Tag Archives: budget

The Budget is a Game of ‘Survivor’ for Military Families

Spouse Summit 2014 3“Why are we cannibalizing ourselves?”

As I looked around the table at Military.com’s Spouse Summit, I found myself in a heated discussion with eight courageous, committed spouses, including a Military Spouse of the Year who cares for her husband who has a traumatic brain injury, a woman who works for the Department of Veterans Affairs, and another one who created an online blogging community for military spouses.

Our mission was simple – or was it? Rank 15 military family benefits from most important to least, cutting the 5 that we deem least important altogether.

My table was all women whose spouses have 6-10 years of service. The caregiver spouse voiced her desperation to keep non-medical counseling and other family service programs that have helped to guide her family. Some were ready to cut the Post-9/11 GI Bill for spouses and kids, while others thought it was more important than Basic Housing Allowance (BAH).

spouse summit 2014 2Across the room, a senior spouse questioned our desire to help pay for our kids’ college education, “How many of us paid for college ourselves?”

Most people raised their hands.

Though every cut hurts, it’s the slash after slash that leaves us bleeding. Whether I prioritize Commissary benefits over guaranteed pay raises or retirement benefits… it all comes out of the same place: our pockets.

“Why aren’t other government agencies doing this same thing? Having this same discussion?”

Are employees of the Treasury or the Federal Trade Commission having roundtable discussions about what benefits they’re willing to sacrifice to balancing the budget? Are they facing cuts at all?

Why does it feel like we’re on an island all alone, left to ration what little we have left? Why are we always putting ourselves on the chopping block?

What benefits do you think are most important? Share them with us in the comments or go a step farther – write to the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission (MCRMC) and tell them your story!

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Online Engagement Manager

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

Special Operations Forces: A War Weary Community Needs Support

air-force-special-ops

When Secretary Hagel dropped his budget proposals in February, it did not recommend cuts to US Special Operations Command (SOCOM). As a spouse who spent over a decade living the Special Operations Forces (SOF) family life, I can say I am relieved that they will not suffer direct budget cuts, but this also carries with it a significant amount of worry. No cuts, means the same or more missions, right?

You see, while SOCOM funds SOF missions, the programs that support families and dependents are provided by the “big” Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, and Navy. SOCOM’s service members will be equally hurt by low pay raises, decreased Basic Housing Allowance (BAH) and changes to TRICARE. As “big Service” budgets get smaller, and the operational tempo for SOF families continues or increases, where will they get their support?

In 2010, Admiral Eric Olson, then Commander of SOCOM, initiated a study of SOF warriors and their families and was able to document a “fraying” of the force with strong data. Admiral William McRaven turned those concerns into Preservation of the Force and Family (POTFF). POTFF primarily helps the service member focus on physical, spiritual, mental, and social issues. Of course, this assists the family as a whole, but POTFF programs aimed at the families are limited because of legal restrictions on who SOCOM can spend money on and how.

I have loved the idea of POTFF since its inception. I was part of those who were studied in 2010. I KNOW this fraying. I knew that I needed to do whatever I could to help future SOF spouses avoid the fraying that I felt for many years.

I am terrified that budget cuts to the programs provided by the Services will devastate everyone, but particularly SOF families because while the war draws down in Afghanistan, the SOF mission does not.

SOF families endure operational tempos and unpredictability in an unending cycle. Resiliency is NOT optional, and it comes at a cost. There were years when I had friends ask me if I was happy, and I could only answer, “I will be, when he’s home.” That routine lasted and lasted–it was the ‘SOF life.’

I can say that I am stronger than I ever imagined I would or could be, but I still cry for the new mom who, despite being a SOF spouse for three years, couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.

The family programs offered at our installation were stellar, but the amount of people deployed at any given time and in constant rotation needed far more manpower than the military family programs could offer. Our Airman & Family Readiness Center was staffed for the regular Air Force mission, not SOCOM’s.

