When you start earning steady income, it can feel as momentous as going from crawling to walking. You might be able to afford to dine at a restaurant you previously couldn't, or maybe you can finally pay your bills on time or consider renting an apartment that better suits you.
As these new possibilities present themselves, remember that it's also a great time to position yourself for long-term financial security.
"To me, money equals choices," said Kathryn Hauer, a certified financial planner with Wilson David Investment Advisors. "If you focus on the idea that money lets you make choices that make your life better, it's a good way to encourage yourself to do things now for your future self."
Of course, everyone's situation is different. Some people get going in their work life with well-paying salaries, or free of student loan debt and few financial obligations. Others face more challenging situations, whether due to debt or other hurdles that make it tricky to set aside money for future reasons.
Additionally, setting up a budget and then sticking to it isn't always easy. Nor will you see results of your savings efforts overnight, which means you have to exercise some patience.
And, because everyone's goals — and how they get prioritized — are different, it's important that you look inward before doing much of anything.
"Otherwise you're just shooting from the hip," said CFP Douglas Boneparth, president of Bone Fide Wealth.
First, Boneparth said, you should identify your goals. They might include shorter-term objectives like a vacation or longer-term ones like a comfortable retirement.
Once you identify your goals, you should quantify them — that is, figure out how much those things will cost, Boneparth said. Then, you need to prioritize.
"I think this is often the most important step," Boneparth said. "Most people do not have the financial resources to fund all of their goals at once."
The idea of funding both short- and long-term goals might sound like a high-wire balancing act that involves some sacrifice. Yet the sooner you get started on identifying them and working toward them, the higher the payoff down the road.
Here are some smart money moves that can help build a solid financial foundation for the future, regardless of your particular goals.
Set up emergency savings
Many people don't have emergency money set aside, despite experts typically recommending building up three to six months' worth of living expenses in a savings account.
In fact, 40 percent of Americans wouldn't be able to cover an unexpected $400 expense without selling something or borrowing money, according to a 2018 Federal Reserve survey.
"My personal take is that having an emergency fund of some kind should be a priority," Boneparth said.
One reason for such savings is that the options for funding unanticipated expenses can be pricey.
For instance, the average interest rate on credit cards has reached 17.5 percent, according to CreditCards.com.
Cash advances from credit cards typically come with even higher rates — the average is about 21 percent, according to WalletHub. Likewise, a payday loan can come with steep costs as well — not to mention payment is expected in full by your next paycheck. Even if you could qualify for a lower-cost option, it nevertheless would be yet another financial obligation.
And, if you have no emergency fund but are saving for retirement through a 401(k) plan or similar tax-advantaged option, you might be more likely to raid that account if someday you hit a financial setback.
Experts generally say this is a big no-no. For starters, you remove not only money you had earmarked for retirement, but also all the earnings your money would have generated if it had stayed put.
Also, if you tap those funds before age 59, you could face a 10 percent penalty for the withdrawal on top of paying taxes on it).