Every month, you write checks to pay your landlord, your electric bill, your phone bill, maybe the car company. But the first check you should be writing is to yourself.
"I'm such a believer in paying yourself first, in making sure you've got money that's going into your bank account before it's going to anything else," says Jennifer Openshaw, president of WeSeed and author of "The Millionaire Zone."
Texas working mom Roxanne Neatherlin rarely puts herself first and, as a result, she's among the 22 percent of Americans who have no savings.
"We probably should have been thinking of our future before this. We were just living life and we were happy. Money doesn't mean much to us. We have family, we have friends, and that's what we need," Neatherlin says.
She added that she wants to give $500 to her daughter when she graduates, even though it doesn't make good financial sense for her now.
"A lot of people -- they're going to save their money or they're going to pay bills or pay for the fuel prices. But I have other plans for my money. I've always wanted to give my daughter $500 when she graduated," Neatherlin says. "After Lisa graduates, we'll start saving. It's always something else that comes up. We'll eventually get there."
If 40-year-old Neatherlin had started putting aside just $25 a week when she was 25 years old, today she'd have a nest egg of more than $28,000, instead of no nest egg at all.
"People don't realize, until they have a calamity, that they need that savings," Openshaw says. "Her daughter is just starting out right now. She has got a whole life ahead of her to take care of her financial future. She's going to college, after all."
And to make sure you get started now, use some money from the government's rebate program to write the first check to yourself.
"Yeah, I probably do need to be a little more selfish, and that's my problem," Neatherlin says.
Alix Steel had a different problem, shared by millions of Americans -- a mountain of credit card debt.
"I got into this mindset that I could just swipe and it's all good and no worries. And so I graduated from college ... I'd want that dress or that couch or that pillowcase or that really cool necklace. And eventually, it racks up and you're $10 grand in debt and it's 'Oh, my God, where did this come from?'" 26-year-old Steel explains.
But you can stay out of credit card debt and probably spend less if you pay in cash, not credit.
Steel has been on a strict "cash diet" for almost three years now and will soon be debt-free.
"It's a practical way of making sure you actually do spend within your means," Openshaw says.
And it's a way of avoiding costly interest. Buy $100 worth of groceries with your credit card and studies show those groceries could end up costing you as much as $212, if all you make is the minimum payment. This was an expensive habit that Steel has now kicked.
"If you're like me, I would say consider this, consider a cash diet. Because it's really hard, but in the end, it pays off. It has for me."
And now, Steel says, "I think I am more responsible for my finances and more responsible for my future. I'm free. It's just me ... it's just me and my money."