Easy Ways To Improve Your Family Finances

Ellie Kay, a Moms Money Clinic advisor for Parents, guest blogs regularly to answer mail about personal finance issues. Today she's helping parents learn how to get money-smart and attack debt.
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Q.  I know you're an advocate for financial education. Are there any programs that my husband and I can do from home?

A. I love to help families learn how to live unfettered by money worries. Recently, I've been able to continue that quest by joining the advisory board of the Military Family Advisory Network (MFAN), a nonprofit whose mission is to connect families with the financial resources they need to thrive.

Whether you're a military family or a civilian one, I'm pleased to announce a new resource: MilCents. This unique financial literacy program combines information, online events, social media conversations, and free resources into a 10-week online program designed to empower families to get their money in order. For military families, there's an added bonus: The program teaches you how to read a LES (Leave and Earning Statement). Understanding pay and benefits can be challenging, and with a benefits structure that changes frequently, military families have even more to keep up, and MilCents, which launches next Monday, is designed to help.

There are plenty of other helpful financial literacy programs available—some for free, others for a fee. Whichever one you pick, make sure the curriculum helps you master the following skills:

  • How to pay down debt
  • How to avoid scams and predatory lenders
  • How to obtain and improve your credit score.
  • How to categorize your spending and saving (yes, it's budgeting, but that sounds better, doesn't it).

Q.  My husband and I have $25,000 in consumer debt and $45,000 in combined student loan debt. He says we can handle it on our own, but I wonder whether we need outside help. Still, I don't want someone who's going to charge us a lot—we owe enough already. What do you recommend?

A.  I admire the fact that you're concerned about gaining control of your debt. The best way to get started is by visiting the website of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. This nonprofit organization enables you to find a credit counselor who can negotiate with your lenders, consolidate your debt, and help you get your interest rates reduced. In many cases counselors are free—in contrast to other consumer counseling services (which add service fees to your existing debt to pay for their services). Check it out today, and good luck defeating your debt.

Ellie Kay is a family financial expert, the author of The 60-Minute Money Workout, and a mom of seven. Read more of her advice at elliekay.com.

There are plenty of ways to save on baby toys -- including making them yourself! We'll tell you how to stock your munchkin's playroom on a budget.

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