As part of the annual rite of spring, millions of students will graduate from high school or college in the next several weeks. New grads always face challenges as they make the next major transition in their lives, whether it's going to college for the first time or emerging into the workforce. But the weak economy certainly isn't doing grads -- or their parents -- any favors.

Despite the current tough times, you still need to do the things that will put you in the best position to succeed. Now more than ever, getting your finances in order early in your life will give you the best chance for a prosperous future. To find that success, you have to discover the one single greatest obstacle you'll face with your finances -- and then take the three steps I'll talk about later on to overcome it.

"Loan" and "debt" are four-letter words
For those finishing up with high school, the sad reality is that going to the college of your choice increasingly means taking on a potentially monumental debt load. According to the College Board, average total annual costs at the 500 highest-priced colleges and universities in 2010-11 rose above $40,000.

With money for outright grants drying up, loans play an increasingly vital role in helping students finance their education. Yet student loans have become controversial on two fronts. First, some lenders have chosen to exit the industry, with Citigroup (NYSE: C) having sold a huge part of its student-loan business to Sallie Mae (NYSE: SLM) earlier this year. Bank of America (NYSE: BAC) discontinued making certain types of student loans back in 2008, citing government plans to make such loans directly to students.

On the other hand, the ultimate value of a college education has come under fire as well. Earlier this year, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) called out for-profit education providers Bridgepoint Education (NYSE: BPI), ITT Educational Services (NYSE: ESI), and Corinthian Colleges (Nasdaq: COCO) for aggressively recruiting students who end up defaulting on their student loans. Even traditional colleges and universities have seen pressure as prospective students fear that they won't be able to get high-paying jobs to pay off student-loan debt after they graduate.

Moreover, student-loan debt isn't the end of the story. Although JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM) has stopped offering its student-targeted credit card, other companies are still finding ways to overcome legislation that restrict how card companies solicit business from students. And when you finish college, the pressure to take on even more debt becomes even harder to put off.

3 tips to live by
Despite the allure of debt, borrowing to support a lavish lifestyle is a losing decision in the long run. Taking on debt essentially puts you in a hole that you'll have to work hard just to get out of, let alone start making positive progress on saving for your future.

So to avoid problems, consider these three tips.

1. Be smart about your college choice.
Choosing which college to attend isn't just a personal decision; it's also a financial one. If you're just finishing high school, strongly consider public schools that offer a lower cost but still have the resources to let you learn everything you want to know. The money you save is worth just as much as the money you'll struggle to earn after you graduate.

2. Don't let your debt control you.
Students and recent graduates have an undeserved reputation for a lack of self-restraint. Often, all it takes to avoid letting debt control your life is to keep doing the smart financial things you did during school. Finding roommates and sharing expenses can be a great way to minimize debt.

3. Save as early as you can.
The biggest regret many people have later in life is not saving and investing as early as they could. With time your biggest ally in investing, don't waste your 20s just getting back to even. Start learning about saving and investing now, and you'll be on your way toward the most lucrative education you'll ever get.

Con-graduation-s!
If you've just graduated, you've made a major accomplishment in your life. Despite the uncertainty of your future, you can overcome the difficulties you face and build the life that you want. Just be sure to include your finances in your planning, and you'll get the most you can out of your education.

Need a quick financial education? Get started with all the basics of financial planning in our 13 Steps to Investing Foolishly. It'll get you on track to a great financial plan in no time.

Tune in every Monday and Wednesday for Dan's columns on retirement, investing, and personal finance.

Fool contributor Dan Caplinger remembers his graduations fondly. He doesn't own shares of the companies mentioned in this article. The Motley Fool owns shares of JPMorgan Chase, Bridgepoint Education, and Bank of America and also holds a short position in B of A in a different portfolio. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a call spread position in Bridgepoint Education. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Fool's disclosure policy always has something for you.