This article is part of our Newlywed Financial Boot Camp series, designed to get new couples and their finances into shape. You can find the other articles in this series here.
Can you imagine getting a wedding card that said, "Good luck with the bad times because they're definitely coming?" You'd wonder what in the world had gotten into the sender. You might even be offended.
During the happy occasion of an engagement, we're not usually so blunt with warnings for the future. For a little while, at least, it's as though all of us declare a moratorium on real life, and instead focus on the fine art of matching colors, choosing tuxes, and deciding how to do our hair for the big day.
But there's a reason "for worse" is included in standard wedding vows. These two small words are an injection of reality into what is typically a very unreal (some might even say surreal) event. The words are a reminder that times won't always be good; it's a smart couple who takes heed and plans for the worst.
With that in mind, you and your honey will need to get ready for your rainy days. Here are some of our top tips for helping you prepare for life's curveballs:
Get your priorities straight. Though establishing an emergency fund is important, paying off any high-interest consumer debt (like credit card balances) is your first priority. After the consumer debt is paid, however, you'll want to choose bulking up your emergency fund over paying off your mortgage or college loans, which are typically low-interest. In addition to the low interest rates, "good debt" (debt that is a sensible investment in future wealth) is often tax-deductible.
Not sure which of your debt is "good" versus "bad"? The Motley Fool's How-to Guide to Getting Out of Debt can help.
Skim it off the top. Get in the habit of funding your emergency savings by having it taken out of your account automatically every month. It's out of sight and mind, making it that much more difficult to spend. You'll be surprised by how quickly you can amass $1000 when it's hidden from view.
Save enough. The standard recommendation for emergency savings is three to six months' of living expenses. As newlyweds who may just have racked up a lot of expenses for the wedding, we know this can sound like a lot. For the time being (if you don't have dependents yet), three months' worth of savings may be sufficient. What's most critical is that you get in the habit of saving early and often.
Choose your savings vehicle wisely. You'll want to do a lot of poking around to find the savings account that offers the best terms -- the highest yield, the lowest fees, and the best service. For example, online bank ING (NYSE: ING ) typically offers 5% interest for its savings account, a great rate compared to what's offered with a standard savings account at your local bank. What ING lacks is a brick-and-mortar presence in your neighborhood (or anyone's, for that matter) and the ability to access the funds with an ATM card. The high-yield savings rate they are able to offer is largely due to cost-savings measures like these.
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Fool contributor Elizabeth Brokamp is a licensed professional counselor who regularly talks money with her honey, Robert Brokamp, editor of The Motley Fool'sRule Your Retirement newsletter. The Fool has a disclosure policy.