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Couples must balance their expenses, income
MISSISSIPPI STATE – The real financial challenges of a marriage have much less to do with the wedding itself than with learning to handle money wisely as a couple.
Carla Stanford, Mississippi State University Extension Service child and family development area agent in Pontotoc County, said couples should know each others’ spending habits and financial patterns before they marry.
“Sit down and decide exactly how finances will be handled and consider assigning responsibilities,” Stanford said. “If one partner is the organizer and is prompt, let that person be in charge of bill paying and finance organization.
“That does not mean that person is in charge of the money, just the arrangements. Financial decisions should be joint decisions,” she said.
Even before the expenses and incomes are blended, couples should shift their thinking about money away from themselves and start thinking as a team.
Mary Linda Moore, Extension child and family development area agent in Alcorn County, said couples must talk honestly about their values and goals and what they want to accomplish with their money.
“Compromises may have to be reached as the couple finds ways to mesh their individual philosophies so they move together in the same direction,” she said.
Moore said singles tend to spend more money on eating out, entertainment, travel and clothes, but married couples typically get serious about finances. Many newlyweds are young, have lower incomes and bring debt, such as student loans, into the relationship.
“Individuals who have not lived independently may be surprised by the cost of health insurance, auto maintenance and insurance, holiday gift-giving, and home maintenance and operating costs,” Moore said.
Stanford said even the youngest couples should pay down debt, file income taxes, set aside a fund for emergencies and save for retirement.
“Most young people delay saving for retirement, and when they do decide it’s time to save, it takes a lot of cash to play catch up with where they should be financially,” Stanford said.
The sooner a person begins saving for retirement, the more time the money has to grow.
“If at age 25, you put aside $3,000 a year for 10 years in a tax-deferred retirement account getting an 8 percent annual return, by the time you reach 65, that $30,000 investment would have grown to more than $472,000,” Stanford said. “But if you put off saving until you turn 35 and then save $3,000 a year for 30 years at the same annual rate, your $90,000 contribution will have only grown to about $367,000. That’s a huge difference.”
For couples trying to establish good spending practices or end bad ones, Moore recommended tracking all spending for at least a month.
“By seeing where your money goes, you can find leaks in your budget,” she said. “If you have difficulty limiting your spending, start the month by putting a predetermined amount of money in envelopes designated for certain activities, such as entertainment or groceries,” Moore said. “When the money is gone, spending in that category must stop. Do this as long as it takes for the changes to become habitual.”
If expenses still exceed income, make deeper cuts, get another job or consider a downsized lifestyle, at least temporarily.