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By Jonathan S. Kuttin

Soon after the wedding is over — and the chaos of planning has subsided — many newlyweds start asking themselves questions related to their financial situation. Should we buy a home? Should we merge accounts? Who pays the electric bill? How much should we be saving for a rainy day? Can we afford to take a trip? It’s smart for newlyweds to take some time to focus on establishing their new financial lives together.

What are the pros and cons of merging finances? How you go about commingling finances is something that all new couples should carefully consider. Some couples merge everything, others prefer to keep things separate, and some choose a combination of the two. The most important factor is that both spouses feel comfortable with the arrangement and that you have a process set up to ensure you pay your bills on time and maximize your finances.

Start by having a conversation about money habits and styles. How have you handled money in the past? Is one of you a spender and the other a saver? If two individuals have very different ways of managing money, keeping some accounts separate and preserving some independence can be a way to maintain a healthy relationship while protecting your joint financial wellness. If you’re on the same page — both savers, for example — togetherness in all things financial can create some efficiency.

In addition to careful budgeting, a good compromise is to have one checking account in which a couple deposits their income and then a separate account for each holding an agreed-upon amount that comes from the shared pool that each spouse can spend as he or she wishes — no questions asked. It’s also important that the couple agree on how much money they will save together and to establish an auto-transfer from the shared pool so that saving is easy and automatic.

Equally critical is for couples who are blending their finances to consider different “what-if” scenarios. Discuss how much each partner would be comfortable spending on things like new furniture, or how they would financially approach an unexpected situation such as a relocation.

How can you ensure you don’t go over budget? Having one joint household budget makes it easier to monitor spending and stay on track. First, create a monthly and annual budget, taking into consideration your income, monthly fixed expenses (like rent or mortgage, utilities, insurance and basics like groceries) and your savings goals. Then determine how much you can afford for discretionary expenses (like clothing, travel and entertainment). If one person is “in charge” of the budget or finances, it is important for the other person to communicate about his or her unplanned purchases. But, even the best laid plans can go astray — be sure to have overdraft protection in place to cover any purchases that fall through the cracks.

Who does what? Communicate openly and often about your money. Financial disagreements or misunderstandings can fester, so making sure you keep the lines of communication open is important. Have a clear process for who does what and when. One individual may have more of a propensity or interest in financial management; if that’s the case and both spouses support that arrangement, it may be the best for your family — but make sure that both parties are informed about their financial situation. It can be helpful to have a set time each month to pay bills, do record keeping, and discuss overall financial issues. Consulting with a financial advisor early in your relationship is another way to create a mutually agreeable plan and to have regular sessions to track your progress toward financial goals and talk about money.

Jonathan S. Kuttin, CRPC®, AAMS®, RFC®, CRPS®, CAS®, AWMA®, CMFC® is a Private Wealth Advisor specializing in fee-based financial planning and asset management strategies and has been in practice for 19 years.

County Executive Steve Bellone cites increased savings for taxpayers

Steve Bellone, Barry Paul and John Kennedy, Jr. spotted at a recent press event. Photo from Suffolk County

The merger of the offices of Suffolk County treasurer and the Suffolk County comptroller is being moved up by two years — a move Executive Steve Bellone’s office claims will save taxpayers even more money than originally anticipated.

The treasurer’s office will be folded into the comptroller’s office on Jan. 1, 2016 instead of a planned 2018 deadline, and the groundwork for the transition has already begun, with changes in the treasurer’s office implemented as early as January this year.

A whopping 62 percent of Suffolk County voters overwhelmingly supported a referendum to combine the two offices in a vote , and ever since then, plans have been put into action to complete the merger.

Merging the departments is expected to save taxpayers more than $3 million, according to Bellone’s office in a statement. Moving the merger up by two years saves more money because the county can eliminate positions sooner. Also, implementing new human resources software will allow the county to realize more savings.

The merger includes abolishing the treasurer’s position, as well as two deputy treasurer positions. Five positions have already been eliminated from the treasurer’s office. These positions included staff members who had retired or left the office and were not replaced, since the positions were deemed no longer necessary. 

Interim Treasurer Barry Paul has been spearheading the merger, and it is the main reason he was brought into the position. Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone nominated Paul to the post when previous Treasurer Angie Carpenter was named Islip Town supervisor and left the office in early January of this year.

Bellone has worked with Paul and Comptroller John M. Kennedy Jr., whose two offices will become one. However, at first, Kennedy was not in favor of the merger. During Kennedy’s campaign for comptroller last year, he strongly opposed the referendum and the merger.

“I had concerns with the separation of functions and the new oversight of the two offices,” Kennedy said. Once he was elected into office and realized the public’s support for the move at the polls, Kennedy said he altered his point of view.

“I try to be guided by the will of my constituents, and they wanted to see consolidation so I am now on board,” Kennedy said.

Originally the merger was scheduled to be complete in January 2018, since Carpenter’s term as treasurer was from 2015 to 2017. Once Carpenter stepped down, there was an opportunity to bring on Paul and speed up the process.

Previously, Paul was a Bellone staffer, and once he finishes overseeing the merger of the treasurer’s office with the comptroller’s office, he will return to his post there. For Paul, the treasurer appointment was always a short-term assignment.

“All existing personnel from the treasurer’s office will go under Kennedy, and Kennedy has really embraced that,” Suffolk County Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider, who has worked on the merger as well, said in a phone interview. “This merger will save taxpayers money, while delivering better services.”

Another place that the treasurer’s office has been able to save money is with regards to a backlog of providing tax refunds. As of May 14, the backlog tax refunds were reduced by a third, coming down to 7,810, whereas over a month before, the number of backlog tax refunds was 11,830, according to Bellone’s office.

The backlog is expected to be completely eliminated by July, and will save the taxpayers more than a million dollars in reduced interests costs annually.

The new merged office will also host Munis software in the county’s IT system, which will save another $150,000 to $200,000 dollars. Munis is an integrated enterprise resource planning system that manages all core functions, including financials, human resources, citizen services and revenues.

In a statement, Paul said he has been following Bellone’s mandate to make the treasurer’s office as efficient as possible, and is confident in this timeline and the work his office has been doing to save taxpayer dollars.