Whether it's paying this month's mortgage, building an emergency fund to cushion the blow of life's uh—ohs, or finding a way to—finally!—put aside more for retirement, chances are you've got some money issue gnawing at you. In fact, Gallup reports that about 35 percent of us are visited by the money-worry demon on a weekly basis.

You shouldn't have to live that way. I don't care what your income is—you have the power to take control of your cash. Will you be debt-free tomorrow? Of course not. Will you instantly have every penny you need for your golden years? C'mon.

But I guarantee that if you start today to get a handle on your money, tomorrow and every day forward you'll feel so much better knowing you're on the path to financial security.

The Challenge

No GPS can guide you to your destination if it doesn't know your starting point. The same goes with charting a sound financial course: It all begins with understanding exactly where you are right now.

Step One

Suze "Q": How much do you think your household spends in a month? Take a few minutes to think it over, then write your estimate on a notepad.

Reality check: In my experience, people's actual spending tends to be at least 20 percent more than they think. But don't take my word for it. Let's see...

Step Two

You can get a crystal-clear picture of your monthly income and outflow by using my free online Expense Tracker. I've thought of every potential spending category—nothing is going to escape us here. You'll need to pull a year's worth of bank and credit card statements to get the most value from your tracking, but the payoff is worth it.

Are these items in your budget?
  • Contributions to an emergency fund
  • Life insurance (if you have dependents)
  • At least 10 percent of your annual salary for retirement
    If you aren't on target with all three, add them to your expenses right now, and adjust your spending accordingly.

    Step Three

    Print out your Expense Tracker results. This is your get-honest cheat sheet—and it contains everything you'll require to take control of your financial life, whatever your situation.

    Scenario 1: If your income fully covers your monthly expenses (including the three items we just went over) and saving for your long-term goals (college for your kids, a second home—whatever you see in your future), you're doing great. Stay the course!

    Scenario 2: If your spending exceeds your income, it's time to go on a financial diet. To start, use a highlighter to mark all the spending that's nonessential.

    A bag is a want. Every want is a target for reduced spending.
    A phone is a need...but needs need scrutiny, too. Sure, a cell phone is a must, but could you save $25 a month on a cheaper plan?

    Now keep going! For every purchase you consider in the next six months, ask yourself, Is this necessary? If yes, you'll be shocked by the power you feel on the road to smart financial decision-making!

    Suze Orman's latest book is The Money Class: How to Stand in Your Truth and Create the Future You Deserve. To ask Suze a question, go to Oprah.com/omagazine_talk.

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