Organize financial paperwork. Organize your bills, receipts, bank statements, and other financial documents in a way that allows for easy access at any time.

Establish a budget. Discover how you’ve been spending your money by tracking your expenses for the past year, noting what you spent in each expense category (regular monthly expenses, plus less frequent expenses such as home insurance, vacations, or Christmas gifts). Then compare that with how much you earned in the same period of time. Pay special attention to how you spent discretionary income (not fixed expenses, but optional expenditures for clothing, food, entertainment, etc.). Understand that the money you spend on discretionary items – even if it’s just a few dollars a day – can make a big impact on your budget. Think and pray about what you’re willing to give up (perhaps Starbucks coffee each morning, or new clothes every month) to reduce your discretionary spending.

Set spending limits for each category in your budget. Keep in mind these general guidelines: 30 to 40 percent of your take-home pay for housing costs (including taxes, insurance, and utilities), 10 to 20 percent for food, 10 to 15 percent for car and other debt payments, 15 to 20 percent for varying expenses (like clothing, entertainment, and home repairs), and five to 10 percent for savings. Use financial software to help you develop and maintain your budget records. Every month, check to see how your actual spending compares to each category on your budget, and make the necessary adjustments to get your spending under control.

Choose a bank or credit union wisely. Visit several convenient bank or credit union locations, and pick up brochures from each one that outline each institution’s services and fees. Compare them. Look for the best deal for your family’s unique needs. Make sure your institution is insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC).

After you select a place, minimize the fees you’re charged by understanding the rules of your account (such as a minimum balance requirement) and not violating them and developing a positive relationship with your bank (get to know people who work there, don’t excessively overdraw your accounts, don’t make late payments, etc.).

Prepare well before asking for a loan. Go into a meeting with a loan officer with some idea of the monthly payments you can afford (usually, fixed obligations – including the loan you’re requesting, your rent or mortgage, car payments, credit card payments, etc. – should not exceed 40 percent of your gross income). Be prepared to answer these questions: "What do you want the money for?", "How long do you want to take to pay the loan back?", and "Where do you plan on getting the money to pay it back?".

Save all you can. Build a nest egg for the future that will help you with both short-term needs (such as an emergency fund of three to eight times your monthly salary to cover an unexpected job loss, medical bills, car repairs, etc.) and long-term needs (such as your children’s college costs and your own retirement income requirements). Spend less than you earn. As soon as you receive each paycheck, deduct a certain amount and immediately put it into a savings account. Then discipline yourself to make do with what’s left.

Invest wisely. Understand that every financial investment involves risk, and that, in general, the higher the risk, the more you should expect to earn. Educate yourself about investments such as savings accounts, stocks, bonds, and mutual funds. Diversify by putting your money into a variety of different kinds of investments to spread out the risks while earning the most you can. Keep in mind that the mix of assets you choose should be based on the amount of time before you’ll want to use the money and how much risk you are willing to take. Periodically review your investments to see if they are performing as expected.