Category Archives: Resources + Information

Saving Money on a Military Income: It CAN be Done!

piggy-bankWhen it comes to saving money in a military household, most of us wonder where all this “extra money” is supposed to come from…especially for families in the enlisted ranks. When I was a new military spouse, my husband and I lived paycheck to paycheck. There just didn’t seem to be any other way to do it. How could we save money if there was barely any money at the end of the month?

Like myself, I think many military families may have trouble figuring out where to start, and how to make life something other than ‘paycheck to paycheck.’ And what if an emergency happens? Just charge it to a credit card, right?

Then I learned otherwise.

On a quest to get serious about our financial well-being, my husband and I paid off over $17,000 of debt in just 14 months. All by learning how to save. We followed Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University. The trick we used was simple: don’t spend money.

WAIT. Hear me out!

We simply cut back on things that didn’t seem necessary: eating out every day for lunch, buying new clothes just because they’re on sale, or swinging by Starbucks on cold mornings. Oh, and using our debit cards.

Yep. We started using cash for everything.

With certain techniques, we learned to spend less, and save more.

Save Money for the Fun Things
Instead of impulse shopping with money you don’t have (i.e., credit cards), save your money for big purchases. This will give you time to shop around for the best deals, and may even give you time to think about whether what you’re buying is really necessary.

And there’s something to be said about paying for things in cash. Try it sometime and see how it makes you feel. Yes. Feel those feelings. Spending a crisp $50 bill feels a bit different than swiping your debit card. And TWO crisp $50 bills? That hurts! Ok, it doesn’t literally hurt, but you get it.

But Don’t Forget About the Future
Experts like Scott Halliwell, Certified Financial Planner™, with USAA says, “You need to save money for your future.

And he’s not just referring to retirement. Most military families don’t think long term about financial readiness. A Thrift Savings Plan won’t cover everything.

Scott explains, “No matter your age, there is one thing nearly everyone can count on: Your income probably isn’t always going to cover 100% of your wants and needs all the time. As a result, you need to save money today so it’s available down the road.”

My husband and I took this tip very seriously. When we started our financial readiness journey, getting a solid ‘emergency fund’ in place was the top priority. Each pay period, when we had extra money, we put it into our savings account until we hit $1000. It’s grown exponentially since those first days.

We also have a mutual understanding that Emergency Fund money is for just that: emergencies.

Saving money, in any fashion, is one of the smartest things you can do for your military family, in my opinion. What if BAH goes down? How will you cover your off-post rent? If TRICARE requires military families to pay more out of pocket, how will you buy yourself a pair of glasses? With money saved for the future, little ‘emergencies’ seem to be just an inconvenience, instead.

We live in a world where happiness seems to be associated with “things.” Remember: life isn’t about keeping up with the Staff Sergeant next door, and with a savings plan in place, you won’t have to!

Do you have any financial success stories or tips? Share them with us!


shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Online Engagement Manager

Tired of Searching for Employment Resources? MyMilitaryLife App Puts the Answers You Need at Your Fingertips!

MyMilitaryLife graphicIt is no secret we, as military spouses, constantly struggle to find employment. We reinvent ourselves wherever our military life takes us. One new resource you should know about is MyMilitaryLife app. If you haven’t downloaded it yet, get on your phone right now and join our mobile community!

Why is this app different and how can it help you find a job? To begin with, it is created by military spouses and subject-matter experts. We get information directly from the people who use it. You can be certain the information provided is legit and the resources recommended are trustworthy. Second, you don’t have to endlessly browse through stuff that doesn’t matter to you. Personalize your experience by answering basic questions about yourself and the app filters information — you only see what you need. Finally, the app gives you a platform to share what you’ve learned with fellow spouses. You can leave comments and read what other spouses recommend.

The Spouse Employment Life Path helps shed some light on questions like:

  • What employment support can I find on/off my installation?—Know where to start when looking for employment. Find the programs, workshops and career fairs especially designed for you.
  • How can I transfer my professional license if we move?—Find updated licensure information on the state you are relocating to.
  • Is working from home right for me?—Being a remote employee or having your own e-business can be a rewarding career choice. Start by reading these tips first.
  • Am I eligible for unemployment compensation if we PCS?—Unemployment compensation is a benefit that you earned. Learn how to apply for it.

