Whether you’re fresh out of college or on the cusp of achieving a financial goal — like buying a home or starting a business — there are five things you should be doing with your money.

Director of Personal Markets for Northwestern Mutual Emily Holbrook says that no matter where you are in your financial life, these basics are the foundation of a more secure financial future. “Following through with a plan to accomplish each of these goals will make your money work for you and help you create more confidence in your future,” explains Holbrook.

  1. SAVE

    Set aside money regularly. Think of this as paying yourself every week or month. Start by building an emergency fund that covers your expenses for at least three months (six months is even better). Then set goals — like buying a car, a vacation or a down payment on a home — and track your progress. A clear goal with milestones will help you resist impulsively dipping into your savings.

  2. SPEND

    Surprised? Don’t be. We all need to spend money. The key here is budgeting. Most people have a good idea about what’s coming in but are less clear about what’s going out. When you allocate money appropriately (some for monthly bills, some for paying down debt and saving), it’s easier to afford the things you need and still have cash to splurge on something fun.

  3. Most people have a good idea about what’s coming in but are less clear about what’s going out.
  4. GROW

    Think of this as investing in long-term goals, like retirement or college for your children. Because this money won’t be touched for many years, you’ll want a strategy that fits your timeline and risk tolerance. And remember: An investment is money set aside for the future, while your savings is money set aside for emergencies and major purchases.

  5. GIVE

    What’s important to you? If you had extra time and money, how would you use it to help others? When you have your own finances in order, it’s easier to support others in need. Even on a limited budget, you can support causes close to you in ways that are financially comfortable and responsible.

  6. PROTECT

    Something unexpected can prevent everything else in this list from happening. Make sure you’re protecting against things that could derail your financial plan:

  • Your income: Disability income insurance will make up for lost wages if you get sick and can’t work. Life insurance can help pay your mortgage, bills and final expenses if something happened to you.
  • Your health: When you have the protection of health insurance, it’s unlikely that a health problem will become a financial shock.
  • Your property: Homeowners or renters insurance and car insurance can protect you in the case of something like a fire or car accident.

To build the five basics into your overall financial plan, start by assessing where you are today by using financial tools and resources. From here, you can get information to make smart short- and long-term decisions — and gain financial confidence in the process.

Work with a financial planner or professional who can help you protect what you have and develop a plan that’s right for the goals you’ve set.

“An informed consumer is a confident consumer,” says Holbrook. “Don’t delay getting started until you feel like you have ‘enough.’ Start now, and use these concepts to create a solid financial future.”

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