Category Archives: Resources + Information

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

Surviving the Mid-Year School Transition

mid-year-school-transitionA few years ago, I attended a Military Child and Education Coalition (MCEC) seminar held at Fort Drum. “Things are finally getting more manageable,” I thought on my drive to the event. A thought I distinctly remember. After surviving multiple deployments, five moves, an infant with colic, a toddler who resisted the car seat’s five point harness like a ferocious wild animal, my life as a mom finally seemed to be smoothing out. Both kids were sleeping through the night, I was down to one child in diapers. My daughter was approaching kindergarten. I’m a little ashamed to admit, I viewed it as a sort of parole.

I was thinking to the future, confident that I could handle anything now that I was enjoying a solid 6 hours of sleep per night.

Not so fast.

The challenges weren’t ending, they were simply shifting – something the MCEC workshop taught me to recognize. Sure, I would be more well-rested, but with my daughter entering school, each move would present a whole new set of issues. Fortunately, there are a variety of organizations that have worked to facilitate school transitions for military kids.

As I mentioned, MCEC holds workshops to help parents and kids with the challenges of switching schools. The Interstate Compact has addressed many of the academic hurdles that occur when families move from state to state, and School Liaison Officers are available to answer questions about your new school district and its requirements.

Walking away from the MCEC workshop, I was pretty sure I could manage the academic issues related to moving. What really concerned me were the social challenges my kids would face. We were fortunate that our next two moves coincided with summer break and my daughter was just one of many new military kids starting the academic year at her new school. Unfortunately, our last PCS did not, and we were forced to confront the dreaded mid-year school transfer.

Shortly after arriving at our new school this past April, I volunteered to chaperone the kindergarten field trip. I arrived a little early to find my son’s class outside for recess. Kids were running around everywhere and it took me awhile to spot my son. He was sitting on a curb, by himself, making a small pile of dirt. When I approached him and asked what he was doing, he told me he was making a house for his pals, the ants.

My heart broke.

If there is one thing I’ve taken away from the many Army resiliency trainings I’ve dutifully attended, it is that the key to managing this military lifestyle is to optimize the things you have the ability to influence, and try to make the best of everything else.

Leaving old friends and routines is hard. Making new friends and fitting into a new school can be even harder. As much as you’d like, you probably won’t be able to arrange for a new best friend to be waiting at your child’s new school. However, our recent experience showed me the importance of identifying key things to make the experience a little smoother.

I wasn’t always successful, but I want to share my lessons learned in the hope that it might help during your next move:

Contact your child’s teacher before his or her first day of school. Use this opportunity to introduce yourself and make sure the teacher is prepared for your child’s arrival. Your military kid will feel much more welcome if there is a desk, cubby, coat hook and school supply box waiting for him or her.

Ask for any booklets or documents on classroom policy or routines. Most teachers, particularly in the younger grades, distribute something at the beginning of the year. Are there any special folders or a day planner your child will need for homework? Understanding how these systems work will help your military kid get into the new routine.

Learn where to find the most accurate school calendar. I mistakenly assumed the calendar on our school’s website was up to date until I showed up at 11:30am for an early dismissal only to discover that it was a full day. In most cases, you can check with your child’s school administrative office to find an updated calendar.

Make sure your name is added to all school distribution lists. I regularly receive emails from the school’s main office, the teacher, and the PTO. Does your child’s classroom have a room parent? My son’s class has six (yes, that’s 6!) room moms. You need to ensure that each of these volunteers adds you to her distribution list, or you might miss the email to send in items for a craft project or show and tell.

Be sure you understand, and are incorporated into, your new school’s emergency communication system. Okay, that tip isn’t going to smooth your child’s transition, but it may ease your own peace of mind. In the unlikely event that something should happen at your school, or in your neighborhood, you don’t want to be wondering how the school will provide you with updates.

Does your child’s school have any special programs that are unique to it and, if so, how might your military kid be impacted? Our new school’s PTO runs a hot dog lunch fundraiser on Thursdays. I signed up my kids at the front office but, unfortunately, word of the new additions did not travel to the cafeteria. Much confusion ensued when my kindergartener showed up looking for a hot dog. He was sent to the office to eat the “nurse’s lunch” which I eventually learned is a variety of shelf stable snacks she keeps on hand for kids who forget their lunch. I count this as my biggest fail and wish I had taken the time to learn more about Hot Dog Day to ensure it went smoothly.

Consider volunteering at the school as often as you can. For you, it will provide an opportunity to meet other parents. For established families, it allows them to put a face to your name. After spending a day with my daughter’s class and many of their moms, one of them realized that she didn’t see our name on an email list inviting families to a special event for 2nd graders. She tracked down my contact info and called to tell me about it. I was grateful that she thought of us and I’m not sure that would have happened had we not met while volunteering.

Recently, I picked my son up at school for a dental appointment to a chorus of kids shouting his name and asking when he’d be returning. It was such a relief to see that he has been embraced by his new classmates. While I wouldn’t want to repeat it, we seem to have survived our mid-school year move and learned a few things in the process.

