At its most basic level, money is a means for us to obtain what we want. There are plenty of things out there to spend money on, and most of us don't have any trouble finding them. The problems come when we want more than we have the means to provide: limited income, unlimited wants.

In that case, says Marilyn Noyes, associate dean of the College of Family Life at Utah State University, you have three options:- You can get more money (through education that will increase your earning power, by change jobs, by working two jobs, etc.)

- You can want less. "Remember the old proverb that says `He is poor whose wants are many.' If you don't want as much, you will have more to spend on it," says Noyes.

- You can stretch what you have by making things last longer, do more.

What doesn't do any good is to argue about where the money goes.

"You often hear that money problems are a leading cause of divorce," says Noyce. "Actually, the money problems are a symptom of deeper problems - a power struggle, lack of communication and cooperation."

Families, she says, need to learn to talk about needs and wants, about where the money goes. "Sometimes you simply have to take turns as to whose wants get met. But a healthy discussion can be a means to resolve conflict."

In planning your finances, ask yourself three questions, she advises: Where am I now? Where do I want to be? How do I get there?

To know where you are, you need to have good records. People are sometimes surprised by where the money goes; they have no idea what they are spending in various categories.

You need to set goals - both long-term and short-term. Then you need to plan how to reach those goals.

Be sure to take a look at the big picture, she says. "People sometimes put too much emphasis on stretching the pennies and miss the big dollars," she says. For example, spending a few hours learning about life insurance and all its options may result in more savings than a dozen sales.

Money matters should be family matters, too. Parents have a responsibility to help their children become good money managers. "What sometimes happens is that teenagers go out and get a job, and that money is largely discretionary income - they can spend it on anything they want. That distorts reality somewhat for when they have a family and other responsibilities and suddenly can't spend money on everything they'd like."

It is also important to remember, she says, that money may be one of the least important things you give your children. More important are the life skills such as decision-making, responsibility, independence. "The most important things families do can't be purchased."

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(Additional information)

FAMILY-MONEY QUESTIONNAIRE

Husbands and wives should answer these questions separately, in writing, and then compare answers. The discrepancies that turn up can open the way for useful discussion of family practices and attitudes concerning money.

YOU YOUR SPOUSE

1. Which of the following would best describe your attitude toward money? a) too thrifty; b) too easygoing; c) too worrisome; d) other.

2. In general, does it seem to you that you worry a great deal about money?

3. What money problem is the most frequent source of disagreement?

4. Do you think that you have a better money sense than your spouse?

5. If your family had to cut down sharply, where would you first cut expenditures?

6. What was the most foolish thing you ever did with money since marriage?

7. What's the most you'd spend on your own, without discussing it with your spouse, apart from regular household expenditures?

8. What was the most sensible thing you ever did with money since marriage?

9. Do you know your family's monthly take-home pay?

10. What is your take-home pay? Approximately how much does your family spend per month for the following important budget items: a) rent or mortgage ; b) food ; c) clothes ; d) entertainment .

11. Do you feel that any of these is out of line?

12. How much does your family save a month, excluding insurance?

13. Has your attitude toward money changed since marriage?

14. How much does your family pay out a month on installment debt for major appliances or a car? Do you feel this is too much?

15. Do you feel your family has the right amount of life insurance?

16. Do you expect your financial situation to change much within the next five years?

17. If you needed $1,000 quickly, to whom or where would you turn?

18. What does it really hurt you to spend money on?

19. What would you really love to splurge on?

MONEY ATTITUDES

Because attitudes about money may differ among family members, each family needs to work out how to best use it and keep emotions in balance. Here are some of the attitudes that may lead to money problems. If they apply to you, slow down; you may be making your own money monster.

YOU YOUR SPOUSE

1. Do you buy emotionally? Stores display their most attractive merchandise in areas of high traffic to encourage you to buy on impulse.

2. Do you spoil your children because you want them to have what you didn't?

3. Do you build your ego by buying fancy cars, jewelry or treating friends to expensive meals in restaurants?

4. Do you think your friends or relatives might not be impressed if you lived within your means?

5. Do you justify doing what you see your friends and neighbors doing: buying condominiums, eating out several times a week?

6. Do you buy the first item you see without comparing quality or prices? Any time you spend more than you need to for an item, you are handing away hard-earned dollars to someone else.

7. Do you buy items that you don't need or want because they are on sale?

8. Do you seldom turn a salesperson down? People are trained in sales techniques but consumers are not trained to resist.

9. Do you avoid adding up or thinking about how much you owe? Fifty dollars a month doesn't sound like much - that is, until you add it to the payments you already have.

10. Do you count on overtime, bonuses and unexpected windfalls to meet credit obligations and daily living expenses? Living this close to the edge can lead to stress and anxiety.

11. Do you emphasize living for today with no concern for tomorrow, no savings, no pensions, no plans? It takes planning to balance what you want and need today against future needs.

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Money pitfalls

Unrealistic expectations

No planning

No records

No insurance

No savings

Overuse of credit