So, now with Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, and Navy budgets shrinking, while SOCOM’s remains unchanged, what happens to those spouses and families? Of the 1% who serve in the military, 67,000 are in SOF units – a remarkably small, but growing number. The vision for the future of SOF is one of expansion. The stress will not decrease for these families. They have not and will not get a break. Our SOF families NEED adequate support for their growing missions from the Services, Defense Department, and Congress.

We are war weary – don’t forget us and the unique mission our service members provide within the military community.

Brooke-GoldbergPosted by Brooke Goldberg, 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

Some are All Talk…We’re Not!

Girl-with-Yellow-Ribbon“Our Association’s highest priority is to fight for military families. We fight to protect the programs and services that allow them to meet the challenges of military life and maintain readiness. Our Nation’s leaders cannot ignore the promises they made to those currently serving as they prepare to shape the force of the future.”

Each year, the National Military Family Association develops our Legislative and Policy Priorities list. We don’t do it in a vacuum. We incorporate the concerns we’ve heard from military families. We listen to what our volunteers are telling us from the field. We look at gaps in legislation that has already been passed. We dust off some issues that we’ve promoted for years. We beat the drum on the need for sustaining the programs military families use that work. We seek advice from our Board of Governors and other experts.

This year we paid special attention to the uproar on social media when the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) for retired pay was reduced by one percent, as well as when military families were impacted by sequestration and the government shutdown. We heard you loud and clear! Our military families and their service members never fail to answer the call. In return, our government has promised to provide them with the resources to keep them ready. You asked Congress to #KeepYourPromise, and in our priorities, we ask Congress and Department of Defense (DoD) to do just that.

We ask Congress and DoD to guarantee, and sustain, the resources necessary to safeguard the readiness of military families. Like protecting the commissaries, where savings are such an important part of compensation. And ensuring access to high quality health care and preventive health care services. Our families are still healing from over a decade of war – they need medical and non-medical counseling readily available. Our kids have served, too – make sure the schools they go to thrive with help from Impact Aid and DoD grants and supplemental aid. Although the wars are winding down, don’t forget the wounded and their caregivers, who still face the uncertainties of their recoveries or the new realities they must deal with as a family.

There are some areas where the readiness of our military families can be improved and refined. We need more forward motion on standardizing programs for families with special needs across the Services. Enhance the spread of information about tools to help military spouses with education and employment. Some families need to be better equipped to react to the stresses of military life that can result in domestic abuse, child abuse and neglect, and sexual assault. Help them negotiate the confusion of installation, State and Federal agencies. Our survivors need to be able to receive all the benefits they are entitled to – end the Dependency and Indemnity Compensation offset to Survivor Benefit Plan. And how can we better prepare those families who are facing an end to their military service, through their choice or the government’s, while they are still serving? How do we help them negotiate a successful transition to civilian life?

I’ve just given you a quick overview of our priorities’ statement – the Association Legislative and Policy Priorities for for 2014. It gives us a starting point. By no means do we limit our advocacy to these few issues. We expand on it for our statement to the Armed Services Committees. We refine it when necessary to shine a light on a specific issue or policy. Read it over and let us know what you think. And please know that we are always ready to address issues affecting military families as they arise. We fight for you and for all military families.

What would you tell Congress and DoD are most important? What’s your military family story about one of the issues we’ve outlined above?

kathyPosted by Kathleen Moakler, Government Relations Director

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

Losing the Budget Battle Does Not Mean We’ve Lost the War

son-says-goodbye-to-dadSomething happened last week that made military families stand up and say “Don’t you dare!!” That something was the budget deal that provides $6 billion in “sequestration relief” for DoD out of the wallets of our youngest military retirees. As word about the deal spread into the military community, the sound you heard was “Enough!”

What followed was a #KeepYourPromise campaign on Twitter, storm the Hill visits by military associations, and letters and calls to Congressional offices all aimed at persuading Congress to reject the proposed cap on Cost of Living Allowances (COLAs) for military retirees under age 62. Despite all the best efforts, the budget bill passed the Senate on December 18.

What should military families do now?

