I am doing the same thing you are - God willing. In looking for a boat - I did some extensive research and found the Hunter 37 - Cherubini Cutter - 79-84 looked to be a great cruising boat. We bought one and now are sailing/prepping it on Lake Erie. In the years mentioned, you can find one for under 40K - some work needed, but solid.
It is over built, heavy but it sails fast and let me tell you it can handle ROUGH WEATHER - way better than we can
A cutter, so you have 2 small foresails instead of a huge genny. We are modifying ours so that the staysail can be roller furled instead of folded - that way we dont have to go up on the foredeck in rough seas - not fun when you are in your 50s and 60s like we are.
Another boat is the Hunter 30 - roughly same vintage. A good solid boat with spacious interior and very comfortable for cruising.
Do some exploring - a great place to start is SailboatOwners.com
- they have reviews for all kinds of boats - it will allow you to look at different manufacturers and evaluate the different possibilities from a safety and a price perspective.
ENJOY - its fun going through and looking at the reviews and it saves a lot of leg work.
Also - with the postings above I agree - take classes - the US Power squadron has classes in weather, navigation, piloting - you need them all - mostly to protect you from those that don't know what they are doing - LOL. Throw in a pinch of conservative judgement and the right safety equipment and above all, DON'T hurry - time can be your ally, but it can also be your enemy. Above all have fun!