The optimal life plan is to control and then quickly pay off debts early in life while simultaneously putting as much as possible into investments. The practical problem is this isn't much fun so most people don't AND it is virtually impossible in many cases with the gap between what many fields pay and an even marginal quality of life given cost of living.
I can't remember who it was but one of the old scam televangelists used to tell his followers to give until it hurts and that is what we need to do early in life, avoid spending on stuff you don't have to own while simultaneously investing money until it hurts a lot. Before today's gig economy, there were already a fair number of people working a second part time job to pay off student loan and other debts and that is a case where a very few years of extra work early in life will make a huge financial different later in life. Those little investments early on compound and grow very rapidly, it is very difficult to play catch up on investing late in the game and in today's world where there is little company/employee loyalty few companies are highly involved in their worker's future retirement.
We still have a system built around the days when a defined benefit pension was the biggest leg of the pension/investment/social security retirement stool but that leg is entirely missing for the majority of workers now and the education about the need to compensate for this missing leg isn't being taught in middle and high school which is a huge negative. Combined with a consumption oriented society and compensation that hasn't kept up with actual cost of living means that the majority of people are going to have a rough retirement IF they can afford to retire.
Preaching personal responsibility is fine, the talking heads on radio do that, but teaching it is the critical part and that is what needs to be done both by parents AND the school system from the very start. A problem is this is something a couple of generations of parents largely didn't learn in the rapidly changing U.S. financial environment so many of them can't provide this financial literacy to their children and the schools don't so the problem just grows bigger.
I was doubly fortunate to have a father who was a child during the Great Depression who passed along his experiences along with mechanical, electrical, and carpentry skills AND to be in a career that paid well while providing consulting opportunities and a good retirement. I starting putting the maximum into a tax deferred annuity when I was 30 and was fortunate to land some nice consulting work during the dot com boom and that went into a separate 401K. I had planned to continue working longer but I realized that there were many things I wanted to do in life including spending more time with my daughter so I retired at 55, something I was able to comfortably do because of a combination of behavior, decisions, and good old fashioned luck.
I think I made a lot of pretty wise decisions in life and I am adept at repairing cars and appliances so that saves a lot of money in repair and replacement costs, a belated thanks dad! I bought plenty of toys but I avoided spending stupid amounts of money on stuff that doesn't last. A lot of people who are financially secure pass it off as all being due to skill and wisdom but luck and being in the right place at the right time is behind pretty much every story of financial success.
These are the same lessons I am passing along to my daughter who is going to go further than I did in life. She has already published some of her math modeling research while still in high school and will be starting her undergrad at an expensive private university which will be very inexpensive because she received their presidential scholarship for her accomplishments as a high school student. She originally was planning to pursue a PhD in math but did the research and found the job market was of limited demand and even more limited income potential so she will be following in my footsteps and getting her doctorate in business.
And just like my father taught me, she has been helping with electrical and mechanical work since she was a young child. She helped with the first oil change on the Cadillac ATS she now drives when she was 10 and just after graduating from high school we changed a seized magnetic selective ride shock absorber on her car, $315 for the shock online from a big GM parts distributor and under 30 minutes of work total versus $1,700 quoted by the dealer for the job. She was disappointed because the shock mounting bolts came loose easily so she didn't get to use my recently acquired Milwaukee electric impact
Even if she doesn't do as much of her own mechanical work as I do, she will know enough not to be taken advantage of by service providers. I started a small account for her at a credit union when she was a child and she now has several thousand in it because she has been depositing money she received for some research projects she led into that account.
And one final lesson I learned from my parents and grandparents that I passed along to her, give back for what you have received. I do a lot of volunteer work in retirement and most of it is really fun. I do volunteer sports photography for her former high school and I can't wait to be on the sidelines for fall football again in a few weeks