Tag Archives: financial readiness

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

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

Military Advance Pay – It’s not a Payday loan

Money in JarA little known provision of military pay is called “advance pay.” Advance pay is neither an entitlement nor a guarantee, but may be an option your service member can request before or shortly after a PCS (permanent change of station) if there is a need. Advance pay is a type of pay that is used to help offset the cost of the move and cover extraordinary expenses such as, loss of a spouse’s income, down payment on a home, or cost of maintaining two households. Advance pay is just that – an advance of your service member’s basic pay.

DoD Instruction 1340.18 provides the nitty, gritty details about advance pay. A service member may be eligible to apply for 1 – 3 months of advance pay. The repayment period ranges from 12 – 24 months. A service member can make a request to receive advance pay 30 days prior to a PCS or 60 days after a PCS. The service member’s administrative department can help process the necessary paperwork, form DD 2560.  A service member must be able to demonstrate why the funds are needed and a shopping spree or a new pool does not count as an unmet need. For example, the service member may be asked to complete a budget or financial worksheet outlining the additional costs related to the move. The service member must also be able to show that other pay entitlements do not cover these additional out-of-pocket costs of the move. If the service member requests more than one month of basic pay, the request will need to be reviewed by the service member’s immediate command. Likewise, if the service member requests a repayment period exceeding 12 months, the service member must justify the extended payback period.

Cautionary notes:

  • Advance pay is an interest-free advance of the service member’s basic pay and must be repaid. This means the service member’s pay will be reduced each month during the repayment period.
  • Advance pay must be repaid even if the service member voluntarily or involuntarily separates from the service. You borrowed against your future earnings and must pay it back.
  • Your advance pay is taxable income and may impact your income taxes. Be sure to consult with a tax professional to review your specific situation.

Personal stories from families who have applied for advance pay suggest having your justification and supporting paperwork ready. Many families are able to receive one month of basic pay with a 12 month repayment period. Anything beyond one month of pay and a 12 month repayment may not only involve the service member’s command but may also require financial counseling. Be sure to fully understand the cautionary notes before you request this benefit.

Have you requested advance pay? How did it impact your family’s budget?

Military Advance Pay – It’s not a Payday loanby Katie Savant, Government Relations Information Manager

The Dreaded “D” Word: Preparing for a deployment

How to prepare for a deploymentThe dreaded “D” word entered our house and it’s not debt. It’s a deployment. Deployments are part of military life. Much like our peers, we are a family who has only known a time at war. But what made this deployment different is the short-notice orders. (In other words we had 10 days to prepare for my husband to leave for training.) Cue the gasps and dramatic music, please. He was the lucky guy selected to join a unit that has been training for several months and he needed to leave ASAP.

So, if your family receives short-notice orders, here are some suggestions on the essential items you’ll need:

Essential Pre-deployment Must- Haves

Updated Power of Attorney: Your service member can have a general and/or special power of attorney prepared at the local legal assistance office. It is helpful to either call or visit the legal assistance office to set up an appointment and ask for a list of information you’ll need to bring. Sometimes the legal assistance office will have designated days set aside where they offer a class and meet with clients to execute a power of attorney. Let the office know if you have a short time frame. They may be able to accommodate your schedule or suggest nearby locations that can complete the paperwork.

It is important for both parties to understand how the power of attorney works and when it can be used and when it cannot be used. If you anticipate a big purchase during the service member’s deployment, talk to your bank. The bank may have their own special power of attorney that is needed for transactions and may not accept your general or special power of attorney.

Updated Will: Simply said a will is to protect your assets. Be sure you have a copy of an updated will before your service member leaves. Again, the legal assistance office can prepare a will for you. Many installations offer classes on designated days of the week or for a particular unit that is deploying. However, they are flexible and most will work with your schedule if you have a short time frame.

DD Form 93: Also known as the Record of Emergency Data, DD Form 93 is a form that only the service member can update. The Defense Department will use the contact information on this form to contact the designated Primary Next of Kin (PNOK) if there is an emergency, such as an illness or injury. It also outlines who is eligible for the death gratuity benefit.

Unit Contact Information: It is very important for you to have your service member’s unit contact information. Especially if your service member deploys as an Individual Augmentee (IA), someone who deploys without his or her primary unit, you will need to know how to contact the unit. Generally the unit will have a designated point person to relay family information. Ask for this contact before your service member begins training. If there is not a family person designated, have your service member ask the Command to provide information on how families will receive information during the deployment.

Those are my tips for getting ready for deployment. What is your advice for someone preparing for their service member’s deployment?

katiePosted by Katie Savant, Government Relations Information Manager at the National Military Family Association and blogger at www.MilitaryFamilyCents.com, where this post originally appeared

Hmm, what to do with your tax refund? 6 tips for military families

Hmm, what to do with your tax refund? 6 tips for military familiesWill your family receive a tax refund this year? The average tax refund is around $2,800 and slightly more for direct deposit refunds. Even if your refund is more or less than the average, we have a few tips to make your money work for you.

Military families encounter fluctuations in household income for a variety of reasons including: deployment and training incentives; bonuses; loss of income from a spouse’s job; or cost of living adjustments after a military move. A tax refund may provide the funds you need to help account for the changes in household income. Here are some tips to consider:

  • Review your emergency savings funds. Do you have money set aside for unexpected expenses? Out of pocket costs for an upcoming Permanent Change of Station (PCS)? Consider starting or adding money to a designated emergency savings account.
  • Pay down debt. Use your refund to pay down or pay off a high interest credit card.
  • Contribute to your retirement plan. An extra contribution to your service member’s Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) or your own retirement account can go a long way.
  • Deployment savings. If your service member is deployed, consider adding your refund to the Savings Deposit Program. A total of $10,000 may be deposited each deployment and will earn 10% interest annually.
  • Save for college. If you have children, you can contribute to a college 529 savings plan. Going back to school as an adult? You can put your refund towards a 529 plan for yourself, too.
  • Don’t spend your refund before your receive it. Wait for your refund to arrive before you spend the funds. You can track the status of your federal refund online.

