As May comes to an end, it has been just about exactly a year since I graduated with my bachelor's. For some background, I went to a relatively small, private institution. I was fortunate enough to have my parents help me pay for room & board, tuition, etc. but was also on scholarship and always held a part-time job. But for those four years, I had a lot of help. Once I graduated, it was a whole new ballgame with working full-time, making more money but having a lot more bills, and trying to figure out my student loans. Here are some habits and lessons, regrettably in piecemeal fashion, that I have learned the hard way. Some of these are painfully obvious.
1.) Budget, budget, budget. Get yourself organized. I believe this is one of the most essential steps for your financial well-being. If you don't even know how much cash on hand you have, how can you go about spending and saving? I use Mint.com, a free web service where you link your bank accounts (don't worry, it's safe, I was wary too) and set up monthly budgets. This website is a lifesaver! I have direct deposit so I can see how much income I have. I've set up budgets for everything (groceries, utilities, rent, home supplies, haircuts, everything!). I know exactly how much I spend on each category and when I go over on those budgets. It allows you to set up saving goals, you can link your credit card, student loan, and more. I initially signed up because I saw it was an Intuit service (the same company that makes QuickBooks software). Organization is key to knowing your limits and can bring awareness to some unruly spending habits (ahem, mine was shoes).
2.) Spend less than you make. PERIOD. Again, this is an obvious one. Sometimes, things come up where you need to dip into your savings account or whip out the credit card but avoids this as much as you can! I know how easy it is to transfer some money from your savings to your checking account "just this once" and "I'll transfer the same amount in 4 days." Things will always come up. Having an emergency fund is ideal so you don't have to panic when sudden financial needs pop up.
3.) Online banking. If you don't use online banking, you should. Why not? It's easier and you can check your account anytime. I check my bank account at least once a day. Again, this goes back to being organized. This decreases the chances of accidentally overdrawing from your account (hello unnecessary bank fees) and you are just more aware of your spending in general. You may discover an automatic withdrawal from obscure service you signed up for a while ago and it's just wasting your money (this one is from experience; I was mortified with how much money I wasted because I simply didn't notice an autobill was still in effect).
4.) Groceries. Yes, this has been a huge spending issue for me. As a self-proclaimed foodie, I was spending a TON on eating out. As much as it crushes my heart to put a stop to my twice a week pizza binges, it was killing my wallet. Walk yourself to the grocery store and learn to cook! This is amazingly cheaper than eating out. Make almost all of your dinners and almost all of your lunches. I was spending about $40 a week buying lunches instead of bringing one to work. It is shocking how much you can save by not eating out.
I hope this is useful! These are all from my real life experiences and I've been steadily saving on top of everything else!