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Q: As a newly married couple, we're trying to sort out our budget and set realistic financial goals. We're kind of stuck on knowing how much to save. What do you suggest?

Jim: You don't have to be married for long to see how money can set the tone for your entire relationship. It's either a source of stability or a frequent point of conflict. That's why it's a good idea for spouses to get on the same page financially -- especially when it comes to the topic of savings.

Here's an example. She believes they should put away as much money as possible for a rainy day. He feels they should enjoy life now and spend their income however they want. As you can imagine, that's a recipe for some pretty sharp disagreements.

But that doesn't have to be your story. You can avoid conflict like that if you'll discuss your expectations and put together a plan you can agree on. How much money should you save for emergencies? That depends on how you earn it. If you make a steady income, consider at least three to four months' worth of expenses. If your income fluctuates from week to week, raise that figure to six months. And if you think you don't make enough money to save anything, try setting aside $25 a month. That may not seem like much, but I promise you it'll add up.

The key point is to find some common ground with your spouse and start small. And don't let your fear of not saving "enough" prevent you from getting started in the first place.

For more money and marriage advice, go to

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Q: I've been dating this guy for several months, and we're close to getting engaged. Sure, he has a few habits that mildly irritate me, but that's normal, right? Overall, I think there's a lot of potential, especially once we tie the knot.

Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: I'm glad you're being proactive and thinking about this now. One of the most common mistakes engaged couples make is marrying who they hope their spouse will become instead of who they already are.

When a couple is dating, they tend to overlook each other's bad habits. Maybe one is chronically late or spends too much money while the other smokes or has a short temper. Whatever the issue, guys and gals are often so caught up in the euphoria of dating they make a common mistake: They ignore how they feel about their mate's behavior. That's because in almost every case, couples think, "Once we get married, he or she will change all of that."

That's a dangerous game to play. It's not unusual for conflict between a new husband and wife to kick in over behaviors that were present all throughout the dating season.

That's why, before you get married, decide whether you can be content with your potential husband even if he never changes a thing. After all, there are no guarantees your future spouse will change in the ways you hope he will (and that goes both ways, from his side as well).

Of course, the best marriages are when couples strive each day to improve as individuals and to grow together. But sadly, that doesn't always happen as smoothly as people think it will. So, before your wedding day, make sure you're marrying your spouse for who they are, not who you hope they'll become.

We have tons of resources and tools to help you assess your present relationships, prepare well for marriage and get your life together off to a great start. Visit us at


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