Here’s how the app can work for you. Think of moving. You don’t always know where to start when searching for new employment opportunities. You might not know anybody in the area and you once again you have to explain why your resume looks the way it does. The Spouse Employment Life Path in the MyMilitaryLife App offers a wide range of networking tips. Additionally, it points you to local spouse groups, networks and organizations that can connect you with military-friendly employers.

Having an app that filters everything for you to get the specific information you need is priceless.

Download our MyMilitaryLife app today and let us know what you think!

Marlis Perez RiveraPosted by Marlis Perez Rivera, Content Specialist, MyMilitaryLife App

Catering to the Job-Seeking Military Spouse: MSCCN Gets It Done!

woman-in-suitWe all know that, as military spouses, we face all kinds of challenges with employment, even in the best economic times. I used all of the resources that I knew of: the Airmen & Family Readiness Center, Military One Source, USAjobs, etc.

I also used the Military Spouse Employment Partnership (MSEP), created by the First Lady and Dr. Jill Biden’s Joining Forces Initiative, and maintained through the Department of Defense Spouse Education & Career Opportunities Program. MSEP has more than 200 corporate partners that have hired more than 50,000 spouses since 2011. MSEP has a portal where corporate partners post job openings aimed at military spouses and take a pledge to provide employment with promotion potential and can endure through a PCS move. One of those partners is the Military Spouse Corporate Career Network (MSCCN).

MSCCN is the only non-profit organization specifically for military spouse employment. They provide training, job placement, and services to military-affiliated spouses, retiree spouses and caregivers for wounded warriors.

I think what drew me in was the “corporate career” part of their title. Because of my advanced education, I found that (like many military spouses) the jobs most frequently posted would force me into underemployment. I needed to make enough money to cover the cost of childcare, and also advance my career goals. I couldn’t justify the financial and non-financial costs of working outside of the home, otherwise. I was very serious about my career, and that is the kind of spouse MSCCN wants to help. It is not just a job placement service – it is a career service.

When I called MSCCN, I was connected with a career counselor that had at least a Bachelor’s degree level of education. She also knew how to help me craft a resume for federal employment, as well as the private sector.

Prior to contacting MSCCN, I had used services that were not created for spouses with advanced levels of education, most topped out with help for those with a Bachelor’s. They didn’t know what to do with me beyond helping with a resume.

The counselor I had from MSCCN was not intimidated at all. She jumped right in, helping me with ideas for new areas of employment that I might qualify for. She also sent me job postings regularly, and checked in when she didn’t hear from me for a while. Though I didn’t ultimately locate a placement through them (because I found one on my own), I did receive coaching and encouragement that helped me secure my current job. I am eternally grateful for what she did for me…giving me personalized advice, coaching and confidence.

MSCCN doesn’t just provide great job placement training, advice, and assistance. It produces the Military Service Employment Journal, which is a great resource for hiring tips, information on companies that are military friendly, and success stories of job seekers.

They are also part of a new collaboration called Spouse Nation, which gives spouses an opportunity to connect with other spouses, or programs, through lifestyle paths like caregiver, entrepreneur, parent, or fun-seeker!

MSCCN has agreements with each branch of the Services to operate as an employment partner, and it maintains the National Guard Employment Program with its sister organization, Corporate America Supports You (CASY).

CASY performs the same services as MSCCN, but for veterans, transitioning military, and wounded warriors. CASY-MSCCN also gathers metrics for DoD, the White House, the Service branches, and others. They have a well-trained staff that understands the military experience, ready and waiting to help you get launched into your career!

Are you a job-seeking spouse with an advanced degree? What hindrances do you often face? Let us know in the comments!

Brooke-GoldbergPosted by Brooke Goldberg, Government Relations Deputy Director

Let’s Be Social: Connect With Us!

