• Many of us struggle financially from time to time, as the cost of day to day living expenses continue to rise.
  • As these bills continue to pile up, the stress of financial burden weighs heavy on the family, from the parents to the kids.
  • Fortunately, your financial stress doesn’t have to rule your life: not if you do what you can to stay connected as a family and push through the financial strains.
  • First, you should make a family mission statement: an agreement that echoes the importance of not only smart spending but overall smart (and positive) living.
  • Next, you should assess your finances and then make a plan to get your finances under control; this might involve outlining bills and reducing unnecessary expenses.
  • Finally, discuss each family member’s role in the plan—you should each understand the action plan and what you’re responsible for.

*Dr. Carla Manly is a clinical psychologist. Her upcoming book Joy from Fear (Familius Publishing), offers incredible insights and tools for getting unstuck and creating the joy-filled life you deserve.*

Many families struggle every day with a variety of pressures and endless to-do lists. It is increasingly difficult for parents to successfully balance work and home life. And as the costs of housing, healthcare, and general living expenses continue to rise, many families suffer from the stress of financial burdens.

Indeed, financial issues are among the top stressors for today’s families. When bills begin to pile up—and it seems there is no realistic way to get them paid—the entire family can feel the strain. Although parents may want to believe that their financial worries don’t impact the family unit, children often absorb their parents’ anxiety and stress.

If financial struggles have you worried about the strain on your family, pause and take a deep breath. Indeed, families can become more cohesive when they face challenges in a positive, goal-oriented way. The following tips will help your family stay connected and positive as you make your way through financial strains:

1) Make a family mission statement. This simple agreement—which can be posted on the fridge or other easy-to-see space—can be used to outline family ideals. The purpose of this agreement is to create a positive, cohesive, and supportive family environment. Although finances might not be specifically outlined in your family mission statement, its tone supports a positive, conscientious attitude in all areas of life. As an example, the agreement might include: Embrace a positive attitude; be kind; no blaming; be respectful to others; buy only what you need; treat your possessions with care; reuse and recycle all that you can; treat the environment with respect. Although the nature of your agreement will depend on the age of your family members, the goal—creating a bonded and caring family unit—will be the same.

2) Assess your finances. Have a private “financial assessment” meeting with your spouse. To allow for private, uninterrupted time, it’s important that children not be present for this meeting. This step is very important, for it allows you to assess where you are in order to create an action plan. Although this step may sound scary or anxiety-inducing, your stress will actually be lessened once you have done an evaluation and created a concrete plan. As well, when couples come together to face difficulties with a positive, go-forward attitude, their relationship can actually become stronger and more cohesive. Find a convenient time that you and your spouse can sit in quiet to review your financial concerns. The goal of the meeting is to honestly and objectively assess outstanding bills, income, and expenses. During this meeting:

      • Create an outline of all outstanding bills including each bill’s interest rate. Make note of any bills that are in arrears.
      • Make an honest outline of all sources of actual income.
      • Create a thorough outline of all expenses. Place and asterisk next to those that are necessary and vital (e.g., automobile insurance). Place a minus sign next to those that are unnecessary (expensive clothing, coffee shop visits, etc.).

3) Create an action plan. A specific plan for action can serve to reduce stress by taking the worrisome element of the unknown or unclear out of the equation. Now that you can clearly assess your financial issues (your income versus your expenses), you can create an action plan to get your finances under control. If your assessment meeting was long and involved, you may prefer to have a separate meeting with your partner to create an action plan. It’s important to have a positive and collaborative attitude when creating your action plan. You may want to include the following in your action plan:

      • An overall outline of bills including balance, payment amount, and due date.
      • A targeted list of bills that must be given priority attention (e.g., rent, mortgage, and any past due bills).
      • Specific payment amounts that are within your budget.
      • Gradual, specific elimination of credit card debt.
      • A reduction in unnecessary expenses.
      • An agreement to put away credit cards until existing debt is resolved.
      • A small, set amount for a family “fun fund” (funds for gifts, movies, and holidays).

4) Make healthy finances a positive family goal. Once you and your partner have a specific and doable plan in mind, have an age-appropriate family meeting to discuss each family member’s part in the plan. For example, you wouldn’t want children to worry about past due payments or heavy credit card debt, but you can help a child create a reasonable, inexpensive birthday or holiday gift list. As well, children can be educated to learn positive financial behaviors including avoiding impulse buying in the supermarket and avoiding expensive fast food purchases.

As you and your family create healthy financial strategies together, you will find that financial hardships—as difficult as they may be—can bring your family closer together. Too, by modeling healthy financial behaviors, you will give your children the incredible gift of responsible money management—a gift that will last a lifetime.

Strive to maintain a positive attitude as you work to create greater financial health for you and your family. If worrisome thoughts about the future or regrets about past financial decisions creep in, remind yourself to focus on constructive thoughts. Your family can feel closer than ever as you work as a team to move through challenging times.