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(MCT)—If your financial world is rocky these days, consider the power of baby steps. If you learn to break a killer problem down into bite-size pieces, you can cope.

Consider a man we’ll call James. He lost his job as manager for a local hunting and fishing store four months ago. James is 52 and supporting a large family that includes a wife, two teenagers and two young grandchildren.

James vented to us this way: “I’ve been thrown to the sharks. I’m trying to keep calm, but how do I manage? I don’t have a lot of savings and my house is five minutes from foreclosure.”

James went on to ask: “Should I just look for a cliff, close my eyes and leap off?”

We assured him that running away from a problem is not necessary. In a true financial crisis, the first order of business is to create a plan of survival.

We sat down with James to help him devise some reasonable actions to turn the tide.

James’ wife, Kathy, was very supportive in every way. But, she let us know privately she was nervous for herself.

Kathy, of course, worried about James’ mental state. However, she was also wondering how she was going to tell him about other issues. Kathy was going to have to shed light on hidden aspects of their finances. She had acquired credit card debts James knew nothing about.

Kathy used borrowed money to pay for items her kids and grandkids needed. But, she had not worked in four years.

Suddenly, the truth was coming out. James was already under enough pressure. Now, his problems were mounting by the minute as Kathy revealed her secret. She owed $35,000 on four credit cards.

To help James and Kathy keep everything stable, we helped them think through what they could do. We explained to them that a lot of people are in this same situation, so they needed to stop judging themselves and take some do-able steps.

Here are the steps James and Kathy took:

• Kathy got a part-time job at her grandson’s school in the cafeteria. That income will amount to approximately $900 a month after taxes. She will set aside this money to pay the credit card bills she owes.

• James sold a fishing boat for $7,000. They used this money to catch up their overdue mortgage.

• James took a part-time job as a truck driver. He is paid as a contract worker for interstate runs to deliver cargo for special projects for a non-profit organization. On days he’s home, he works on job hunting in his field.

• Kathy asked her brother to move in with them. Her brother rents their basement area, which is a private apartment. This provides some income, and her brother is helping James submit job applications.

“My brother helps with the kids, the computer work for James’s job search and the cooking,” says Kathy. “The monthly $350 he pays us for the basement apartment is putting food on the table.”

The money situation for this family is tight, but they are squeaking by.

“I don’t want to lean on unemployment or government help,” says James. “I want to work, and I thrive on a predictable routine.”

If you’re in a crisis, look for several small steps you can take. Don’t overlook any opportunity. If you find a simple way to move forward, you’ll feel a sense of control over what happens next.

© 2011, Judi Light Hopson, Emma H. Hopson and Ted Hagen