OscarsSelfie

We love that you’ve found our Association’s blog, but did you know that we’re also on practically every other social media platform? From Facebook to Youtube, we’ll meet you where ever you are! Follow us and see what we’re up to. Look what you’re missing: Ellen photo-bombed our staff’s Oscars picture!

Check us out on:

Facebook
Twitter
Instagram
YouTube
Flickr

What’s your favorite way to keep in touch with us?

OCONUS Orders: Where Will My Kids Go to School?

Siblings-with-backpacks-on-way-to-schoolOne of the great advantages of military life is the opportunity to live overseas. How many of our civilian friends and neighbors have the chance to pick up and spend two or three years exploring Japan, Germany, or Korea? However, along with the excitement that accompanies overseas Permanent Change of Station (PCS ) orders comes an onslaught of questions. Where will we live? What about the dog? And – most importantly for families with school-age children – where will the kids go to school?

For most families moving overseas, the choice of a school is fairly straightforward. The Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) operates elementary and secondary schools at installations in countries all over the world, including Germany, the United Kingdom, Italy, Turkey, Bahrain, South Korea, and Japan. For families stationed at these locations, these Department of Defense Dependents Schools (DoDDS) provide a comprehensive, quality education to children in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.

However, what about those families heading to a country not served by a DoDDS school? How can they find an appropriate school for their school-age children? For answers to these and many other questions, families heading overseas can turn to the Non-DoD Schools Program (NDSP). The NDSP provides support and funding for the education of authorized command-sponsored dependents of military members and Department of Defense (DoD) civilian employees assigned to overseas areas where no DoDEA school is available.

The NDSP supports families moving overseas in a variety of ways. First, it helps families identify the different options for educating their children in their new location: local public school, private school, virtual education, or homeschooling. Your new command or overseas location should have an NDSP Liaison who can provide you with information on your choices. You can also find contact information for regional instructional specialists at the NDSP website.

Depending on your child’s grade level and the options available at your new location, the NDSP may be authorized to pay tuition for your child to attend a private school. Allowed tuition amounts vary by location.

It’s important for families to understand that not all the costs associated with attending school in their new location will be covered by NDSP. NDSP is not allowed to pay for uniforms, meals, or personal computers, for example. Families should also be aware that private schools may have a lengthy application process, so it’s important to reach out to NDSP for support and information as soon as possible after receiving orders.

Parents of special needs children may be especially concerned about an overseas move and the ability of the local school system to meet their child’s educational needs. The NDSP can offer guidance about options available in your new location and will work with parents, service providers, and school personnel to make sure your child’s needs can be met.

Moving overseas can be an exciting adventure for your family. Arming yourself with as much information as possible beforehand helps ensure it will be a positive experience for everyone. Bon voyage, travel safe, and be sure to take lots of pictures!

Has your child attend a NDSP school? What advice would you share with military parents?

eileenPosted by Eileen Huck, Government Relations Deputy Director

Captains and Majors: Here’s Your Pink Slip

soldier-on-ledgeEven though I’ve been tracking the Army drawdown as part of my role here at the Association, it still came as a shock when I realized that my family would be affected. I was at work one day when I read an announcement regarding the Captain/Major Involuntary Separation Boards scheduled for this spring. I emailed my husband to ask if anyone we knew was affected. Thirty seconds later the phone rang. It was my husband. “Karen,” he said, “That’s us. My year group is going before the board.”

We remain a Nation at war.

I think my disconnect stems from the fact that our Army community is still so immersed in the war. One of our friends just returned from his fifth deployment. After spending over 5 years in Iraq and Afghanistan, he’ll be going before the board in April. Another is deploying to Afghanistan this spring. His wife was in tears at his promotion ceremony as guests discussed his impending departure. Just a few weeks ago, my own husband came home and informed me that his group had been hit with several WIAS (Worldwide Individual Augmentation System) taskers, meaning another potential deployment for him.

On some level I understood a drawdown was inevitable, but I guess I never expected to be simultaneously worried about a deployment to Afghanistan and a pink slip because my husband’s service is no longer needed.

