Suze Orman
Photo: Brian Bowen Smith
Q: My fiancé and I combined our bank accounts last year. At the time, he had about $24,000 in debt and I had two credit cards that I typically paid off each month. I make $32,000 a year, and he makes upwards of $55,000. We pay a monthly mortgage (at 8 percent), a car loan ($400), student loans ($200), cable, and utilities. After covering our necessities, we are left with only about $500 a month. How do we set a budget so we can get ahead?

A: You don't need a budget—you need a reality check. Something isn't adding up. Your combined income is $7,250 a month; even in a state with a high income tax rate, your combined take-home pay is probably about $5,000 a month. I'm guessing that your nonmortgage bills eat up $1,100, so that leaves $3,900 for your mortgage and other living costs. You told me the rate on your mortgage but not the monthly cost. Why? Are you in a house you can't afford? At 8 percent, a $400,000 30-year mortgage would run you $3,000 a month—leaving not much money for food.

People with FICO credit scores of 700-plus have been locking in fixed-rate mortgages of no more than 6 percent. The fact that you are paying 8 percent tells me something's wrong somewhere, as does your fiancé's $24,000 in debt. And that's really the issue here, right? You were doing fine until you combined finances, but now your guy's poor money habits are dragging you down.

No budget on earth will work until you and your fiancé have a series of heart-to-hearts about your finances. For tips on how to do so, see Financial Couples' Therapy .

Ask Suze your questions about debt & saving money

Suze Orman's most recent book is her 2009 Action Plan: Keeping Your Money Safe & Sound (Spiegel & Grau).

Please note: This is general information and is not intended to be legal advice. You should consult with your own financial advisor before making any major financial decisions, including investments or changes to your portfolio, and a qualified legal professional before executing any legal documents or taking any legal action. Harpo Productions, Inc., OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network, Discovery Communications LLC and their affiliated companies and entities are not responsible for any losses, damages or claims that may result from your financial or legal decisions.


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