As tightening budgets in the government put a greater focus on finances, individuals tend to look more closely at their own spending habits as well. For servicemembers, monetary decisions can be a bit more involved than the average individual. Deployments, relocations, and other aspects of military life can add certain strains to personnel pocketbooks. Luckily, there are a number of financial planning resources available to members of the armed forces to keep their funds steady.
“The personal financial educators at the Fleet/Military and Family Support Centers should be service member’s number one resource to keeping themselves out of debt,” said Paul Grossman, regional work and family life coordinator. “Financial educators provide one-on-one consultations and group sessions two address financial concerns and issues confronting service members and their families. Services are designed to support short and long range term financial needs, plans and goals to include assistance with money management, savings and investing, credit management, retirement planning and plethora of other topics.”
Grossman said that additional services are available through Military OneSource for those unable to attend in-person counseling or in locations where in-person counseling is not available. Relief societies provide one-on-one assistance to service members and their families that have immediate needs with unforeseen family emergencies. Servicemembers should also consider contacting their local credit union or bank to determine if financial counseling services are available.
These resources make it easy for servicemembers, deployed or at home, to manage finances. But for those who might already be facing debt or other monetary challenges, Grossman adds that there are outlets for them as well.
“If a servicemember is facing debt, the first step is to gather their financial documents and meet with a personal financial educator to complete a financial analysis,” said Grossman. “At a minimum, documents should include latest leave and earning statement, banking, credit cards, and utility statements. During the one-on-one session, a servicemember should be prepared to evaluate how their income is being expended each month in terms of living expenses, savings, and debt. The goal of the session is to develop a roadmap to determine where they are today and the destinations they want to reach. Financial planning is about helping servicemembers - single or married - envision and realize their dreams and goals by managing their financial resources, regardless of age and financial circumstances. Additionally, most Navy commands have command financial specialists who can also assist service members struggling with their finances.”
Grossman explained that financial management takes some discipline, and an understanding between “wants and needs.” He said that a common pitfall of servicemembers is a lack of understanding between gross income, take-home pay, and living within their means.
“The day a service member enters the military they need to understand their leave and earning statement,” said Grossman. “It’s so easy to want to ‘keep up with the Jones.’ However, it’s not always practical. Before making any large purchases, every servicemember should ask, ‘Do I really need it, and can I afford it?’ Think about the purchase for couple of days. Most of the time making impulsive purchases is very costly.”
Grossman added that financial management should be a concern to servicemembers throughout their careers, from E-1 to O-10. The only things that should change in that time, said Grossman, are personal financial goals.
“Financial planning is a roadmap to get from your twenties to your eighties. It’s marking on the roadmap where you are today and the destinations you want to reach at each stage of your life,” said Grossman. “These destinations include dreams and goals such as buying a home, starting a family, building an emergency fund, reducing debt, funding a college education, taking care of elderly parents and retiring comfortably. Will you reach every goal? You probably will not. However, with smart financial planning, you might not have to take too many detours.”
For more information on military financial management, contact your local Fleet/Military and Family Support Center, or visit www.saveandinvest.org/MilitaryCenter.