Use a budget tracking software where you forecast where all your money will go as soon as you get it. Then you record all transactions and adjust the budget as the money goes out to reflect reality, and to maintain balanced budget.
This will help you find the leaks. And you have leaks. There's one that I like. You can use their methods without subscribing to their software, but I subscribe because I can concentrate on using the method rather than using spreadsheets to simulate the software. Here are several tracking softwares:
- You Need a Budget (YNAB) (personal favorite, free trial, try before you buy, YMMV)
- Dave Ramsey has one based on his envelope system (the logic behind this system appeals to the analytical side of my nature, and it drives several envelope system clones, and shares a lot of concepts with YNAB)
- Mvelopes and any number of apps that implement Dave Ramsey's envelope system
- Mint and Quicken, traditional tracking and budgeting software, but they lack the envelope element.
The envelope element that grabbed me, first with Ramsey, then with YNAB, is pretty basic. You allocate your income when it comes in. Putting into envelopes with labels. Rent, utilities, groceries, weekend party money, vacation fund, whatever. So, Sunday rolls around and you are invited to the football game. Ticket is free, but you estimate you want to be able to spend about 50 bucks on refreshments. The party money envelope is at 40 bucks. You have to take it from another envelope. Rent and utilities are a no go. Groceries, maybe, but the logical choice is to pull ten bucks from the vacation fund. This allows you to stretch a category in your budget, while it forces you to consider where the shortfall has to be made up. The apps let you keep the money in the bank, but have a virtual envelope system to track what you have budgeted. Finally, the systems use money that you have, not money you plan to get, in order to do your budgeting.
Get your wife in on the business. Set a goal to be debt free. Then a longer term goal. With your income you could probably go the FI,RE route (financial independence, retire early), if you have the commitment.
When you hit debt free, reward with a vacation or whatever reward seems appropriate. (Without going into debt, of course).
I also agree that you should pause the tithing and the 401k, at least until you are up to date on your cards, and have saved up an emergency fund.
Here's a rough plan to consider:
- Catch up on debt and establish budgeting habits.
- Start your emergency fund. (1-2000 now, with a goal of 3-6 months of EXPENSES)
- Debt snowball the cards. (Research Dave Ramsey's snowball method for repaying debt)
This should take you less than a year at your level of income and debt. Now the fun part.
- Add tithing and 401k (at least enough to capture matching) back to your budget
- Add to your emergency fund until you have enough that you feel comfortable. The usual advice is 3-6 months worth of expenses. For me, having experienced > 6 month period of unemployment on two occasions, my goal is 9 months.
- Do a lot of research on balancing your retirement between 401k and Roth, or consult with a financial advisor.
- Fund a Roth for your wife
- 529 for the kids
Be sure to budget for yourself and your family. Clothing, entertainment, travel. You won't be able to stick to any plan if everyone feels like they're poor and they're afraid to ask to do some activity due to the fees of it.
At the same time, watch out for lifestyle creep.
I'm trying to adopt some of the FIRE crowd's attitude towards 'stuff'. They believe that the average American is spending an inordinate portion of their income buying stuff because marketing tells us we need to do so in order to be happy. I see their point, but I have a smartphone and a dumb SUV, complete with almost 700 a month between the note and the insurance.
One of the FI blog sites had an article about how his wife eventually came around to his point of view on finances. He asked her what her perfect life looked like. Then showed her how they could accomplish that, by living on less than 40% of their take home and saving the rest.
If you do become financially independent, please go into research for time travel, and give my 25 (or even 30) year old self this advice.