It isn't unusual for a family to come up a little short at the end of the month. How a family handles that situation may matter more than you think.

If your family comes up short by $100 every month and borrows that money on a credit card with 12 percent interest, the deficit in the second month will have grown to $101. The next month, the shortfall will have grown to a bit more than $102. Within a year, the shortfall will be $113. After two years, $127 and after three years, $143. You'll also have a new debt totaling $4,308 at the end of 36 months.

If you borrow the money on a more expensive credit card, say one with a 24 percent interest rate, after three years the monthly deficit will have grown to $204 per month. At the higher interest rate, your debt will have grown to $5,200.

These numbers are tame compared to what would happen if you start using payday loans to close the gap in your budget. Payday loans often feature fees and terms that bring the interest rate far above 100 percent per year. If you use 200 percent as a low estimate of the cost, after one year your monthly shortfall will have grown to $636 per month and your balance after just one year would be a scary $3,215. Long before three years, your loan balance would exceed what any payday lender would advance.

This discussion highlights the importance of a budget to control your spending and the need for the family to make some joint sacrifices to carry you over until cash becomes available.

If you run out of money for the last three days of the month, think about the things you can do to get through those days.

  • Do you have some emergency food stored so you don't have to shop, including a bit of powdered milk and other staples to get you through a pinch?

  • Can you park the car, walk, ride a bike or carpool with friends to get to school and work so you don't need to borrow money for gas?

  • Can you put off the purchase of new clothes for a few days until the next paycheck?

  • Is there a food pantry in your church or community that would help out with some meals?

  • Wouldn't your parents love to feed their grandchildren - and you - dinner one night?

  • Most utilities have programs to help people who are struggling to keep their utilities on; call them to see if you qualify this month.

Debt can be a bridge to nowhere. If you don't know where the money to repay the debt is coming from, that's exactly what it is. A bridge to nowhere is a bridge you don't want to take!

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