Suze Orman
Photo: Marc Royce
Q: I'm a 30-year-old stay-at-home mother who is married to a third-year medical resident. My husband earns $52,000 a year—the top of the scale for residency programs—yet we're struggling each month to stay afloat. We aren't frivolous consumers; we use credit cards for necessities and always pay them off in full (but recently had to borrow from our parents to do so). My husband's school loans are more than $100,000, and we have less than $100 in savings on any given day. I know that, because of his career path, we're about a decade behind others our age. Is it possible to make up for years of lost earning potential?

A: You're actually in better shape than a lot of people. While it's true that your husband's years of schooling have delayed your savings, his future earnings should help you build up a nest egg fairly quickly once he goes into practice—even with the large student loans to pay off.

You might consider repaying those debts over a long time span (20 years or more); most lenders will offer an extended repayment period. That will keep the installments low enough that you should have some money left over to build an emergency cash fund and start bulking up your retirement savings. Just realize that the longer the repayment period, the more you end up paying in interest. So while this approach can make sense for the first few years, you should make it a priority to polish off the educational debt once your husband is established.

As for your current cash crunch, let's first recognize how great it is that you both have such supportive parents. But if it bothers you to have to borrow from them occasionally, would it be possible for you to go to work? It doesn't sound as though you have a major cash shortfall each month, so maybe a part-time job could keep your bank account in the plus column.

I get that you feel you're lagging behind others your age, but the best thing you can do is forget about where you think you should be compared with everyone else. Focus on what you can do, not what you haven't done. The past is past, but the future is yours to create.