I recently read an article of a company that conducted a survey of 1,000 recent college graduates. Of those 1,000, only 30% said they were completely self sufficient. That’s a sad percentage.

I’m a lucky millennial with too many blessings to count. In this post, I will outline some of my personal financial practices.

My first rule of thumb to live by is:  “It’s not how much money you make, but how well you manage it.”

If you’re making a less than desirable salary, it does not mean you’re doomed from ever creating the financial atmosphere of your dreams. The very first step to financial freedom will be the most boring and least exciting, but it will also be the most important as this step will begin the process.

As I said, I am lucky, but not lucky enough to be student loan free. I did take advantage of as many scholarships as possible, but I was unable to make it out of college debt free. I also married a man who has earned student loan debt – doubling our indebtedness. No surprise to have student loans at my age, it is an American right of passage. I try to tell my younger siblings and those just starting out to be smart about how much money they borrow. Starting college at 18, big decisions are made that have life long impacts and we need to make sure these kids are ready for the consequences.

To begin the process of financial stability, you’ve got to create a budget. I suggest generating an excel file that has all the bills you have lined by order of due date. Columns should be in the following order from left to right: bill company name, due date, the typical amount, what paycheck you expect to use to pay the bill, and a column for completion. Add pretty colors, excite yourself… make bill paying FUN! (ha – I giggle at the sarcasm I wish to infuse here; although, I have to admit that I do indeed find bill paying fun…………I know.)

In a separate table nearby your bill table, create a pay schedule for that month. Next, play around with allocating your paycheck funds to bills that are due. Obviously, you’ll want to use the paycheck for as many bills as you can, up to the next due date that will coincide with your next paycheck. (Take into account your spending!)

Bills are a fact of life and there’s no need to get upset about them, unless they are unnecessary bills like your subscription to magazines, HBO, or those pesky credit card payments. So, put those bills down in your bill-pay table and for those payments that are not fixed, alwaysalways overestimate their typical payment. You’ll be glad you did.

Next, you’ve got to budget your spending. Realistically budget. Before you set up your budget, you should track your spending habits for the week (spend as you normally would) and investigate your purchases. If you’ve made acceptable purchases and lived within your means, then congratulations! All you have to do next is to make your weekly budget the same amount you spent. Otherwise, if you spent $250 on eating out the entire week, you may realize you cannot sustain that kind of budget while being in paying-off-debt mode. Be realistic. If you typically spend $300 a week on whatever, then put $300 into your budget. Don’t just say, that needs to be closer to $150, because it simply will not happen that way. You’ll end up over spending. Be realistic.

Align your budget and bills due within your pay periods. Tweak which paycheck will go to which bills, play around with it until you’re happy.

Paying off debt is much easier said than done and really, it’s not all that fun either. Usually you’re paying interest or paying for things you’ve already used up a long time ago. The best way to start tackling your debt is to put outstanding balances in order starting with the lowest balance. Keep fighting that balance until it is paid off, and then apply what you typically paid for that balance onto the next largest balance… each time you pay off a balance, you should be adding that required monthly payment to the next loan. This is called the snowball effect, which I believe was coined by Dave Ramsey. (You can look him up, he’s a great financial coach though some of his methods are somewhat extreme.)

Another option is to pay off loans by interest rate, starting with the highest interest rate. This way of paying off debt will lower the amount of interest paid overtime. I don’t use this method so I cannot speak much to it.

What I am about to say next is going to hurt. Wait. Wait and keep chugging along and paying off those debts. It might take a long time, it might take a short time, depending on pending balances, just know your future self will thank you!

Once you’ve reached financial freedom and are debt free, stay that way! Don’t ever get yourself back into the situation you started with. Learn from your mistakes and live within your means.

Not every financial plan will fit every financial situation, so take what I say with a grain of salt. Use my suggestions to help you start a plan that works best for you and your personal situation. If you have any questions, feel free to comment.

I must emphasize that I am not a licensed financial adviser and that these suggestions are merely suggestions from my personal experience. These financial steps come naturally to me and are almost innate as common sense and I realize some may struggle with this…just as I struggle with understanding the random issues with my TV not creating sound (when all this problem needed was to be plugged in…)

Good luck in your endeavors.