suze orman
Photo: Sean Lee Davies
Amy's* life is rooted in giving. The mom of three runs a nail salon and works part-time to provide for her family. She also regularly rearranges her schedule to take on carpool duty so other parents don't have to. Then there's the time and money Amy, 45, donates to her church (she teaches a religion class every morning and tithes 10 percent of her household income). To top it off, she manages the family finances, giving her husband, Tom, 55, the freedom to tune out.

But Amy's pure intentions have thrown her life into a tailspin. The family's $7,000 monthly take-home income is some $600 short of covering their expenses. Amy has stopped paying two credit card bills because she simply doesn't have the cash, nor does she have an emergency savings fund. "I feel like I'm sinking," she wrote to me. "If I could get our finances under control, I'd be better able to take care of everything else."

Amen, sister. But when Amy and I spoke about her situation, we didn't focus on her money issues right off the bat. First, she needed to understand a lesson about generosity: It's only when we give to ourselves as passionately as we give of ourselves that we create the life we want and deserve. Amy had contacted me for advice on gaining control. Yet on the day we were set to chat, she called me from her car (which was full of people) on her way back from visiting a family friend who had fallen ill. I love her compassion, but her multitasking is symptomatic of her inability to be generous to herself. She couldn't carve out an hour of undistracted time to have a focused conversation that was all about helping her. That behavior had to change.

Fortunately, Amy didn't need much convincing. "I can't be effective anywhere with too many irons in the fire," she told me. With her buy-in, we devised a plan to give her family a fighting chance at financial security.

*Names have been changed.

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