Image: Graduation day © Thomas M. Barwick INC, Digital Vision, Getty Images

Have you ever wished that you could give your former self some advice? Unfortunately, we can't help you go back to high school and stop you from tattooing your then-favorite singer's face on your shoulder (Taylor Hicks' soul patrol for life!?). But we can help you look back several years from now and not similarly regret your money mistakes.

Here's some advice from our expert staff on what we wish we'd known about personal finance when we graduated from college, along with our best suggestions for someone just starting out.

1. To reach your goals, create a budget and stick to it

Nellie Huang, senior associate editor of Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine, says: I made a budget so I could pay off my credit card debt. First, I subtracted from my take-home pay my fixed costs -- rent, utilities and $100 a week for lunch money, train money to commute to and from work, and "fun money." Then, the $150 I had left went toward the credit card bill.

It was tough. The rule was that I could go to the ATM only once a week. If I spent the $100 before the end of the week, too bad -- I couldn't go out with friends, I walked to work, and I skipped lunch if I had to.

2. Think about your future and start saving for it now

Stacy Rapacon, channel editor for, says: When I bought a house and had a baby a few months ago, I often thought about how much I'd frivolously spent in younger years on stuff that's useless now -- such as VHS tapes, DVDs, CDs and trendy clothes.

If I had saved that cash, I would've amassed that much more to put toward my down payment and supporting my child. I'm not saying I wish I hadn't spent any money on those fun things (sorry, my baby, but I wouldn't trade my complete series of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" on DVD for anything); I just wish I'd spent a lot less then and saved for the future more.

3. Start saving for retirement as soon as possible

Anne Kates Smith, senior editor of Kiplinger's Personal Finance, says: Fund a 401k or IRA with whatever money you have. A little invested now goes a long way. Study a table that shows the magic of compounding and you'll understand why -- investing a couple of thousand dollars early on for a few years beats saving many times that amount for many more years later. So even if you think you can't afford to contribute, you must convince yourself that you can't afford not to.

4. Use your youthful energy to make more money

Pat Esswein, associate editor of Kiplinger's Personal Finance, says: To pay down debt more quickly or to beef up savings and income, do freelance work or take a second, part-time job. You will never have more energy than you do now (and if you're just out of college, you're used to working 16 hours a day). Whatever you do now will have a major payoff later -- say, when you want to get married, put a down payment on a house or take a trip around the world.

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