Job: Toddler teacher at Hand In Hand Childcare Center, Concordia University in St. Paul.

Annual earnings: $25,000 to $30,000.

Education: Graduated from Concordia University with a degree in elementary education, 2004.

Last major purchases: A new alternator and battery for her 1999 Dodge Stratus, $500.

Next major purchase: Probably a new car. Or a trip.

Smart money: Kari doesn't use credit cards "unless I'm in an emergency situation." She uses cash or her debit card for daily expenses and when she goes out with friends.

Stupid money: Eats out with friends a lot. Admits to a fondness for coffee shop lattes.

Investments/savings plans: Has not yet begun a formal savings plan, although she's setting aside $25 a month in savings from her paycheck for an emergency fund. "That's empty now because I'm moving, and the deposit was due." Having just graduated, Kari finds that rent and student loan payments account for more than half of her monthly income.

Advice: "Work to get yourself ahead so you don't have to use credit cards for daily expenses."

John J. Oslund