Greece, the country, and 50 Cent, the rapper, might seem a million miles removed from our ordinary lives.

But their extraordinary money woes offer those of us in the cheap seats an invaluable lesson:

Big or small, you've still got to follow basic money rules.

Greece, after missing its latest loan payment of $1.5 billion, just secured its third bailout from the International Monetary Fund and European creditors. But, unless the country quits its habit of spending more than it makes, the task of paying off a whopping $315 billion in debt remains highly unlikely.

Curtis James Jackson III, also known as 50 Cent, had an estimated net worth of $155 million in May. Now he's filing for bankruptcy protection.

Both stories provide us instructive dinner-table fodder. If you have kids, all the better.

"Money management is a family affair," said Mary Jo Katras, a Family Resiliency educator with the University of Minnesota Extension Center for Family Development. "You should have these conversations together."

Katras, whose husband is Greek, has been watching that crisis with more than a professional eye.

What can we learn to avoid our own financial fiasco?

In the rapper's case, the answer seems to lie less in money management and more in personal integrity. Jackson, whose motto is "Get Rich or Die Tryin" lost a more-than-$18 million judgment by an audio company that claimed he stole their design. Kids! Don't steal!

He also allegedly put a private sex tape on the Internet.

Kids! Don't do that, either!

And he made some bad financial decisions, like owing his grandpa about $1,700, leasing a $138,000 Bentley and owing more than $1 million in legal fees.

Kind of makes Greece look like a picnic for its well-meaning attempt to preserve, in part, generous pensions.

Still, Greece's big error is something we all can understand. The country overspent. And overspent.

By the time the country's leaders lined up to mitigate the mess, it was too late.

"You can't wait until you're in crisis," Katras said. "Money management is not a one-time task. It's something we need to do throughout our lifetime, constantly revisiting our goals."

Here are a few suggestions:

Know your debt-to-net income ratio. The Extension Center can help you figure out your big-picture reality with a chart that calculates your monthly expenses and net income. Go to

Create a spending log. For four weeks, keep track of everything you spend. "See patterns, look for leaks," Katras said. "We can all stop and get that coffee for $2.50. But, seven days a week? That adds up to a significant amount over a year."

(Relax, though. She's not suggesting we give up our joe addiction. Keep reading.)

Set SMART goals. Think specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. In terms of realistic goals, for example, most of us simply cannot put six months' income into an emergency account, even though that's a common recommendation by financial planners.

That doesn't mean we shouldn't put anything into savings. Katras is big on saving whatever we can, even if it's $5 a week, or loose change put into a jar. The key is that we're practicing saving — something she calls "paying yourself first" — so that saving becomes a regular habit.

Think needs, then wants. Remember that cup of joe? You still get to have it. But Katras encourages us to cover essential costs first — rent, groceries, utilities, gas, bus fare.

"It's not to say you can't do fun things," she said. "We're all human. But cover all of your needs, and some of your wants."

If you face reduced income, don't panic. The Extension Center has plentiful tools for you and your family, including information on how to create a spending plan, reduce expenses and develop additional income streams.

Above all, don't hide money woes from your family members, or your country's citizens. Involving them will make them less fearful about the future, and more invested.


Follow Gail on Twitter: @grosenblum