Hopefully you planned seasonal spending and you are not in a money crunch. But for those who didn't follow a budget this holiday season, you may be facing a "money crunch." If so, your bills may cause hardship and strain and can be difficult for all families.

Don't panic when bills pile up. It is important to realize that most families have problems paying bills at some time in their lives.

While circumstances may seem beyond control, there are some aspects of your situation that you can change. Think about how you used money in the past and how you use it now. Spending habits formed when times are good can work against you when times are tough. A change in mood or feelings toward money may help you regain control of your financial situation.

You can reduce your anxiety by starting to take charge now. You may have to reorganize your everyday living around a new set of priorities. The practical, step-by-step strategies outlined here will help you and your family decide what is important for today and the future. Setting priorities will help you make day-to-day decisions with the money you do have, cope with creditors, maintain control over your finances, and protect your family's health and welfare.

Where does the money come from? Make a list. What is the current income for each earner or potential earner in your family? What are your other sources of income? What do you have? Make a list of everything you own. Estimate how much you could sell each item on the list for. Mark the items you would be willing to part with if it might help pay your bills for a while. Where do the bills come from? Make a list. Include accounts you pay in full each month and anyone to whom you owe money. Total payments to get an estimate of monthly bills; don't forget to add food and gasoline.

Now, to develop a new plan, and regain finance control, look over your lists. If income has dropped recently, bills may total more than income. Think about ways to handle your money crunch. If the drop in income is temporary, can you manage on savings and items that you already have? If you expect to have a reduced income for an extended time, how can you cut living costs?

Concentrate on today. Look at the things you can do, not what you can't do. Your new plan must enable you to adjust to your current income, whatever the amount. Don't kid yourself. If the income is less than expenses, something will have to change. You and your family cannot go on like before. If you do, you and your family will plunge into debt or use up your savings and assets.

Look over all the lists with your family. Use any or all of the following strategies to plan to pay bills. Think about your family's basic needs for food, shelter and clothing. Do some family members have additional needs, such as prescriptions that are absolutely essential?

Prepare a written spending plan of how you will spend your monthly income. Set priorities for paying bills. Follow your spending plan and change it if it is not working or your situation changes. Communicate with people to whom you own money before you miss a payment. Explain the situation, and negotiate smaller payments, if necessary. Go to them with a proposal of what you can do.

Keep your spirits up to avoid spending when you can't afford it. There is truth in the saying "some of the best things in life are free." Remembering the value of such things as family, friendships and health can keep you going in hard times.