Can one week change your financial future?

Friday, February 27, 2015

Have you been paying attention this week? Maybe it dropped off your radar screen as you scanned sites for the best cell phone buys, stood in line for your grande caramel latte fix, waited for that quickie fast food lunch or bought that impulse pair of shoes you just had to have. I was probably right behind you in those lines. Thankfully, I have a better half who pays attention and balances my open wallet habits with strong fiscal conservancy during this Military Saves Week, and every week of the year.

Our military leaders do a great job of acknowledging the diversity among our Armed Forces, the importance of various social issues and our wonderful ‘Brats’ and milspouses with monthly and weekly observances. Military Saves Week may not come with a lot of bells and whistles, but listening to its message of financial preparedness just may change your future.

Let’s be honest. Long term planning is not something that comes easy for us in the military community. We tend to focus on shorter time spans – when is the next promotion, how long an assignment will last, the months of a deployment. But the current climate of drawdowns and program cuts should have everyone thinking about what may be coming down the line. Will you be ready for an unexpected transition out of service? Could your household budget handle some of the extra costs military families face if our benefits change (AUSA Family Programs director Patty Barron outlined what those out of pocket expenses might be in a recent Firing Line post: http://www.ausa.org/FiringLine/Pages/FROutofPocket.aspx).

Military Saves Week provides an opportunity to look at the current state of your finances and begin preparing for life’s unexpected events. The friendly folks at Navy Federal Credit Union took time to outline some steps even us Army landlubbers can use for personal financial readiness.

1. Create a cushion. According to Mark Estep, manager of operations, training and media for NFCU’s Financial Group, many of the concerns Soldiers and spouses may have concerning transitions or dealing with unexpected expenses can be addressed with an emergency fund. “Most financial experts recommend having six months of your current salary in liquid savings,” Mark told me. “That is a civilian number and transitioning service members may need more, maybe 8 months,” he added. You have to remember that the costs the military has covered for you, through clothing allowances and BAQ for example, won’t be included in those future civilian paychecks.  Mark also noted that service members also find themselves responsible for taxes, vehicle expenses, life insurance costs and health care fees they’ve been able to avoid on active duty.

Saving eight months of your salary may seem like a daunting task, but Mark assured me it is never too late or too early to start. “The biggest problem for many people is mental,” he explained. “Just get started, even if it is $5. Look at small savings account options offered by your bank. Get the money you want to save out of your checking account so you can’t spend it. Make yourself afford it by giving up that cup of coffee or fast food lunch,” he suggested.

2. Build a budget. Whether you are single or married, sitting down to develop a monthly budget is an important step in financial readiness, Mark shared. “I read that 80% of divorces are caused by money issues,” he said. Open discussions about money matters are not often easy so couples might want to take advantage of financial counseling services at their bank or savings institution. “If you don’t think you can do it yourself, get a third party involved who might have more information to help you create a budget,” he offered.

3. Be debt conscious. Mark suggests eliminating high interest credit cards from your wallet. “Work to pay off cards with double digit interest rates, and only use cards with lower rates,” he advised.

4. Use available resources. “The reality is, many transitioning service members have to change their thought process from the mindset that the military is responsible for everything to now you are,” said Mark. So start managing the process as soon as possible he advised. Take advantage of all the classes available to help make the transition process easier. Visiting the transition resource page at www.militaryonesource.mil is a great first step to see all the programs and benefits available. “Talking with a financial advisor can be extremely helpful,” he added. “They can help you get a better focus on civilian life expenses. Here at NFCU the needs of transitioning soldiers are the advisors’ wheelhouse. They can help identify available benefits and your needs and help empower you to take advantage of those benefits,” Mark stressed. Financial assistance programs should also be available at your installation or visit the official Military Saves site – http://www.militarysaves.org/ – for tips on how to build your cushion and protect your future. 

5. Spouses, don’t be a silent partner. Two heads are often better than one when it comes to learning about all the benefits and resources available for transitioning Soldiers, Mark shared. Spouses have access to militaryonesource.mil and can now attend Army Career and Alumni Program classes. ”Don’t be afraid to remind your service member about [ACAP] classes,” he said. “Be a part of the decisions you have to make.”

As Military Saves Week comes to a close, do something positive for your financial future. Step away from that coffee shop, lunch spot or store register and walk to your nearest bank. Use that money to open a new savings account or make a deposit in your current savings plan. Even a little can go a long way to building your financial readiness for whatever the future holds.

And don’t forget that AUSA offers lots of resources and mentoring programs for Soldiers and spouses while serving and through transitions out of the military. Visit http://www.ausa.org/.