  1. Say Thank You: While too few Members of Congress showed they understood the damage the budget deal would do to the military community, several did and stepped up to fight the COLA cap. They will be our allies in our continued fight, so please send them a thank you letter or email.
  2. Stay Engaged: Senator Carl Levin, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and several other Senators who voted in favor of the budget deal are on record saying they want the Committee to look for ways to eliminate the cap—count those statements as proof that the grassroots efforts were noticed.
  3. Hold Them Accountable: Military families need to help us remind Members of Congress who said they hoped they could find a way to eliminate the cap to do so. Ask your Member, especially if he or she is on the House or Senate Armed Services Committee, to encourage the Committee to take up this issue as soon as possible. If your Member voted for the budget deal, give them a chance to make things right.
  4. Expand Your Outreach: Tell your story to the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission. The commission’s website has a comments section for military families and Commission’s recommendations will be taken seriously.
  5. Keep Telling Your Story: Start each letter to your Member of Congress with “I’m a proud military family member and I VOTE in your state/district.” Enlist your family and civilian friends in this fight to help Congress understand the service and sacrifice of our military families and the need for our Nation’s leaders to keep the promises they made.
  6. Don’t Give Up! The Senate vote this week was only the opening skirmish of a fight we can win if we continue to work together and make our voices heard.

The military spouses who founded our Association walked the halls of Congress for several years before it passed the DoD Survivor Benefit Plan. The elderly retirees who were once denied military health care once they became eligible for Medicare spent almost a decade mobilizing their peers, their associations, and their Members of Congress before getting TRICARE for Life. It took our Association almost eight years to see Congress pass and DoD implement the WIC Overseas program for military families. Our past successes prove that we can do so again IF WE DON’T GIVE UP!

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

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

The Lesser of Many Evils

govt-shutdownMy, how expectations have fallen in recent years!! When I started working for the National Military Family Association in the mid-1990s (yes, I’m old and feeling older by the minute), I learned about budget cycles, fiscal years, and the requirement that appropriations bills for a new fiscal year should be signed into law BEFORE THE YEAR STARTED on October 1. I was also told that, even if Congress didn’t get all the appropriations bills passed on time, the expectation was that Members of the House of Representatives and Senate would never want to put our military at risk by failing to provide the authority and the money on time to protect our national security.

Why is passing a Defense budget on time so important? If an appropriations bill isn’t passed by the start of a new Fiscal Year (FY), the Department of Defense (DoD) must face the possibility of several evils. One evil is a Continuing Resolution (CR), which funds the government at the previous year’s level for a certain period of time. Continuing Resolutions are bad because they don’t account for different priorities in the current year and so too much money might be available for things that aren’t needed anymore, but not enough for current needs. Also, the money is only allocated for the period covered by the Continuing Resolution. That means agencies only get a portion of their whole budget and no long-term projects, such as construction, can be started.

Contrary to the expectations we used to have about DoD getting its funding bill on time, DoD has had to operate under a CR for at least part of the year for all but one of the last five years. FY 2010 was the last time DoD had its appropriations at the beginning of the year. This year, DoD didn’t get an appropriations until March 26—halfway through the fiscal year!

I’ve talked a lot in this space about the evils of sequestration—and I’ve heard plenty from military families about its effects. Another Continuing Resolution will continue sequestration AND make it more difficult for DoD to put limited money where it’s most needed.

But as bad as the evils of Continuing Resolutions and sequestration are, we’re coming close to a situation where a CR is actually the lesser evil. If Congress can’t pass—and the President sign—a CR by midnight, September 30, the government will shut down. The military hasn’t been affected by a shutdown in a while—it could operate during the last one in 1996 because its funding bill had passed. But, we’ve come close to a shutdown in recent years and military families are understandably concerned about what might happen next week. How did we get in a situation where temporary funding—the lesser of many evils—is seen as the best our Nation’s leaders can do?

We’re gathering information about what resources will be available for military families in case of a government shutdown. Military families want to know whether their service member will be paid on time and where they will go for help if they don’t get paid. We’re asking whether military hospitals will be open or whether their civilian doctors will still treat TRICARE patients. Military families want to know whether their commissary, child care facility, or DoD school will be open. Be sure to check our Government Shutdown web page for regular updates and resources.

What do you want to know about a shutdown? We’ll ask and keep you informed.

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