• Protect yourself from identity theft. Never respond to unsolicited requests for your social security number or financial data. Shred your financial documents (including credit card offers you receive in the mail). Don't write your social security number on your checks, or have checks sent to an unlocked mailbox. Make sure your PIN codes aren't based on information that would be easy for a thief to guess, such as your name or date of birth. Every year, order a copy of your "Earnings and Benefits" statement from the Social Security Administration (1-800-772-1213).

• Maximize your ability to buy a good home. Strive to qualify for the mortgage amount you need and get a good rate by paying off as many other debts as you can, making payments on time, and saving as much as possible for a down payment in cash. When calculating your potential monthly payment, be sure to allow yourself enough money free to take care of house maintenance and repairs. Make extra payments however and whenever you can to pay off your mortgage early. This will result in huge savings on interest.

• Buy and sell used goods. Take advantage of garage sales, consignment stores, and online auction sites (such as eBay) to scout out good deals for items your family needs and make some extra cash on items you all don't need anymore.

• Make the best of unemployment. If either you or your spouse is out of a job, you'll need to adjust your expectations and your lifestyle. Look for creative ways to cut back on your expenses but still enjoy a good quality of life. For example, cut back on expensive restaurant meals and movies and pursue free entertainment instead, such as by playing board games or visiting your local parks. Enlist your children's help to make frugal choices when shopping.

Try to keep paying down your debt as much as possible. Increase the deductibles on your insurance to save money. Ask if you can barter your own services for services from someone else (such as doing housework for your child's piano teacher in exchange for piano lessons for lessons). Encourage your spouse if he's the one looking for a new job. Help him practice his interview skills by conducting mock interviews, and praise him for his effort as he searches. Work a temporary job in another field while looking for a job in your chosen field. Seek support through prayer and trusted friends.

• Persevere in your quest to achieve your financial goals. Regularly remind yourself why you're working hard to pay off your debts and save money. Plug into support systems (like a club in which members swap coupons) and avoid people whose materialism tempts you to accrue new debt. Have fun seeing how you can improve the quality of your life as cheaply as possible (such as redecorating with a new color of inexpensive paint or turning your dinners at home into "theme nights"). Keep a journal in which you list what you're thankful for and why. Spend less time watching television or scanning catalogs so you won't be tempted by ads. Every once in a while, splurge on something special like a visit to an amusement park so you won't feel deprived.

• Go through your house room by room to see how you can save more money. Walk through your house and consider creative ways you can pursue savings on the items and services you use there. For example, when in your bathroom, think about how you can save money on linens, water utility bills, and tile repairs.

• Use your savings to share with others. After your saving habits have brought you extra resources, share those resources with others. Support your local church with a tithe, and also give generously to charities such as The Salvation Army, homeless shelters, food banks, orphanages and battered women's shelters. Be sure to save your donation receipts if you itemize your taxes.


Adapted from A Woman's Guide to Family Finances, copyright 2004 by Ellie Kay. Published by Bethany House Publishers, Bloomington, Mn., www.bethanyhouse.com.

Ellie Kay, married to a U.S. Air Force fighter pilot, has seven children. An engaging speaker, Ellie has appeared on 300 radio stations and numerous national TV shows. Her previous books include Shop, Save, and Share; Heroes at Home; and The New Bride Guide. She and her family now make their home in New Mexico.