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Extension publications, programs aid new couples
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Mississippi farmers know they can turn to the Mississippi State University Extension Service for solid advice, but newly married couples can rely on the same source for friendly help with family challenges.
The Extension Service offers numerous publications online and in county Extension offices that address a wide variety of issues important to newlyweds. Topics include budgeting, nutrition, child rearing, conflict resolution, fitness and job skills. County offices also offer a wide range of training programs to area residents.
Susan Cosgrove, Extension area family resource management agent, said finances are a common problem in both new and established marriages -- whether the conflicts are related to money management or the lack of money.
“Money often becomes a problem in relationships today because so many people are living beyond their means -- spending much more than they earn and creating a lot of debt,” Cosgrove said. “They want to have a certain standard of living, but don’t want to achieve it over a period of time.”
Newly married couples can set some good financial foundations by learning to communicate frequently and effectively about money, as well as never hiding money problems or spending habits. Even better, engaged couples should openly discuss their financial situations, including credit history, financial accounts, debts, bankruptcies, garnishments, loans, credit cards, investments, and spending habits and goals.
“It is best if there are no money secrets of any kind,” Cosgrove said. “Take plenty of time to address this before getting married.”
A budget is a plan for how money is to be saved and spent. Couples should develop and monitor this together, making adjustments when necessary.
“Use credit wisely. Pay with cash as much as possible, and avoid payday lending,” she said. “Communicate on everything about money, both before you marry and after, and decide how to handle it, and then set up a financial record-keeping system together.”
Money is not the only hot button issue in a new marriage. Relationships are another.
Alisha Hardman, Extension family life specialist and assistant professor of human development and family science in the MSU School of Human Sciences, said couples must switch from an “I” mentality to a “we” mentality.
“That really changes how you approach all things in life,” Hardman said. “It’s not just me making decisions that will affect me, but now my decisions affect both of us. Learning how to navigate that switch is important.”
Making the mental switch to “we” also affects families, whether it is the couple’s families of origin or their own combined families with children.
“Parents of the new couple should realize it’s no longer just about their daughter or son but the couple,” she said. “Have a plan and be intentional when deciding how to spend time with extended families to prevent anyone feeling left out.”
When children are brought into a marriage, the couple’s “we” dynamic must make room for the “we” dynamic of the parent and existing child or children.
“Be conscientious about continually checking in with your children to determine how they’re doing,” Hardman said. “They may seem just fine, but then suddenly they aren’t. If you’re not constantly checking in, you may have no idea what flipped the switch.”
But while couples are learning how to manage money together, be a unit and deal with families, they should never forget to nurture their own couple relationship.
“Continue dating and pursuing one another, even after you’re married,” she said. “Make time to go out as a couple, and that is certainly relevant when there are kids in the picture. It is important to prioritize regular dates and establish the habit early in the marriage.”
The MSU Extension Service offers a variety of publications and programming on children and parenting, family financial management and numerous other topics. Learn more under the “Family” tab at http://www.extension.msstate.edu.