One of my biggest concerns is how we are going to continue to meet the challenges of Army life with this additional level of uncertainty. This is not the sort of job you can do with one foot out the door. My husband’s Army career, including 3 deployments and 5 PCS moves, has required 100% commitment not only from him, but from our entire family. It is hard for me to imagine tackling similar challenges in the future while also preparing for the possibility of being shown the door.

After adjusting to the shock, I did what I always do when I’m anxious. I kicked into high research gear. I compiled all the information that we’ve received and briefed our volunteers at Fort Leavenworth, a post with a high population of majors attending Command and General Staff College (CGSC.)

Here is what we know:

  • Almost 19,000 Army Captains and Majors will be screened for separation and early retirement boards this spring. The boards could select up to 20% (3,800) of the considered population for involuntary separation.
  • Officers subject to these boards are Army Competitive Category Captains in year groups 2006, 2007, and 2008 and Majors in year groups 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, and 2003.
  • The Officer Separation Board (OSB) will screen officers with fewer than 18 years of active federal service (AFS). The Enhanced Selective Early Retirement Board (E-SERB) will screen officers with 18 or more years AFS.
  • Officers selected for separation by the E-SERB will be allowed to serve their 20 years, earning them full retirement benefits.
  • Those selected for separation by the OSB are eligible for involuntary separation pay, provided they have at least 6 years AFS.
  • Selected officers with at least 15 years AFS on the date of their separation are also eligible to request consideration for early retirement under the Temporary Early Retirement Authority (TERA). It will be the officer’s choice to select separation pay or TERA. Please note TERA is discretionary, not an entitlement.
  • The boards convene in April/May of 2014.
  • Decisions are expected to be released in August 2014.
  • There will be no “re-look” or “standby” boards, and a very limited appeals process.
  • Actual separation will occur no earlier than the 1st day of the 9th month following release of the boards’ results (e.g., if the results are released in August 2014, separation will occur in May 2015)
  • Officers in the Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES) will be considered by the boards. If selected, the separation date will be determined on a case by case basis.
  • Officers with non-statutory Active Duty Service Obligations (ADSOs) incurred for military schooling, PCS, etc. will be considered by the board. If selected for separation, the non-statutory ADSO will be waived.
  • Officers with statutory ADSOs (e.g., Tuition Assistance, Advanced Civil Schooling, Critical Skills Retention Bonus) will be considered by the board. If selected for separation, the ADSO will be waived and the officer will not be required to repay any unearned portion of the pay or benefit received. As a condition of receiving separation pay, officers who have a statutory ADSO waived must serve in the Ready Reserve for three years.
  • Selection for separation will have no impact on GI Bill benefits for the officer’s own use. In addition, members who transferred benefits to dependents prior to selection will retain their transfer and not face recoupment if they agree to serve until the mandatory separation date.

Captains and Majors in the affected year groups are encouraged to have their photos updated and to scrub their board files. They should receive guidance from their chain of command in terms of reviewing their official record and preparing it for the board.

Is your family concerned about involuntary separation and drawdowns? Please share your questions and concerns.

karen-rPosted by Karen Ruedisueli, Government Relations Deputy Director

Set a Goal. Make a Plan. Save Automatically.

military-saves-weekMilitary Saves Week starts February 24 and runs through March 1. In the weeks leading up to and including Military Saves Week, many installations host programs and events that focus on saving. I’d like to take this opportunity to encourage you to attend one of these events. Why? I know many join the military because it provides a steady dependable paycheck, and if a service member stays in for more than 20 years, the retirement pension is guaranteed at a set and predictable rate. However, recent events (cuts to the COLA, a 1% pay raise for 2014, and proposed changes to the commissaries) show how uncertain those guarantees are. We are all one congressional vote away from any change to the benefits packages that were offered when our service member signed up.

It’s simple, really. Like the old saying goes, “The only guarantees in life are death and taxes.” I’ve said before that as military families, we prepare for the worst and hope for the best. This is just as applicable in your financial life as it is anywhere else. So, if you get that retirement pension for military service, great! This does not negate your responsibility to save for your retirement. Make sure you are using the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), use the Savings Deposit Program (SDP) during deployments, and open up a Roth IRA (yes, I said “and,” it’s called diversification). There are a million ways to save your money to ease your long-term financial worries and burdens, and that means a more peaceful and enjoyable retirement. Don’t we all want that, especially after living a military life?

