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Financial issues can trouble new couples

By Bonnie Coblentz

MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Married couples and money are a volatile situation, and the problem is the difference in attitudes and behavior about money and the lack of communication on the subject.

Susan Cosgrove, family resource management specialist in Newton County with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said disagreements over money are the most common problem in marriages. Many of these problems escalate into divorce, so she urged prospective couples to work out money issues before marriage.

"One of the most important wedding plans today is for the couple to sit down and talk about money," Cosgrove said. "Discuss how each of your parents handled money when you were children and talk about how your family perceived money. This will give the couple a chance to understand how they each feel about the subject."

She suggested each person write down five financial goals, then compare their list with their partner's to see similarities and differences. Prioritize these goals together to set the foundation for a budget.

"Your budget is a planning device that serves as a means of setting and reaching your financial goals," Cosgrove said. "By writing down what you plan to spend and then keeping track of actual expenditures, the budget process becomes a valuable tool for achieving financial goals and for keeping income and expenses in line."

Cosgrove said a budget allows couples to work together, learn to compromise and communicate. It should begin with fixed expenses, or payments that are due on a regular basis, such as a mortgage or rent, car note and insurance. Next add variable expenses, or those items over which the couple has some control. These include the money spent on groceries, clothing, eating out and gasoline for vehicles.

"Variable expenses in the budget are areas where you can cut back on spending and look for patterns that may signal trouble," Cosgrove said.

When some couples marry, they find their overall living expenses lower than before because of such things as consolidated housing arrangements. Cosgrove recommended these couples take the excess money and put it into savings or investments rather than spending it quickly. This money can also be used to fund upcoming major purchases and to allow for unexpected expenses that are sure to arise.

Many couples, however, find their fixed expenses higher than before they married. Such is the situation when one of the partners lived at home or each shared rent with a roommate. Cosgrove said it is very important in these situations for the couple to plan expenditures carefully and track spending closely.

"Such a change in lifestyle will have a tremendous impact on both people, but by working together and setting goals, the couple can develop sound spending habits and make ends meet," Cosgrove said.

The financial expert said there are several other issues couples should deal with before marriage. Discuss debt and decide if any carried will be paid off together or individually. Determine whether to have joint or separate checking accounts or both, and whether to get a joint credit card. A joint credit card holds both individuals responsible for the bill, whether or not the marriage lasts.

A final consideration is to change the beneficiary on such things as insurance and retirement policies if the spouse is to get the proceeds of these accounts.

Many couples designate one person responsible for bill paying, but Cosgrove suggested both be aware of expenses so they can assume this duty if necessary and discuss ways to cut back on spending.

"Some good financial advice to newlyweds is to divide the responsibilities instead of having one person handle everything," Cosgrove said.

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Released: Jan. 13, 2002
Contact: Susan Cosgrove, (601) 635-2268

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