The area of family finances isn't just a male domain. When women use their powerful influence to help manage their families' money, they can achieve much more than if they simply left the finances to their husbands alone.

You can help your family avoid financial stress and make dreams realities by following some of these principles:

• Help safeguard your family's financial future. Establish an emergency savings account to access in case of situations like sudden unemployment or unexpected medical bills or home repairs. If you live on two incomes, cover at least three months' worth of living expenses in your account. If you live on one income, cover at least six months' worth. Purchase enough life insurance so your dependents can invest the payout and live comfortably on the proceeds. Make a will. Establish a retirement account and a college fund for each of your children.

• Strive to make balanced financial decisions, no matter what your personality. Realize that no matter whether you're a saver or a spender, with God's help you can find the proper balance to manage your money effectively. Ask God to show you what's truly important, so you can keep those values in mind while managing your finances. Strive to be generous, but also to save aggressively so you can invest your resources where God wants you to invest them.

• Face the hard realities of your finances. Honestly consider the current state of your family's finances. Take responsibility for the mistakes you've made to contribute to any problems, and decide to learn and practice better money management skills.

• Establish a financial partnership with your spouse. Decide to work together setting your family's budget and paying the bills. Keep each other fully informed and regularly oversee each other and discuss your concerns to stay accountable.

• Work out a family budget. List all your sources of income and keep track of all the ways your family currently spends money. Set financial goals you'd like to achieve. Create a budget designed to help you meet those goals. Measure your progress on a regular basis, and reward yourself when you achieve your goals.

Allocate 10 percent of your money to fun, 30 percent to savings (long-term savings for things such as college, retirement, and short-term savings for things such as vacations and new appliances), and 60 percent to committed expenses such as your tithe, housing costs, insurance, and groceries. If you have a large amount of consumer debt, pay it down before you invest much into retirement or long-term savings.

• Get out of debt. Realize that the only way to do this is to spend less and save more. Make up your mind to do so, and work with your spouse to write down a plan that lists specific ways you hope to accomplish this. Enlist the help of a professional financial counselor if necessary.

• Take charge of your credit. Each year, order a copy of your credit report from one of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax (1-800685-1111, Experian (1-888-297-3742), or Trans Union (1-800-888-4213). Check it for any inaccuracies and correct any you discover. Avoid costly debt consolidation firms by figuring out how to consolidate your debts yourself at: 

www.moneycentral.msn.com/investor/calc/n_debtratio/main.asp

or enlisting the free and confidential help of Consumer Credit Counseling Services (check your phone book for your local branch or call 1-800-DEBT-HELP). Don't switch credit cards too often, because doing so could be negatively interpreted on your credit report. Negotiate with your current credit card company for better terms (such as a lower interest rate). Close accounts you don't use. Don't hit your credit limits or miss payments. Try to pay your monthly credit card balance in full to avoid paying any interest at all.