First Year Finances

Cash Gifts: Spend or Save?

Once the reception's over, it's time to deposit those "Mr. and Mrs." checks. (Score!) Not sure what to do with the dough? Here's advice for three typical couples—find the one that's most like you.

Couple A: Credit-card debt and/or wedding bills and no savings

"Pay off most of your debt first," says Today show financial editor Jean Chatzky. Put 65 perfect of your newly-married moola towards bills. Then stash 25 percent in an "emergency fund" savings account. Due to the tight job market, "you need six to nine months of living expenses socked away in case on of you gets laid off," she says. The remaining 10 percent can be a splurge

Couple B: No debt, but also no emergency fund

That crisis account should get 90 percent. (Think of the EF as your new BFF.) Enjoy the other 10 perfect, but not on the first shiny toy you see. "The expenditures that make us happiest tend to be experiences, not things," says Chatzky. Take a class together—rock-climing, French cooking, or something else fun and sexy.

Couple B: No debt, and an ample emergency fund

These savers (you go, couple C!) can spend 10 perfect freely, then put the rest into big-picture investments. "Contribute to an IRA, or save for a car or a house," says Chatzky. Not sure what item you want most? Band the money "for at least six months. You need time to process the fact that you have extra cash."

Shopping Spree

We asked recent brides what they spent their wedding riches on

"An upgrade from a '90s-era TV to a flat-screen." -Carole G., 30, Dallas

"Half on serious stuff, like law-school loans, and half on fun—our South African honeymoon!" —Ashley M., 31, Palm Beach, FL

"Fifty perfect paid off the wedding, ten percent went to savings, and forty percent—eek!—was for a splurge-y honeymoon dinner at The French Laundry, a restaurant in Napa." —Nina D., 34, New York

"Lots of household stuff: a console, a couch, and a Miele vacuum." —Courtney F., 27, San Diego

"A French bulldog that my husband and I named Sally!" —Ashley H., 29, Boston

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