If you’re young and just starting out in the “real world,” you have a lot going on.  On the financial side, all of a sudden you have a regular salary and real responsibilities.   It’s easy to let your money disappear without thinking too hard about where it’s going.  But at this point you have the opportunity to start out in control of your financial life even if you feel like you have barely enough money to survive.  You haven’t made any mistakes yet.  Or, if you have, they’re easier to fix now than if you let them get out of control.

Little things you do now will make a major difference in your life later on.

The most important thing you can do now is start out by living within your means and commit to continuing that way.  Living within your means is a simple idea: you have to spend less than you earn.  The decisions you make – whether you live with your parents or with roommates, the amount you borrow to buy a car, how much you allow yourself to spend meeting up with friends after work, even how many times a week you pack your lunch – all of these factor into whether or not you’re living within your means.

I want to be clear: when I talk about living within your means, I’m referring to not only being able to easily pay all of your regular bills, but also put some money aside each month.  If you’re spending right up to the last dollar in your bank account, that’s not living within your means – that’s teetering on the edge of losing control financially.  Do you really want to spend all of your money on an apartment with a great view if it means that you aren’t sure how you’d handle some kind of unexpected expense?

What it all boils down to is that money is just a tool to help you achieve your goals.  Maybe you don’t know what your goals are yet, and that’s fine.  You have plenty of time to figure that out.  But by giving yourself a little bit of breathing room in your finances starting out, you maintain control over your money and you can use it to achieve those goals once you figure out where you want it to go.

“Money is a terrible master but an excellent servant.” – P.T. Barnum