Borrowing

This May Be the Smartest Thing to Do With Your Wedding Gift Cash

Stephanie Taylor Christensen

You’ve said your “I dos,” mailed thank-you notes and enjoyed some “we time” on your honeymoon. Now for some more fun: deciding how to spend the pile of money you got from generous wedding guests.

Generally, gifts can range from $50 to more than $150 per wedding guest—one survey pegged the average wedding gift amount at $160—meaning you might have a serious chunk of cash on your hands. Here’s your four-step plan to spending it wisely.

1. Wipe out wedding bills.

Just got the final bar tab from your reception? Put your honeymoon hotel on plastic? “If you’ve gotten a windfall of wedding cash, it’s a good idea to pay off debt that you may have run up while planning the wedding,” says Certified Financial Planner Steven Boorstein of RockCrest Financial in Franklinville, N.J.

Unlike many other financial decisions you’ll make together that require conversation and compromise, this is an easy place to start. After all, you racked up the bills together—pay them off quickly and start your marriage with a clean state.

2. Bulk up savings.

How much you save depends on the rest of your financial picture. Debt-free? Aim to put three to six months’ worth of basic living expenses in an emergency fund. If you have high-interest debt and lack a safety net, try to set aside at least $1,000, which is likely enough to cover a deductible or small repair, as you pay off debt. Once it’s wiped out, you can resume saving.

“Nothing feels worse than starting to make a big dent in debt, then all of a sudden your central air conditioner goes and you have to put money back on the high-interest credit card you were just paying down,” says Boorstein.

3. Implement a debt payoff plan.

No matter who racked it up, tackling debt is now a shared responsibility. “Even if the debt existed before you married, excessive interest charges can have an effect on your combined monthly cash flow and lifestyle,” says Certified Financial Planner James Matthews of Blueprint, a financial planning firm in Charlotte, N.C.

Decide as a couple whether you’d rather eliminate a few small balances entirely—which may be the more motivating approach—or apply a lump sum to the debt with the highest interest rate (as it costs you the most). The most important thing is to pick a plan that works for you, and stick with it.

4. Work toward a shared goal.

Still have some cash left? Dream up a few shared financial goals—whether it’s to max out a retirement account for the first time, buy a home or make it to your next family reunion—and get a head start on them, Matthews says. (You can split your money across different savings accounts to jump start progress on several priorities.)

Not only does this move you closer to those goals, but it also creates a sense of camaraderie—and excitement for tackling more financial goals together.

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