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Lower increases in pay, allowances may put strain on families

Sunday, February 01, 2015

The recent changes to the pay and benefits rates, which became effective on Jan. 1, 2015, included a 1 percent increase in pay for service members and a 0.5 percent increase in Basic Allowance for Housing. Both of these increases are lower than in past years and can put a strain on family budgets.

Add to that the possibility of further military personnel reductions, which can mean the separation of an additional 40,000 to 50,000 soldiers, and Army families begin to look closely at their financial health in anticipation of leaner times.

Financial readiness starts with a good plan.

But, you can’t make a plan without understanding a few basic financial concepts.

According to mymoney.gov, making the most of your money starts with five building blocks for managing and growing your money – The MyMoney Five.

EARN – Make the most of what you earn by understanding your pay and benefits.

SAVE & INVEST – It’s never too early to start saving for future goals such as a house or retirement, even by saving small amounts.

PROTECT – Taking precautions about your financial situation, accumulate emergency savings, and have the right insurance.

SPEND – Be sure you are getting a good value, especially with big purchases, by shopping around and comparing prices and products.

BORROW – Borrowing money can enable some essential purchases and builds credit, but interest costs can be expensive. And, if you borrow too much, you will have a large debt to be repaid.

Sure, that’s easy to read, but where do you even start?

Start with Military Saves.

Military Saves is a campaign coordinated by the nonprofit Consumer Federation of America (CFA) and is dedicated to helping servicemembers and their families save money, reduce debt, and build wealth. This website takes you through crucial steps toward debt reduction and building a solid financial future keeping your military lifestyle in mind.

According to Military Saves: "Saving money, improving your financial life, building wealth...it all starts when you set a goal and make a plan to reach that goal." Military Saves supports you in all these areas and gives you further tools and resources to make sure you stay on track.

Check out the financial education sections provided by your bank or insurance companies. USAA, for instance, has a plethora of financial information tailored to your military lifestyle.

Save and Invest is a project of the FINRA Investor Education Foundation. It is a free resource dedicated to financial health.

Sections such as Financial Basics, Control Debt, Protect Your Money, and more make it easy to find the information that is specific to you and your needs.

But even the best laid plan won’t work if you don’t execute. And that is where many of us fail to see progress and or get so frustrated we give up.

According to an article written by Jacqueline Curtis for the Money Crashers website, personal budgets fail due to seven common reasons:

1. It’s Too Restrictive

2. You Don’t Set Goals

3. You Haven’t Adjusted It Since Day One

4. Your Spouse Isn’t On Board

5. You Didn’t Plan for Emergencies

6. You Didn’t Give It Enough Time

7. You Really, Really Hate Budgets

"Budgeting is not an exact science. It takes work, tweaking, practice, and a lot of trial and error to make it effective in the real world," Curtis states.

Military families include young, blended, single parent, and geographically separated families. All of these scenarios can add financial stress to even the best financially sound budget. Additionally, the difficulty in finding employment for military spouses who move often makes the single paycheck household more common than not.

Living pay check to pay check is a reality among many military households. However, with the current focus on force reduction many soldiers will keep their financial situations to themselves. And unfortunately there are many predatory lending companies that set up shop right outside military installation gates and can make soldiers’ financial situations much worse.

Therefore, the final ingredient to sound financial health is to know your rights and protections under the law.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFBP) Servicemember Affairs ensures that military personnel and their families have a voice at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

So too does the Better Business Bureau (BBB). The BBB Military also provides free resources to military members and their families in the areas of financial literacy and consumer protection through the efforts of the 112 BBB’s across the country.

So get informed, create a plan, and know your rights. By this time in 2016 you will be glad you did.