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Dear Carolyn: My husband and I both want another child, but despite our best efforts to be thrifty, we find ourselves in ever-deepening debt after having our first baby a year ago, buying our first house and buying a (used) car after someone totaled our old one.

We have options for making more money, but we both get so stressed just looking at our budget situation, we avoid it.

I know this is untenable, and an irresponsible place from which to consider having a second child. Can you help?

– H.

A: Dunno. Can you help yourselves?

Can you sit down and decide which of those potential new income sources to pursue, how best to pursue them while ensuring good care for your baby, and how quickly you can start? Can you recognize your budget situation is too stressful to face alone and make an appointment for help through the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (www.nfcc.org)? Can you stick to the resulting debt-management plan? Can you recognize that all this is essential, right now, even if you decide not to add to your family?

Assuming you can do all this, will you?

If one of you doesn’t budge, then will the other one be strong and proceed anyway?

You framed this as a parenting question – to me it’s more of a self-discipline, financial and marriage one – but the strongest parental element has nothing to do with yea-or-nay on a second child. It’s about doing what stresses, scares, royally inconveniences and (no doubt) embarrasses you, because doing it will keep the home stable and the future opportunities intact for the child you already have. Will you do that? That “yes” unlocks the door to others.

Friend should ‘unclench’

Dear Carolyn: I always thought “aging gracefully” meant having a good attitude about the inevitable, annoying and sometimes disgusting aspects of aging.

I have a friend who seems to interpret aging gracefully as behaving in what she considers an age-appropriate way.

I’m living with the attitude that at my age (66), I’ve earned the right to do what I want if I’m not hurting anyone else. My friend has expressed disapproval of me for: coloring my hair, getting Botox for my forehead, running in races, wearing fitted clothes (even though I am thin), letting my tattoo show, taking Zumba classes, etc.

I see these as differences in personal preferences, not as violations of some unwritten rules.

Still, she has me wondering. Am I making a fool of myself? Are people laughing at me behind my back? Everyone has seen old ladies with garish makeup, hair and clothes. What do you think about “rules” for aging women?

– Having Fun in Retirement

A: Let’s say people are laughing behind your back. Is that a good enough reason to change the way you live your life?

Why wouldn’t you feel sorry instead for people so shackled, even threatened, by “rules” that they have to tame any rule-breakers with ridicule? Are the Zumba-dancing, tattoo-showing “old ladies with garish makeup” the punch lines, or is the joke really on the people who spend their whole lives taking pains to blend in?

For someone who is “not hurting anyone else” and chooses “Having Fun in Retirement” as a signature, I can think of only one change that makes sense: to encourage your friend to unclench.