Editor’s note: This commentary was first published Feb. 26, 2015.
FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. — As a long-time military spouse, I have held various jobs – and I know many of you can relate. I served as a military and family life counselor at an Airman and Family Readiness Center and had the privilege of working with fellow military families to create budgets, develop debt-payment plans, manage credit and save toward goals.
I remember one military spouse in particular who came to see me while her Airman was deployed. She “handled the family finances just fine” by doing what the couple had always done (even before the deployment). She came to see me after hearing about how the readiness center offers free financial counseling at a spouse meeting. She thought she and her husband could be better at paying down debt and saving for a trip to see family when her husband returned. I only met with her twice, but together we developed a plan she knew she could follow and commit to by making minor tweaks to her everyday expenses during the deployment. I happened to see her again shortly before he came home and she gave me a big hug and shared with me she had managed to save enough for the visit home and pay off some of the credit card debt. I do hope that she and her Airman were able to stay on track and reach their goals – healthier finances usually means healthier Airmen.
The financial well-being of our military community is a significant readiness issue. Today’s complex financial environment and uncertain future demand we have the knowledge to make informed choices about budgeting, saving, credit and debt, the Thrift Savings Program, and many more “fact-of-life” issues. To further complicate financial readiness plans, our military lifestyle includes frequent relocations and deployments. But our way of life doesn’t have to hinder our ability to manage family finances successfully.
There are a wide variety of resources available to help put us on the path to financial freedom. Whether you prefer a classroom setting, an online experience, a multimedia approach, or an individual consultation in person or virtually, there is a solution to help meet your needs.
The Airman and Family Readiness Center provides educational opportunities to help you take charge of your finances. There are classes and workshops on specific topics, but you can also meet with a certified financial counselor to get personal assistance with your unique goals.
Emergency financial assistance organizations, such as the Air Force Aid Society, can meet immediate financial needs in an emergency situation. The society provides interest-free loans and grants based on the individual situation for needs such as: basic living expenses, emergency travel, vehicle expenses, funeral expenses, medical/dental care, child care/respite care, or moving expenses.
Military OneSource “Money Matters” provides help with topics, such as financial wellness, how-to strategies, sample budgets, mortgages and foreclosures. Financial consultants are available to provide confidential financial counseling with a certified financial professional. Counselors are available online and by phone.
Several non-profit organizations, such as The USAA Educational Foundation and the Consumer Federation of America’s Military Saves program, provide financial education, resources and programs to service members and their families. These programs aren’t about selling you products. They are strictly educational and focus on setting financial goals, managing credit and debt, saving and investing, and risk management.
Financial woes can negatively affect your personal and family well-being, and it can critically injure the effectiveness of your mission readiness. These resources are ideally used as a preventive measure rather than a corrective measure, but like the spouse I worked with years ago, you must be proactive in identifying what you need assistance with and seeking it out.
In spite of any perceived stigma, seek out help and take action for your financial security. Use the resources exclusively available to you as a military community to help you make effective financial decisions and improve your financial capability. Always remember that financial readiness is critical to mission readiness.