FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- "What are you going to do when your civilian pay gets cut by 20 percent?" a civilian employee asked at a recent town hall meeting. "I know we're all thinking it, so I'm just going to say it: I will be losing about $250 a paycheck, and that's roughly four bills."

In light of the current developments, civilian employees should be managing expenses now to help prepare for reduced income if furloughs occur.

The first thing everyone should do is get real. Prepare a family budget with current income to see how much money is coming in and how much is going out. Later, look at it again with the reduced income. Are you still living in the positive? With the reduced income, will you still be OK or will there need to be changes?

Once you have your budget, you need to see what can be cut back for the next six months. There are fixed expenses (that are the same amount due on a regular basis), such as rent or mortgage, car payment and insurance. Then there are variable expenses (for which the amounts and/or frequency changes) like food, utilities, property tax and automobile maintenance.

One area that seems to be consistent when it comes to reducing expenses is money spent on entertainment and eating out, whether it's a movie, lunch or dinner. Depending on how often you eat out, bringing your lunch to work can save you an average of $50 a week or $200 a month. For those of you who use a debit card for everything, look back at the last couple of months of spending. How many times did you go out to eat? Start taking your lunch to work.

Look at eliminating clothing expenses for the next six months -- no new shoes, dresses and spring shopping. You'll be OK and still look good in last year's clothes.

If you have reviewed and reduced your variable expenses but still find yourself short on funds to pay the car payment, credit card bills etc., it may be time for some more drastic measures. Talk to your creditors. When going through financial difficulties, it is better to be up front about the issue versus waiting for the creditor to call you.

Contact your credit card company to see if you can be put on a six month debt repayment plan. Normally, this means you cannot make additional charges on that account for the six month period. Some agencies will reduce your monthly minimum payment to a little over what your interest payment would be for a six month period and then go back to normal payments. Check with your creditors to see if this will hurt your credit score.

Even if there is a minor hit to your credit score, it's better than paying late or missing payments. Payment history is 30 percent of your credit score.

Contact your lender to see if a car payment may be deferred to a later date. This may cost a little more interest but will reduce the chance of a late or missed payment.

Finally, track your money to find out where it's going. The best thing you can do is get a piece of paper or small notebook and start tracking your spending. When you spend $1.25 on a soda, track it. You need to track every penny spent so see where you can save. Enter the amounts in your budget worksheet, and see where your money is truly going.

Each person is different; maybe you could reduce your Thrift Savings Plan contributions for this period. If you do this, try not to reduce your TSP below 5 percent or you will lose the matching funds. Possibly increase your federal tax deductions to get more money in your biweekly paychecks. If you receive a large tax refund at the end of the year, this may be a great option for you.

If you don't normally get a refund, you should probably leave your deductions alone. Also, plan now to put your tax refund in an emergency savings fund to assist you later instead of buying that new carpet for your living room.

If you have any questions about completing your family budget or money management skills, call Army Community Services at 751-5256. For a free ACS monthly budget worksheet, email