Advice for the families

To help the Steins, Mendells and Wrights get their finances on track, and stop comparing themselves to their neighbors, Money Magazine turned to financial planners Neil Kauffman of Kauffman & Drebing in Philadelphia and Chris Cordaro of Regent Atlantic Capital in Chatham, N.J., as well as career coach Nancy Collamer, who runs Jobsandmoms.com.

Pay off the plastic
The Steins:
Pay off the plastic
The planners united behind an urgent message for the Steins: Stop being so blasé about that $39,000 in credit-card debt and start paying it off.

While Stuart likes having $17,000 in a savings account for emergencies, Cordaro says that money would be better used to help pay off their balances. "You're just giving money to the financial services industry," he says.

Cordaro suggests the couple then take out a $30,000 home-equity line of credit, part of which should be used to erase the remaining card debt; at recent rates of 8.25 percent, that will lower their monthly interest payments by $300.

The remainder of the credit line can serve as a temporary emergency fund until the Steins can pay off the HELOC and rebuild their bank account.

Next, Kauffman urges the couple to get serious about saving for retirement. Marni should contribute at least 5 percent of her salary to her 403(b) plan to get the full match her employer offers.

But both planners suggest the Steins postpone saving for college until they've paid off their debt - especially since one of the perks of Marni's job is that the university will pay at least 40 percent of her kids' college costs.

The Steins

The Mendells

The Wrights

Future plans
Call it peer pressure, but meeting the right people can help you spend and save wisely. (more)
A Roth IRA for your teen could create a millionaire in the making. But how do you convince her it's a good idea? (more)
Starting a savings plan in your 20s could put you on the right track for an early retirement. Just make sure you've got the right mix, says Money Magazine's Walter Updegrave. (more)
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Market indexes are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer LIBOR Warning: Neither BBA Enterprises Limited, nor the BBA LIBOR Contributor Banks, nor Reuters, can be held liable for any irregularity or inaccuracy of BBA LIBOR. Disclaimer. Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer The Dow Jones IndexesSM are proprietary to and distributed by Dow Jones & Company, Inc. and have been licensed for use. All content of the Dow Jones IndexesSM © 2014 is proprietary to Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Chicago Mercantile Association. The market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved. Most stock quote data provided by BATS.