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As a recent college grad with your first full-time job, the cards might seem stacked against you. If you’re like the average graduate, your student loan debt is around $24,000, if not more, according to American Student Assistance. High levels of debt are part of the reason why the net worth of young people is around $3,662 today, compared to $11,521 30 years ago, Time reports. Now that you have a job, take control of your finances and start planning for the future.

Figure Out What’s What

When creating your budget and planning for the future, your first step is to figure out how much money you actually bring home. The average starting salary for a college graduate was $44,455 in 2012, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. That figure is before taxes, health insurance and retirement savings are taken out. Look at your pay stubs or bank statements to figure out how much money you’re actually bringing home monthly. Compare that figure to your necessary expenses, such as your student loan payment, rent and car expenses. You might be surprised to find that after all the necessities are subtracted, you don’t have much left to splurge on little luxuries.

Me First

It’s easy to overlook saving when you’re young. Retirement is decades away and doesn’t seem relevant to you. But, the earlier you start saving, the more you’ll have for your golden years. If you start saving $10 a day at age 25, you’ll end up with $1 million at age 65, with an 8 percent return. If you wait until age 45 to save the same amount each day, you’ll only end up with $180,000 by age 65.

Don’t put off savings; instead, make it your first priority. If your employer offers a 401(k) plan, sign up to have a portion of your income directly deposited each pay period. If you’re on your own for retirement, set things up so that a portion of income is automatically funneled into your retirement plan. Do the same with your emergency or rainy day fund. Think of it as investing in yourself first.

Protect Yourself

You might not have much right out of college, but what you do have, you want to protect. A service such as CenturyLink @Ease will protect your computer from viruses, hackers and other security issues. Other similar products include Avast AntiVirus and AVG AntiVirus. The service also shields your data from thieves who can use it to steal your identity and hard-earned money. Another way to protect your possessions is to purchase a renter’s insurance policy. Most policies are inexpensive. The average person can pay $300 per year for $50,000 worth of coverage. Shelling out $20 or a month is worth it in the event that your apartment is broken into or damaged by a heavy storm.

Set Goals

Being financially responsible doesn’t mean you have to be boring. Paying down your debts, paying living expenses and saving for retirement don’t have to be the only things your money goes toward. Set financial goals for both the short and long term. A short term goal might be to set a small amount aside each month to purchase a new suit or to go on a weekend trip with your partner or friends. A long term goal might be to save up enough to make a down payment on a house within the next five years. When you have control of your finances, you’re able to make adjustments as needed to reach any goals you set.

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About the Author. Joyce Sadler is a financial advisor from San Diego.

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