• Eat cheaply but well. You know that eating out regularly, even at fast-food places, can cost hundreds of dollars a month. Shop for groceries and make easy, healthy meals for yourself at home. Easy is important. I love The Three-Ingredient Cookbook by Sondra J. Stang (available at Amazon.com).
• Avoid the evil twins, credit and debt. They require precision management, and can easily become thieves of wealth. If you charge only what you can pay off each month, you can have a credit card. If not, jettison the cards. You'll never acquire wealth if you have to spend your prime earning years paying off credit card debt.
• Squeeze in some college classes. In one of my low-level jobs, I was given the task of typing up a chart that listed every employee in my department, along with his or her educational background. Every person on that list who had a college degree was given a raise. (Guess who didn't get one?) Yes, a degree is just a piece of paper, but so is your paycheck. School isn't necessary for success, but as my grandmother would say, it couldn't hurt! And it'll probably help.
• Save something, anything! Ten percent would be great, but any amount works, even if it's only two percent of your monthly income. Throw pocket change into a coffee can, or set up a monthly auto-withdrawal into a savings account. Do whatever it takes. You need some kind of cushion and the peace of mind it'll bring you.
• Have a treat occasionally. Experts keep telling you to give up the four-dollar coffees at Starbucks and invest the money instead. I say have some coffee, but continue to save. These things are not mutually exclusive. Enjoy the occasional, affordable treat that your new money management habits make possible. Financial responsibility is not about deprivation, after all. It's about fulfillment.
The Dollar Stretcher is dedicated to "living better...for less" - including a section for those who are just starting out. Find out if you know the folly of following the crowd.