Have you experienced a mid-year school transition? What are your lessons learned? What advice would you give to families facing a mid-year PCS?

karen-rPosted by Karen Ruedisueli, Government Relations Deputy Director

Currently Serving and Retirees – Pay Cuts Affect Us All

Balance-Budget-on-Backs-(2)With the proposed Ryan-Murray budget deal being voted on this week, military retirees are being urged to let their Congressional Members know how the Cost-of-Living-Adjustments (COLA) cap on military retired pay will adversely affect them over the course of their retirement. But this is only one part of the Congressional attack on compensation aimed at both the currently-serving and retirees.

Let’s not forget that the other deal announced recently — the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014 (NDAA) — inflicts some pay pain on those currently-serving, which will translate to more pain when they retire. Our active duty service members should be getting a 1.8 percent pay raise, but the NDAA provides only a 1 percent raise.

And, oh by the way, in 2014, retirees will receive their full 1.7 percent COLA. The phase-in of the reduction in the COLA for retirees ages 62 and under, called for in the budget bill, doesn’t start until 2015 and will happen over 3 years. Projections on active duty pay call for smaller raises than the civilian wage increase during that time. So even if the phase-in of the reduced retired pay goes into effect, those currently serving will probably receive a few smaller pay increases than retirees. And remember, smaller active duty pay raises translate into lower retiree pay when that active duty member retires.

Congressional decisions are spreading the pain to all military people in a way disproportionate to the rest of the Nation. We firmly believe the changes in pay and retirement should not have been done piecemeal by Congress without waiting for the recommendations of the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission, established to study compensation and retirement.

We can’t talk about the harm to one group of our community without talking about the damage long term to the folks serving now if they’re denied the pay raises equal to civilian wage growth. The families of our future retirees are getting a double whammy–one punch is the lower pay raise now and the other is the lower retiree COLAs in the future. At least there will be a catch-up for the retirees when they turn 62. There’s no catch-up on active duty pay losses.

Let’s make our leaders understand the effects these deals AND continued sequestration are having on all military people.

Let Congress know that budgets should not be balanced on the backs of those who have already given so much. Despite the urgency on the budget bill, we need to focus on the effects to entire life cycle of service – from currently serving to retired. Write your Members of Congress and let them know how you feel.

And, on another note, with these hits to military families’ wallets, commissary savings become even more important! We continue to urge the Department of Defense to preserve the commissary system and the savings it provides.

How Are Military Families Doing? What Researchers Are Discovering.Posted by Joyce Wessel Raezer, Executive Director

Military Spouse Scholarship Opportunities!

man-studyingNational Military Family Association is pleased to announce a new affiliation with the University of Southern California and Georgetown University. With master’s degree programs delivered online, these universities can help you continue your education no matter where military life takes you. Plus, through our Association, program candidates are eligible for scholarship opportunities.

What do YOU want to do?
Each of these programs blends live, online classes taught by university faculty with hands-on field experiences in students’ own communities.

To learn more, choose your field of interest:

Education: Make a Positive Impact in the Classroom — and Beyond
You can create positive learning experiences in a variety of educational settings when you earn your master’s degree in education. Ideal for aspiring or practicing teachers alike, the USC Rossier School of Education offers three online master’s degree programs:

Featuring the same highly selective admissions criteria as the on-campus programs, the USC Rossier’s online master’s degree programs can prepare you to inspire students everywhere.
Pre-Requisites: Bachelor’s degree
Scholarship Opportunity: $5,000
Learn more >>

Social Work: Further Social Justice
The University of Southern California School of Social Work is the first among elite research universities to offer its highly regarded Master of Social Work online. Expand your knowledge and gain in-depth training by choosing a concentration that complements your personal and professional interests — including a specialization in Military Social Work. Taught by renowned faculty and leaders in the field of social work, the online curriculum matches the academic rigor of the on-campus program.
Pre-Requisite: Bachelor’s degree
Scholarship Opportunity: $7,500
Learn more >>

Nursing: Improve the Health and Well-Being of All People
Advance your practice and improve patient outcomes as a nurse practitioner. Georgetown University’s nationally ranked Master of Science degree in Nursing features Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) and Nurse-Midwifery/Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner specialties. Taught by Georgetown’s highly respected faculty, these programs are designed to provide the next generation of nursing leaders with the insight and knowledge they need to grow professionally and improve the health and well-being of all people.

Pre-Requisite: Registered Nurse (RN) license and a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing (BSN)
Scholarship Opportunity: $7,500
Learn more >>

No matter where life takes you, never stop learning!

Are you a military spouse going back to school? Tell us what you’re studying!

How to Manage Spending and Stress During the Holidays

budgeting-for-holidaysA few weeks ago, we posted an article about managing your money as the holidays approach. Nothing is worse than the reality check of opening the credit card bills from all the overspending you did during the holidays. And here we thought putting on those few ‘holiday pounds’ was the only problem! The good news is that it’s never too soon to start being smart with your money. It’s never too late, either. So, let’s get down to business!

