Wednesday, April 01, 2020

With new marriage comes newfound independence, growth and adventure, but those exciting experiences are often accompanied by increasing fiscal responsibility. Unfortunately, some newlyweds find it hard to navigate around the stigma of discussing finances––according to a 2018 Money Matters report, more people would rather talk to their peers about their weight than about their financial situation––but it is a conversation worth having, especially before spending habits become too ingrained or expenses loom too large.

How can married couples avoid a financial pitfall? Seeking out resources that offer free advice on how to manage their money is a good first step. Married couples living or looking to live in Bergen County will have this opportunity on Sunday, February 9, at 5:30 p.m. at Congregation Beth Abraham in Bergenfield, New Jersey. This two-hour interactive program is in its third year.

Project Ezrah, an organization that helps families live within a responsible budget, will be hosting an event called The Aisle, which is geared toward newlyweds looking to settle in the Bergen County area.

“We will be giving them some basics about budgeting, finances and savings,” said Tamra Ackerman, LSW, the social worker at Project Ezrah who will be presenting at the event with Abbe Greenberg, LSW, a local therapist and case manager who assists families in crisis to identify and apply for services in New Jersey. “We will also touch a little bit on what it’s like for people to come together from two different places and families. Some families are big on spending, while others would rather save. We don’t want a marriage to suffer from this kind of financial discord.”

“People are not always aware of what it costs to live in Bergen County in 2020,” Ackerman said. Bergen County lifestyles and expenses will be one of the main components of this event.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, a not-for-profit, non-partisan think tank that focuses on the needs of low- and middle-income workers, Bergen County is one of the most expensive places to live in 2018. The estimated needed salary for a family of two adults and two children is $105,042.00 per year. This figure does not take into account any aspects of keeping a kosher home. It is believed that kosher food can cost between 20% to 50% more than non-kosher food. This figure also does not consider the cost of private school. Combining these two unique needs will increase the basic number considerably. These facts should be strongly considered when planning to move to and raise a family here in Bergen.

Often, couples come to recognize their higher-than-typical living expenses far too late in the family experience. At this point, making a large change in where they are going to live or where their children go to school becomes more difficult. In her capacity as a social worker at Project Ezrah, Ackerman has to address this uncomfortable fact head-on with couples and parents who are drowning under the wave of expenses that they cannot afford.

Another challenge Ackerman often deals with when it comes to financial counseling is clients’ lack of acquaintance with their own bills.

“One thing we’ll talk about (at The Aisle) is encouraging people to know what their expenses are,” Ackerman said.

“It’s typical for people to put everything on auto pay, and pay everything off on a credit card at the end of the month,” she said. “Even if you’re fortunate not to accrue any debt, you’re still missing out on what’s going on with your bills.” Ackerman, when reviewing clients’ bills, routinely finds unnecessary or increased charges.

Ackerman and Greenberg aim to create an open, informative and judgment-free space for tackling these sensitive yet critical subjects. Engaged, newly married or recently re-married couples are invited to attend.

Project Ezrah assists families depending on their level of need. Services include a free employment assistance program, benefit and resource consulting, pro-bono referral program, Medicare education and a financial receivership program. The most hands-on program is financial receivership, where Project Ezrah takes over bill payments and other expenses while families get back on their feet.

The Aisle was conceived by the entire Project Ezrah professional team several years ago. After almost two decades of direct work with families and the entire community, the idea of developing a pre-emptive educational experience for couples seemed a natural fit. The entire Project Ezrah team is always focused on encouraging financial self-sufficiency. The Aisle is intended to put people on that path. Looking forward to seeing you there!

The Aisle is sponsored by Tamar & Ross Rothenberg and Elana & Marc Rothenberg.