When it comes to money, says Utah State University Extension home economist Marilyn King, we're a lot like teenagers - if we're told what to do, we do just the opposite. We like to be independent. But we aren't always as rational as we should be.

So, she says, its not surprising that money is a common problem for many individuals and families, regardless of income, age and educational level.In fact, research shows:

- Money is the No. 1 topic couples argue about.

- Money is also the major topic we avoid talking about.

- As a nation, we save only 3.7 percent of our income.

- Although people can expect to live 15 to 20 years into retirement, many never plan financially for that time.

"Problems with money can result from insufficient income, lack of skill in managing finances or the lack of clearly defined goals," says King, who frequently teaches classes and workshops in money management. "Often, inadequate communication about money is at the root of financial problems."

When household members have different values and attitudes toward spending and saving money, or when these members strive for unrealistic goals, there is potential conflict.

"Communication among family members isn't always the easiest thing to do, but it is important if you want to get the most satisfaction from financial resources," she says.

One of the reasons people don't talk about money is that they have never learned how. "They grew up in a home where it was not talked about, so they don't talk about it. It seems to be a big secret. But that can lead to all kinds of problems."

Setting goals and priorities should be a family affair. If all family members are working toward common goals, things can be much smoother.

Where to start? You have to know where the money is going now. How much are you spending for food? Clothing? Housing? Installment debt payments? How much just "disappears" or "slips through the cracks?"

One of the big concerns King has as she teachers her classes, she says, is the large amount of credit people use. "A lot of families live on credit rather than their paycheck."

Before you ever buy anything on credit, she advises, ask yourself what you are buying with the money you pay for interest? Convenience, maybe - but nothing really tangible. "Ask yourself what you could buy with the difference if you paid cash."

Take a good, hard look at your use of credit. If you are spending spending more than 20 percent of your income for credit, you may be in the danger zone.

"Remember that credit cards are not for borrowing; they are for safety and convenience," says King.

In assessing your finances, look for creative ways to adjust your budget. "Ask each family member what they can give up for a month to find money for a special occasion. Snacks at work? The cost of a date? Maybe you can find ways to save on food waste. Or, allow yourself only one trip to the store per week - no matter what."

These are little things that may not seem to make much difference, but they can add up. In fact, it is all the little choices you make daily that can make a difference in whether you ever reach your ultimate goals.

"People don't realize how much they give up by not having goals and a spending plan," says King. "Everyone has dreams - things they really want. But too many people get to the end of their lives, never really getting those dreams.

"And it starts when they are young. A girl may really want a stereo set. But every time she goes to the mall she spends the money she could be saving toward the stereo on little things - earrings, a blouse, snacks. And then she feels bad because she doesn't have the stereo."

As you are talking about your goals, says King, keep these additional thoughts in mind:

- Money is a relative thing. Only you can decide how much is enough.

- If you have enough to do what you need and want to do and a little extra, you are rich.

- You have control over your wants.

- People earn income, but money makes money. If you put a little away each month, it will grow.

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Communication guidelines

Honest and candid communication about finances is essential. Here are some guidelines:

$$ Recognize that whoever earns the money doesn't also earn the right to dictate how it should be spent.

$$ Clearly identify the issue at hand. Avoid other topics.

$$ Let each household member freely state his or her own wants, needs and personal feelings.

$$ Listen carefully to the other person.

$$ Be willing to negotiate for a realistic settlement of differences.

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How do your values and money relate?

Talking and sharing ideas can help you develop a better understanding of differing values and how money relates to them. Have each household member answer the questions below, and then get together for a group discussion.

There are no right or wrong answers. The responses provide a broader understanding of important personal wants and needs and help set priorities.

1. What are your money worries. What do you think might happen?

2. What financial topic often starts an argument within the household? With other relatives? With friends?

3. If you had to cut spending, how could this be done?

4. If you suddenly had a $10,000 gift, what would you do with it?

5. What was the poorest choice you've ever made with money? Why?

6. How has your attitude about money changed? From childhood? In the past three to five years?

7. How did your family handle money when you were growing up? How has that affected the way you handle money now?

8. What types of things does it bother you to spend money on?

9. Do you think you are: a. too tight; b. too free; c. about right when it comes to the way you handle money?

10. What do you really like to spend money on?

11. What do you need to save money for?

12. How are spending decisions made in your home?

13. What steps could be taken to make more satisfying financial spending decisions?

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Strategies for the money game

Strategy 1: Learn to recognize the drive that places you in a spending situation.

Strategy #2: Learn to avoid exposure to things that tempt you to spend. Buy only what is on the list and leave.

Strategy #3: Have a purpose or plan when shopping.

Strategy #4: Limit the number of trips you make to the store or the mall. Less trips, less chance to be tempted to buy.

Strategy #5: Don't shop when hungry or depressed. It leads to overspending.

Strategy #6: Find a substitute for shopping, like a sport or service work.

Strategy #7: Before you spend your money, think through your decision. What are your goals and priorities? Will this purchase help you achieve your most important goals? What are your alternatives? Should you do without? Can you substitute something less expensive?

Strategy #8: Look now, buy later. Shop around, sleep on your decision.

Strategy #9: Learn to say no items that don't rank high on priority list. Things you don't need, no matter how cheap. Items too expensive for your budget. Don't buy from friends or relatives because you feel obligated.

Strategy #10: Use feedback. Keep a weekly record of spending to check your spending behavior. It helps identify the leaks. Don't cheat, you only hurt yourself.

Strategy #11: Make some spending rules to follow. Use your budget to guide your spending. Use an incentive plan to help you stick to your spending plan. Eat brownbag lunches, after reaching your savings goal, treat selt to a special lunch.

Remember to ask yourself these questions:

Do I need it?

What am I giving up if I buy this?

Why didn't I need it three weeks ago?

Will I need it in three weeks?

Is this helping me reach my goals.

Source: Cooperative Extension Service, Utah State University.\

Are you an overspender?

To determine if you are an overspender, answer the following questions.

-Are you still paying bills for purchases made a year ago?(Exclude car and house payments.)

-Do you use credit cards instead of cash, even when the purchase is small and you have the money?

-Is your checking account frequently overdrawn?

-Do you shop for recreation?

-Do you race the clock to get your paycheck to the bank before the checks you've written clear?

-Are you often broke by payday?

-Have you stopped having, or adding to, a savings account?

-Are you depressed about your finances?

-Do friends or family tease you about a "champagne taste and a beer budget"?

-Are your credit cards usually at the maximum credit line available to you?

-Do you notice mood swings when shopping - down before you go - up while shopping - down again after adding to your bill?

-When you receive statements from creditors at tax time are your surprised at how much you've paid in interest?

-Would a small change in your income or an unexpected expense, throw your whole financial picture into chaos?

-Do you sometimes give away things you bought because you really didn't need or want them?

-Do you hope that your children will grow up to handle money better than you do?

If you answered yes more often than no, you are probably a chronic overspender. The first step to get your finances under control is recognize that you have a problem. The second step is deciding you want to change. The third stop is to create a written spending plan to help you as you go.

Source: Judy McKenna & Carole J. Makela, It's Your Money: Goals, Priorities, and Plans.