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Thursday, April 3, 2008

I Will Teach You To Be Rich » Guest Post: Just got married? Here’s what you need to know.

The Newly Married Game Plan

Here are practical steps and habits you should start TODAY.

  • Boost your marriage - Build a written budget together, every month. Build a realistic budget that includes setting money aside for those annoying expenses like car maintenance and repairs, house repairs, car insurance bills, etc – these items usually don’t occur each month and generally are the ones that bust your first budget. Note that how you spend money as a couple reflects your values and priorities as a family. Communicating each month and working through differences may be difficult at times, but it will build your “oneness”. Learn about each other’s money personalities. Open a joint checking account together – this has a “magical” way of getting you to communicate with each other. By the way, once you get in a routine, your monthly budget meeting should only take an hour per month (give it 3 or 4 months).
  • Rapidly pay off all consumer debt and stop borrowing. How much are your car, credit card, and student loan payments really costing you in your wealth building plan? Total up your debt payments and calculate what they could do for your future. Get motivated!
  • Build a 3 to 6 month emergency fund. Want to have some breathing room and margin in life and be able to deal with job uncertainty, car breakdowns, and medical expenses? The emergency fund is the answer. How would it feel if you had $10,000 to $20,000 in a savings account right now? (No, not for the trip to Hawaii.) For most couples, I recommend this goal after you have eliminated all consumer debt. It’s a good idea to have a small emergency fund as soon as possible, but hold off on building a larger one until you are consumer debt-free.
  • Rent a modest apartment or home for a few years. Don’t dial up the financial pressure on your young marriage by renting a luxury palace. Save that money for your future home.
  • Build fun, travel, and experiences into your budget. Save each month so that you take at least one vacation each year. Life is too short to not enjoy it. Just don’t put it on the credit card!
  • Save for a house down payment. This is important: Do NOT buy a house until you have eliminated your consumer debt, have a nice emergency fund, and have saved a down-payment of at least 10% to 20%.
  • Drive used cars. This step along may really speed up your wealth building. Not having a $400 per month car payment is HUGE. Here’s an idea for the really motivated: If you both work near each other, share one car for a couple of years and use the extra to pay down debt.
  • Simplify and setup autopilot on all savings. Life is busy and we can all get lazy. Setup automatic drafts from your checking account or paycheck when building up your emergency fund, house down-payment, and investments.
  • Buy level term life insurance, especially if you plan to have children. This step is not for you, it’s for the ones that you could leave behind. This is a priority. Generally you are healthier in your 20’s, so qualify now for the best rates. Buy 20 to 30 year level term (not through your employer). The general rule of thumb is to buy 10 times your income in coverage ($50,000 salary would mean approximately $500,000 of term coverage). Shop around for the best rates.
  • Let the IRS Help your Wealth Building.
    • 401k’s, Traditional IRA’s, Roth IRA’s. Since you are now sharing living expenses, you may have some additional money to invest each month. However, you should hold off on aggressive retirement savings until you have paid off your consumer debt and have built a nice emergency fund.
    • Begin itemizing deductions if it makes sense. Really dig into Schedule A and make sure you are getting the maximum amount.
    • Deduct interest on student loan payments. There is good news if you are paying down your student loans. You may be able to deduct that pesky interest you are paying.
    • Small business opportunities. There are tons of great tax-saving ideas for small businesses. If you and your spouse have the entrepreneur bug, don’t overlook these opportunities. The “Medical Expense Reimbursement Plan” can be very helpful if you can “hire” your spouse. Check with your personal tax accountant on this strategy.
    • Deduct job-related moving expenses. You may be able to deduct moving expenses if you move for a new job.
    • Deduct tuition and fees for job related training. You may be able to deduct the cost of additional education related to your job.
    • Claim the Child Tax Credit on your children. If you qualify, you get up to a $1000 tax credit per child.
  • Finally, become a cheerful giver. Giving to others who are in need is a blessing to them, to your family, and to your community. When we learn to give on a regular basis, we develop character and contentment by keeping life’s real priorities in sight each month. My wife and I have seen God bless our family and others through giving. Find an organization in your area and learn about how you can be a part of their mission.
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