Here are a few suggestions that I try to put into practice in my own life...
1) Live within your means - Sooner or later, nearly everybody has to learn to be content with what they've got. President Bush just signed a tough new set of laws which will restrict who can file for bankruptcy. You don't want to fall into that category. This means not only making more money than you spend, but also putting some of that hard-earned green away for emergencies. I suggest having enough liquid assets at your disposal to live for six months without any income. Start at the top...Do you have a $30,000/year job, and own a $300,000 house? Sell it and buy a smaller one. How about that car? Over $15,000? New flat screen plasma TV? Fishing Boat? Give yourself a break and ease your financial stress by cutting out anything that wrecks the budget. Do it now.
2) Establish priorities - Make yourself a list of things that are important. For each item you list as a priority, identify how it ranks in terms of reward, enjoyment, sacrifice, and difficulty. This will help you see what things in your life can be cut out, and where you need to spend more time, money, and energy. Set a goal for each item listed. It's tough to get to where you want to be if you don't know how to get there.
3) Don't overcommit - One of the toughest things for many of us is to learn how to say "no". We care too much about what other people think, and so we try to do everything. It's a terrible trap, and most of us fall into it at some time, and then have to pull ourselves out after some kind of meltdown. If I didn't say "no" several times a week, I would be much more tired, cranky and unfocused than I already am. Keep the things that are high-priority...cut the rest. Use your priority list (above) to help determine what's gotta go.
4) Pay your bills early - Don't just pay them on time. You want to give yourself a little fudge room in case you're on vacation when that cable bill shows up or the phone bill is lost in the mail. Pay the bills right when they come in and your credit score will thank you.
5) Organize - Take some time to clean out those drawers in the office. File, shred and throw away. Chances are, by looking through all the paperwork from the last six months, you'll remember, "Hey, I forgot to call my insurance agent" or some such thing. Note: you have to have time to do this, so see #3 above.
6) Work close to home - How many hours do many of us spend in our car, when we would rather be at home, with friends, or at the movies? If you are commuting an hour to work and back, that's too much! Either find a job that pays a little less and cut your commute, or relocate closer to work. Time is not money, but at the end of our lives, most people wish they had spent more time doing what was important (not driving)...
7) Buy a house - I can think of very few reasons not to own your own home right now. The current tax laws say that you can deduct up to $250,000 of gain on the sale of a home if it is your primary residence. It is hard to find a better investment anywhere.
8) Be patient when purchasing - Whether it's a house, car, TV or computer...don't buy the first one you see. Chances are, you'll regret the decision years later. Instead, do your own research to compare prices and quality of whatever it is you're buying. I looked for two years before I bought my first house.
9) Find a job with good benefits - Anyone who is in business for themselves will tell you that insurance is expensive. Try to find a job that not only pays your health and dental insurance, but also provides disability and life insurance, covers family members, provides profit-sharing and matching 401k plans. Making $50,000 at a job with no benefits isn't any better than making $35,000 with all the perks. Plus, the person at the lower wage has "more room to grow" (a favorite phrase of bosses everywhere).
10) Invest for the future - Pay your debt off first, then build yourself a little nest egg for emergencies. Once you've done that, start putting away for your retirement. The earlier you start, the more aggressive you can afford to be. Stay active in managing your retirement plan. Don't just shove $50/month into some fund you know nothing about. Diversify your retirement plan so you can't be stung if the Stock Market goes belly up.