On that note, I will point out that not everyone who joins the service will stay in for 20 years or more. In fact, only 17% who serve end up making it to retirement. So, savings should start as early as possible and as often as possible. Another old saying tells you to pay yourself first. Find 10% of your income to pay (to yourself) in a retirement account. The earlier you start, the more money you will have at retirement because those first dollars grow the most.

One more big point I want to make is for you spouses, yeah, you, the one who is keeping the checkbook balanced, holding down the homefront, or running around like a chicken without a head, savings is also for you! There is no reason why all of the retirement and savings needs to be in the service member’s name or in connection with their employer; get some savings in your name, too. I am not implying that your marriage is on the rocks. I am reminding you that life happens, and facilitating your ability to take command of the ship if you need to, is part of having a secure family. You deserve to have assets, savings, and a nice credit score, too. These are all important factors for long-term financial success, regardless of whether you are inseparable for life.

Military Saves has a great motto this year, “Set a Goal. Make a Plan. Save Automatically.” Their website has tools and resources for you to learn how to save smart and make the most of your financial power. Take some time this month to learn more about how you can build your family’s wealth!

Have you considered savings as a spouse? Share your thoughts!

Brooke-GoldbergPosted by Brooke Goldberg, Government Relations Deputy Director

Here’s Your New Deployment Survival Guide!

Dads-homeI can identify the Fort Campbell hangar immediately when looking through pictures. The color on the walls, the bleachers, and the banners welcoming our heroes home. I remember the anxious feeling when my husband was both leaving and coming home from deployment. Anxious to get the deployment started so he could return home, and anxious to introduce him to our new family of three and welcome him to our new house.

Have you ever heard that saying “you don’t know, what you don’t know?” That’s how I feel looking back on our first deployment. We were married in September and my husband deployed in December. I didn’t want to move to a new installation by myself so I moved home with my mom. Little did I know that moving home meant I would be completely out of touch with my husband’s unit.

I received monthly emails about some things, but was never contacted about other things. During the year-long deployment, I received only two phone calls from the Family Readiness Group (FRG). I felt a little out of the loop, and under informed, to say the least! I am fortunate that my husband communicates well enough to keep me in the know. Now, I urge spouses to get out there, get involved, and stay informed! There are so many awesome resources available that won’t come knock on your door.

If there was an app like MyMilitaryLife available to me during our first deployment, my time away from my husband would have been very different. I feel like I would have been able to manage that time better, and I could have actively involved myself with his unit’s happenings. Hindsight is great, but I realize now, just how much I missed out!

With MyMilitaryLife at my fingertips, I would have utilized the Deployment Life Path and discovered the Red Cross offers online courses about deployment cycles. Military OneSource has a website, called ‘Plan My Deployment,’ with planning tools, checklists, and helpful tips. The National Military Family Association has Operation Purple® Camps for children with a parent that has been, is currently, or will be deployed. Aside from this, there are Family Retreats to help families reintegrate after deployment.

If my husband deploys again, I am prepared with resources to help, and if I have any questions I know I can pull up MyMilitaryLife on my phone to find the answer.

Download our MyMilitaryLife app today and let us know what you think!

Amanda headshotPosted by Amanda Anderson, Content Manager, MyMilitaryLife

Making a Resolution to Save!

money-resolutionsHere we are in 2014, after a holiday season that probably involved a lot of spending, rather than saving. You may not have made a New Year’s Resolution to save, but it’s not too late to come up with a promise to yourself and your financial readiness. America Saves has a great program that has helped many service members and their families become better savers.

Make a pledge to save at America Saves (a campaign of the nonprofit Consumer Federation of America), and they will send you text messages to remind you to work toward your savings goal. You can choose the purpose of your savings goal (ex: vacation, retirement, home purchase), how much you want to save per month, and for how many months.

