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Money Tips from a Finance Journalist

Martha Stewart Weddings, Winter 2013

Jean Chatzky

Finance Journalist

Known for
Doling out money-managing advice in her books like Money Rules
Where to find her
NBC's Today show, where she serves as the financial editor

Put Everything on the Table

Before tying the knot, reveal what savings you have and what you owe. This will help you set a budget for your wedding and plan for life as newlyweds. Legally, someone doesn't marry into debt, so you will not be held accountable for whatever outstanding amounts your spouse already owes. But if such an obligation exists, it may make you think twice about throwing your fantasy wedding.

Pay off Your Wedding ASAP

Of course, it's best not to go into any debt when planning a wedding, but I know an awful lot of couples do. If you must borrow, don't exceed what you can reasonably expect to pay off in three to six months' time; people drag it out for years, and it gets in the way of how you build your life together. Small goals, like taking vacations, or big ones, like having kids and buying a house, often get pushed aside.

Creatively Cut Big-Day Costs

Examine your guest list and decide how many people you really need to invite. If the answer is "everyone," you can alter the day of the week -- a weekday wedding will always be cheaper than a Saturday one -- or do a cocktail reception with hearty hors d'oeuvres and dessert instead of a three-course dinner. Also, consider a pre-owned dress. I recently did a TV segment on this exact topic, and I was struck by all the sites out there that offer secondhand options. We scored a gorgeous, never-worn $3,000 designer gown for $950!

Don't Reject a Prenup

If one of you has significant assets, a prenuptial agreement should absolutely be open for discussion. Young people who are just starting out can probably go without one. But if a person has been married before, has started a business, has kids, or is expecting a large inheritance, she should sign a contract. Three-quarters of attorneys surveyed in 2010 by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers said they had seen a significant increase in prenups in recent years. It's just what we do now.

Open Three Accounts

Once married, keep separate funds for you, for your spouse, and for "the house," or your joint expenses. The house fund gets taken care of first, and what's left over goes into the individual accounts for you to spend however you like.

Be Honest About Your Credit

In survey after survey, people list money as the top reason they fight -- and they confess they hide financial information about themselves from their spouse. Why? Because they're embarrassed. It's not always easy to admit you haven't yet opened a 401(k) or that you got into credit-card trouble while in college. Just remember that this is the person you love and are about to marry. You should be able to talk about anything.

Make Plans In Advance

Financial conversations don't have to be a chore. In fact, it can be romantic when you dream about the future: Where will we live? How many kids do we want? When can we afford to take a vacation to Italy? Figuring that stuff out now gives you goals to work toward -- together.

Pay High-Interest Debts First

Look at the interest on any debt: If it 's high, pay more than the monthly minimums with any extra money you have. Otherwise, split the difference: Put half of that surplus to savings and the other half toward debt. But if it's the interest on your savings that is high -- for example, if your employer matches 401(k) contributions with 50 cents on the dollar and the interest on your debt is low -- you can shift more toward savings. Ideally, if both of you can sock away 10 percent of your paychecks each month, you're off to a great start.

Top Finance Tips for Newlywed Bliss

Never stop talking about money

The best way to keep from arguing over money is to be transparent about it -- don't keep secrets.

Contribute an equal percentage, not a lump sum, to a joint account

This is always fair, but especially if one of you makes a lot more than the other.

Attach real numbers to your shared dreams

Money goals need to be measurable, so be specific, e.g.: "If we skip dining out once a week, we'll have $40 more for a down payment."