Many aspects of personal finance can get a bit confusing or require some study to understand. But really much of it isn’t very complicated. Debt is often toxic to personal financial success. The simple step you can take to avoid the problems many face is to just not buy things until you save up for them. If you want some new shoes or new Droid Incredible or to go see a football game (American or World Cup style) that is fine. Just save up the money and then spend it.
If you limit your borrowing you will get ahead financially. I think borrowing for a home is fine (I suggest saving up a 20% down-payment – or at least 10%, and many banks are again requiring this sensible step). And don’t overextend yourself – borrow what you can comfortably afford – even if you run into financial difficulty. It might be likely you earn more 5 years from now, but it is certainly possible you will earn less. Remember that.
Borrowing for school is fine but be careful. Huge education debts are a large burden. Don’t ignore this factor when selecting a school. And don’t fall prey to the for-profit education scams that have become very prevalent. I would be very very skeptical of any for profit educational institution and would much prefer long term public or private institutions with long term success (colleges, universities and community colleges). Technical training can be very good but you have to be very careful to not be taken advantage of.
Borrowing for a car is ok, but I would avoid it if possible. And other than that I would avoid debt, if at all possible. If you want a big expensive wedding, fine, save up the money. If you want a vacation to East Africa, great, save up the money. If you want the latest, new tech gadget, great save up the money first.
And saving up for your emergency fund (if it isn’t fully funded already) and for retirement should be right after food, shelter, health and disability insurance and any debt you already have to be paying back. After you have committed money to your emergency fund and retirement then choose what to do with your remaining discretionary income. It is critical to have built up an emergency fund so if you have any emergency you can tap that without going into debt and digging yourself a personal financial hole you have to dig out of.
Personal financial success is not some get rich quick scheme or magic. Success is Achieved by doing some really simple things well. It is not complicated but that isn’t the same thing as easy. Showing restraint is not what we are urged to do by the marketers. So while not buying what you can’t afford is not exactly an amazing insight, hundreds of millions of people (in the USA and Europe I know, and probably everywhere that consumer debt is easy to get) fail financially just because they refuse to follow this advice.