone thinking about owning a Rossi. Again, we love it!