Consumer Finance Protection Bureau recommends that you avoid holiday overspending by:

Making a spending plan. Be honest about what you can really spend. Not everyone needs a tangible gift purchased with money and people often appreciate things that don’t have a price tag. So, make a plan and work within that plan. Get creative: offer childcare, house cleaning, make dinner, or get crafty!

Make a list of gift recipients. Plan, plan, plan! If you make your list early, you have time to search for good deals instead of settling for what is available at the last minute. If your list seems long (is every member of your extended family on the list?), consider doing a drawing of names or make a family game where gifts are anonymous, like “Secret Santa”. This can be a great opportunity to bond and minimize cost when your recipients have common connections. If your budget is tight, but you feel like you have to purchase gifts, try to prioritize who needs something purchased instead of something homemade. Shop online and compare prices if you have specific gifts in mind.

Keep track of what you spend. If you save in one area, you can shift that savings to other areas of your holiday gift budget! Don’t forget to look for coupons. Many paper coupons can be redeemed online and vice versa. Consider putting any money saved into a retirement or savings account!

Avoid impulse purchases. Shop online to avoid the temptation of shelves crowded with overpriced stocking-stuffers and last minute purchases that you didn’t plan on. When you are in a store, stick with your list! Think twice about window shopping, the occasional splurge, or spoiling moment in an effort to keep more money in your wallet until after the holidays when you are back in a predictable spending routine.

Leave your credit cards at home. Using a credit card almost immediately busts your budget, or at least allows for too much temptation. Make a budget that fits within what you can afford in cash. If you will be purchasing on credit, make sure you have a pay-off plan that you can stick to. You can even save a little extra money elsewhere by making a creative spending plan in advance, like purchasing gift cards for an expensive item when those gift cards offer savings on something, like gasoline. Many stores, like AAFES, offer free or reduced fee layaway prior to Christmas. Always check your local installation exchange to see if they offer a layaway program.

Check details when purchasing gift cards. Some gift cards have special use requirements, like deadlines by which the card expires or fees for not using them within a specified amount of time. This impacts the useable value of the card, so check in advance for full redemption value.

There are lots of great ideas out there about ways to save, but I love this one from Military Saves: start a savings plan in January 2014 to budget for your gifts for next year! This is the perfect time to analyze how you spend during the holidays and put a realistic long term plan together that will have less of an impact on your pocketbook and relieve some of your financial stress.

What tips and tricks do you use for holiday spending and budgeting?

brookePosted by Brooke Goldberg, Government Relations Deputy Director

Joanne Holbrook Patton Military Spouse Scholarship: Apply Dec 1!

Female-Psychology-StudentIt’s all in a name.

In this case, that name is Joanne Holbrook Patton. Joanne is a fifth generation Army daughter, and was married to the late Major General George S. Patton IV for 52 years. She has served graciously as a volunteer for the Red Cross, Army Community Service, and the National Military Family Association. She believes strongly in the importance of education for military spouses.

In 2005, the National Military Family Association renamed its scholarship program in her honor. In the ten years since the program’s inception, we have awarded more than 2,700 military spouses with over $2.4 million towards their education and careers.

Over the years, the scholarship program has adapted to the ever-changing military lifestyle. The ‘mobile’ lifestyle requires that spouses have portable careers – those that can be restarted in any state or overseas – in order to remain in the job market after each move. Often times, spouses already own a degree, or may be pursuing a degree, and return back to school to find a career that is more portable. The return to education comes at their own expense. The Joanne Holbrook Patton Military Spouse Scholarship Program is here to help alleviate the cost of schooling, licensure and certification.

Based on the current shortfall of professionals in the mental health field, we believe the military community will continue to suffer unless we devote efforts to developing a future workforce of individuals trained in these specialties. This year, UnitedHealth Foundation has made it possible for the program to cover clinically supervised hours for spouses with a Master’s degree in Psychology, Psychiatry, Social Work, or Counseling, who are pursuing clinical licensure in the mental health arena. In partnership with the UnitedHealth Foundation, we are striving to build an education to employment pipeline for mental health providers.

Wartime realities increase the importance and difficulties of military spouse education. Extraordinary battlefield medicine saves lives that would have been lost in prior wars – but many of the wounded are no longer able to work.

Military spouses require increased educational opportunities to help prepare for “the unthinkable.” In the event that the service member has been wounded, a better education can allow a spouse to rebuild their family, and pursue careers best suited to supporting them long term. To aid such situations, our program offers scholarships to spouses of the wounded and fallen.

Ten years later, we are still inspired by Joanne Holbrook Patton. She exemplifies what it means to serve, and even today, is avid supporter of military spouses.

If you are a military spouse heading back to school, signing up for a licensure exam or pursing a certification, remember to apply to the Joanne Holbrook Patton Military Spouse Scholarships opening December 1st. Applications are accepted through our website.

See a full list of eligibility requirements here.

alliePosted by Allie Jones, Military Spouse Scholarship Program