Planning For Matrimony

Stephanie blackman is willing to make the necessary financial adjustments as she gets ready for marriage

Preparing to walk down the aisle is a monumental process for 26-year-old desktop support specialist Stephanie Blackman. Not only is the Chicago native feeling pre-marital jitters but she also has the challenge of financing the wedding ceremony.

Blackman has had her ups and downs, but things have been going well since this past July when North American Insurance Co. hired her. She had been studying for an associate’s degree in computer science at Harold Washington College in Chicago when she landed the $50,000-a-year position. Now she is more determined than ever to get her finances together before she starts her new life with fiancé, Erick Newsome.

Unfortunately, Blackman isn’t a financial wizard. “I’m a terrible spender,” she admits. “I’m terrible with budgeting; I really need to get control.”

Tough times, unemployment, and a lack of control have gotten her into trouble with several creditors, whom she owes a total of about $6,000 — $4,000 for nonpayment of rent (while unemployed) and $2,000 for utility and medical bills. She has no credit card debt, but has $1,770 left to pay on a Gateway computer.

Blackman is finishing the final year of her associate’s degree program, and she estimates the current semester costs about $850. Then she must pay for the wedding. She says she has budgeted $5,000 for the ceremony. Newsome, who works as a company chef for Amtrak, and makes about $33,000 a year, will pay for the total cost of their “surprise” honeymoon.

Blackman’s other major concern is her 11-year-old daughter, Kristen, who Blackman vows to send to college. That will be difficult because she has virtually no savings (about $900), no IRA, or other retirement account. Right now, her daughter’s child support payments are deposited into a low-interest savings account.

Since November, Blackman has been putting away $800 a month toward the wedding, but she is looking for more ways to save. “Last month (and just about every month), I had $500 left over and I didn’t know what to do with it.”

She is taking some positive steps, though. Blackman became eligible for her company’s Employee Stock Option Program (ESOP) in January. The company contributes 10% of her salary; she doesn’t make additional contributions. She’ll have to be employed seven years at the firm before she’s entitled to those benefits. She has also begun exploring mutual fund investments, attending local seminars sponsored by Scudder and Kemper.

With her wedding day set for July 13, Blackman hopes 2002 will be a great year. By December, she wants to own a home and a car, and accept her associate’s degree.

THE ADVICE
BLACK ENTERPRISE asked Pierre Dunagan, president of the Dunagan Group, a financial investment firm in Chicago, to review Stephanie Blackman’s finances. He offers this advice:

CREATE AN EMERGENCY FUND
Blackman should create an account with at least three months of living expenses to guard against an economic crisis, such as losing her job. She should place the $2,000 from the Financial Fitness Contest in this account and build on it.

START A 529 PLAN EDUCATION ACCOUNT
Blackman receives $85 per month

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