Before you are tempted to spend the extra money on a shopping spree, review your current financial situation. It may be helpful to talk to a financial counselor at your local military installation or through Military OneSource to help you decide how to put your refund to good use.

How will you use your tax refund? 

katiePosted by Katie Savant, Government Relations Information Manager at the National Military Family Association

Military Saves: Set a Goal. Make a Plan. Save Automatically.

Military Saves: Set a Goal. Make a Plan. Save Automatically.The theme for Military Saves Week 2013 is more than just a theme; it’s the essence of a sound approach to savings, designed to help individuals take financial action. Set a Goal. Make a Plan. Save Automatically. Knowing what you want to save for, how to achieve it, and then automating the savings process will allow you to reach your savings goal.

Set a Goal

You can save more by having a specific goal in mind. Visualizing what you want to save for gives your savings a purpose. You may be tempted to spend your savings if it has no purpose. But once you have a goal in place, you know that taking money out of your savings is taking away from that ultimate goal. So what are you saving for? An emergency fund, a home, retirement, a car? Go viral with your savings goal! Take a photo of your goal and post it on our Association’s Facebook page or tweet it using the hashtag #MSW2013.

Make a Plan

Once you have your goal in place, make a plan of how you are going to save. To start, cut down on your spending and reduce high-cost debt. Next, keep track of what you spend and make a budget. Once you know where your money is going each month, you can cut down on unneeded spending and save the difference.
Don’t forget to keep your savings safe, secure, and growing. Banks, credit unions, and even the government offer a variety of financial products that can help you save.

Save Automatically

It can be hard to put aside money for savings. But there is an easy way to save money without ever missing it. Once you know how much you can save, make saving automatic. Use an allotment or automatically transfer a portion of your paycheck into a savings account.

We want to hear from you! Have you already set a goal? Made a plan or budget? Do you save automatically? Share what has worked for your family.

ccPosted by Christine Gallagher, Government Relations Deputy Director at the National Military Family Association

Military Saves Week: Starting to save

Military Saves Week: Starting to saveI remember when my husband and I made our first concerted effort to save. He had just left for his first deployment and I decided I wanted to sign up for the Savings Deposit Program (SDP). Fresh off a pre-deployment brief, I wanted to put my newly found knowledge to good use and take advantage of this great savings opportunity.

A military member can deposit funds into a SDP account once he or she has been deployed for 30 days. The military member must be receiving Hostile Fire Pay. A total of $10,000 may be deposited during each deployment and will earn 10% interest annually. This sounded like an attractive option for us.

Although my intentions were good, we didn’t get a chance to set up the account before my husband deployed. I went to our local finance office and learned I would need a special power of attorney to set up the SDP account on my husband’s behalf. (My general power of attorney wouldn’t work.)

I didn’t let this setback derail us from our long-term savings plans. Instead, I researched products available through military banks and credit unions and settled on a money market account. Every other week I would take my paper paycheck (yes, I worked for a small employer who did not use direct deposit) and deposit half of my paycheck into our new money market account. I calculated that about half of my paycheck was the additional funds we received while my husband was deployed, which included the family separation allowance, hostile fire pay, and tax benefit.

By the end of the deployment, we had a good savings foundation! The most valuable lesson we learned was about financial discipline and how to save money. We successfully accounted for savings in our budget. It was no longer an afterthought, but a regular habit.

During Military Saves Week I encourage you to take the saver’s pledge and put that pledge into action.

My husband and I are faithful savers today. I look forward to the messages I receive from the Military Saves campaign in order to help find new ways to save and to stay on track.

What helped your family start to save?

katiePosted by Katie Savant, Government Relations Information Manager at the National Military Family Association and blogger at www.MilitaryFamilyCents.com, where this post originally appeared

5 Easy Ways to Get Involved in Military Saves Week and Save Successfully

5 Easy Ways to Get Involved in Military Saves Week and Save SuccessfullyMilitary Saves Week (February 25 – March 2, 2013) is a chance for individuals to evaluate their saving status, take financial action to reach goals, and become part of a supportive environment of military savers. Everyone can take the Military Saves pledge, and if you’ve pledged in the past, you can renew your pledge and commitment to saving. Studies reveal that having a savings plan with specific goals can have beneficial financial effects, regardless of income level.

Here are 5 easy ways to get involved in Military Saves Week:

1. Take the Military Saves Pledge 
Pledge or re-pledge today! Those with a savings plan are twice as likely to save for emergencies and retirement as those without a plan. Join over 310,000 people who have already committed to save.

2. Assess Your Savings
Find out if you are saving in all the right places with this 12 step savings assessment.

3. Test Your Savings Knowledge
Take this savings quiz to reveal how much you understand about the realities of saving in America.

4. Share Savings Tips and Advice with Family and Friends
On Twitter and Facebook? Share your pledge and your best savings and financial tips with your family and friends. On Twitter, use hashtag #MSW2013. Get everyone to become a saver!

5. Share Your Savings Goal
We want to hear from you! What are you saving for? Post or tweet a photo of you with your savings goal to Facebook or Twitter. Download the “I’m Saving For…” sign and share your photo and savings goal today!

Military Saves Week is coordinated by Military Saves and is part of the Department of Defense’s Financial Readiness Campaign. Started in 2007, Military Saves Week is an annual opportunity for organizations to promote good savings behavior and a chance for individuals to evaluate their own saving status.

ccPosted by Christine Gallagher, Government Relations Deputy Director at the National Military Family Association