Of Marriage And Money

When high school friends Tischelle George and Idris Abdul-Zahir began dating in 1999, they knew they would eventually get married. The New York couple was so sure, they began discussing how they were going to manage their finances as husband and wife. So soon after Idris, 25, popped the question in July 2002, they set up a joint savings account, each contributing $3,000 in biweekly deductions from their paychecks. They also established a joint checking account, all the while keeping separate personal accounts. “We had individual bills — like car, school loan, or cell phone payments — that we didn’t feel like burdening the other person with,” says Tischelle, 26.

The couple used most of the money in their joint savings account to help pay for their July 2003 wedding and have already begun to rebuild the account. Idris, an assistant manager at a retail store, and Tischelle, an educational program coordinator, plan to buy a house and get out of credit card and school loan debt. Here are some tips for newlyweds managing money for the first time:

Implement some pre-nuptial strategy. The average wedding costs $22,000, according to Bride’s magazine. To avoid going broke, Dara Duguay, the executive director of Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy, and author of Don’t Spend Your Raise: And 59 Other Money Rules You Can’t Afford to Break (McGraw-Hill Trade; $12.95) suggests downsizing the guest lists as some reception halls charge up to $100 per person. Try to avoid holding wedding receptions in June or on Saturday evenings. These times are when rates are highest.

Enlist family and friends to help keep wedding costs down. Idris’ mother, a baker and proprietor of Designed for You by Zainab, made the wedding cake. His aunt, who owns RaZaHu Enterprises, a company that makes gift items, created the wedding favors by hand. Family and friends can also assume upfront costs for services, the wedding photographer and limousines, for example, that can serve as gifts. You might also encourage your loved ones to contribute money to cover the cost of your honeymoon in lieu of gifts. Duguay says this is a good idea for couples 40 and over. “When you’re getting married at an older age, you already have things. You don’t need friends to throw you a wedding shower and buy you pots and pans,” she says. “Develop a honeymoon account so it’s already paid for.”

Putting a cap on the wedding and reception budget also minimizes debt. And if you establish a joint savings account to pay for wedding expenses, like Idris and Tischelle did, you won’t have any post-wedding debt to deal with.

Talk to your honey about money before the wedding. Discussing finances before the wedding is a must, says Kimberly A. Helm, a financial advisor at American Express Financial Advisors. She suggests that couples make individual and joint lists of their values and goals, and then prioritize them. This process allows couples to see what’s important to each other and figure out a plan to achieve those goals.