Everyone wants to be financially secure. The stress of financial disaster is soul-sucking. No one wants to live with that stress day to day yet that is how we live. You’ve seen the headlines claiming that over half of Americans can’t come up with $1,000 or $500 for an emergency.

It is likely true. I was one of those Americans once. I can tell you that it is better on the other side of that statistic. The grass is greener on this side.

I am quite good at compartmentalizing and generally putting away negative thoughts. Maybe it’s not healthy? I don’t know. I wasn’t visibly stressed but my overall health wasn’t great at this time so it might be related.

Money came in with each pay check and then it would be gone when the next one arrived. The stress would rise when the next one didn’t show up at the expected time. I had no savings and each pay check was necessary to pay the onslaught of bills.

I didn’t know where the money was going but I knew I was making bad decisions. I went out too much. Each weekend was a couple hundred dollars. A couple hundred dollars was several percent of monthly income at that time. Four weekends in a month makes a fifth to a quarter.

A disaster.

The first step in getting financially ahead is to have a clear picture of your finances. How much money is coming in and how it is spent. This is not news to you. It wasn’t news to me. I knew it. I just didn’t do it.

I’ve been fascinated with how money works and how to make more of it since I was a teen. I completely fell off the boat when I got my first credit card and a steady job. The exact catalyst that motivated me to change my ways is lost to time.

Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover was my guide when I finally decided to right my financial ship. There are many resources like his that provide the same basic strategies. There are no secrets or shortcuts in getting your finances in order.

Make a budget. This is tried and true. You have to plan how your money will be used and then track it. It has never been easier. Use Mint.com or some other digital budgeting software that automatically tracks your spending.

Once you can see everything, it is time to make changes to your behavior so that you are not spending more than you are making. Expenses > Income is never going to end well. The easiest way is to reduce spending. The other way is to increase income. There is no right way. There is only your way.

Next: start saving money. The standard advice is anywhere from $500 to $1,000 to $5,000. That goal is to have a safety cushion in case of emergencies. You can start low and keep adding to it. There is no right number. Don’t do clever things with this money. Just save it in a boring savings account.

Finally: keep learning. You have the basics down. You can survive a small emergency without the added monetary stress. Read as much as you can. Keep saving. At some point you will need to do more with your extra savings than just leave it in a boring savings account. You’ll want that money to make more money. That’s when the fun begins.