Military Saves, a component of the America Saves campaign and partner of the Department of Defense’s Financial Readiness Campaign, also has a pledge program that will help you meet your goals for 2014 saving. When you pledge, you will get their newsletter with great strategies for saving. You may learn about some special programs that are only available to military. For example, the Savings Deposit Plan which can only be used during deployments and is guaranteed a 10% return rate annually. You can’t beat that for a savings program!

They also give great tips for how to save on a tight budget. Military Saves Week is February 24 – March 1, 2014, and installations everywhere will be hosting events to promote financial readiness for service members and their families.

January is also the time of year when your W-2 arrives in the mail, or becomes available online, and you start thinking about that tax return or bill. If you will get a tax return from 2013, think about whether or not that should be used to pay down debt or factor into your savings plan. America Saves has more tips on how to save money at tax time.

With all of these resources at your fingertips, you have no excuse not to make a plan to save that is worth sticking to!

Take the Military Saves Pledge today!

brookePosted by Brooke Goldberg, Government Relations Deputy Director

Moving with Pets: Must do’s before you PCS

pcs-with-dogFun fact about my dog, Macy: she’s four years old and has lived in three different states. She grew up on an Oklahoma farm with a mini horse, and the night before Thanksgiving this year, she ate 24 dinner rolls when no one was home. Pretty special, no?

Moving her to three different states has been interesting, as you can imagine. The lesson learned is that PCS moves don’t just affect school-aged kids and military spouse careers, they can be just as tough for our furry friends. Not to mention how time consuming it can be to get our pets ready for an OCONUS move.

In my own move, I made sure that Macy was up-to-date on all vaccines, and got a copy of her record from my veterinarian to keep with us in the car while we drove to our new installation. I packed a bag of things for Macy, like a bucket of food, some bones, a leash, and extra water. Since she loves the car, we didn’t have to worry about how she would do on the drive, but if your furry friend isn’t accustomed to car travel, you may want to use a crate to keep them confined for their own safety.

If you know your move may take a few days, and staying in a hotel is a must, be sure to find pet-friendly hotels along the way. La Quinta Inn is extrememly pet friendly – they don’t even require a pet deposit! Moving can be expensive, and it can be frustrating to have to pay an extra $200 for our pup to stay with us in our hotel room.

It’s not like she eats things she shouldn’t.

During our travels from our installation in Northern Virginia to Pensacola, Florida, we made sure to make many stops, even if WE didn’t need to. Depending on the type of pet you have, they may need potty breaks frequently. Because I carried a water bowl in our car, I was able to give Macy a water break when we stopped.

pcs-with-pets

A tip for uneventful travel, is to limit feedings prior to getting on the road. It’s recommended to feed your pet a few hours before leaving, and lightly when stopping for the night. Letting your pet chow down in the midst of travel can cause upset stomachs, thirst, and Macy’s personal demon: really bad gas.

Do yourself that favor. Trust me.

Moving overseas with a pet can present its own challenges, too. Make sure your pet is accustomed to being in their crate. This is how your pet will travel on the plane, so helping them feel safe and comfortable in one makes for a stress-free flight for both of you. Check customs requirements and ensure that your pet is allowed in the country you are moving to – some have breed restrictions. Even Hawaii has strict regulations and quarantine requirements. Get all paperwork done sooner, rather than later!

Another important tip: contact the airline company to find out all the important information you need prior to your flight. Here’s a checklist from United Airlines. Will your pet’s crate fit on the plane? Are they small enough to travel in the cabin? Booking weekday flights are best, as some veterinary employees may not be working on the weekends. Ensure that your total travel time does not exceed 12 hours – non-stop flights are ideal because they reduce any confusion of layovers and making sure your pet doesn’t get left behind.

On the day of the flight, verify with the airline that your pet is listed on the flight. Military OneSource suggests mentioning to the pilot or flight attendant that your pet is on the flight. It may not make any difference, but it may ease your mind.

If you need help planning for your PCS with pets, there are programs like Operation Military Pets that can help with relocation costs. The key to any successful move, is to be prepared and start early! Before you know it, your move will be over and your pet will be a seasoned traveler!

Shannon-SebastianPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Online Engagement Manager