Category Archives: Resources + Information

Hey, Millennials! Saving Money Isn’t Scary, and Here’s Why You Should Start

I’ve always heard people say that they think Millennials understand and see things differently. Sure, we were born after 1980 and we were the first generation to reach adulthood in a new century, but I think the excuse, “It’s because they are a Millennial” has started to become more of a misconception.

Millennials don’t want, or know how, to save money. That might be true, but it’s not because we are millennials. I think it is more accurate to say there are two different fears that millennials faces when thinking about saving: ‘losing’ money or having it ‘taken away’ through deductions, and not having enough money at the end of the month.

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I have a simple tip that can address both of those fears: make your money visual.

Budgets are cool. When people hear budget your money, most young adults think it’s complicated and full of spreadsheets. But it doesn’t have to be! It can be as simple as having a calendar and visualizing your money. Before you start writing on the calendar, write down all of your monthly bills, add them up until you have a total of your monthly bills. Then write down your income (how often you get paid a month and how much) and total those together. You can then subtract those two totals and know how much spending money you have for the month.

Visuals make savings real. For some, this might be visually enough but I suggest taking it a step further. Using the calendar, write down when your bills are due and the amount owed, then write down your pay dates. Look at when your bills are due and when you get paid. On your calendar, next to your pay date, write how much from that one paycheck needs to go towards bills.

Monthly planning works. By doing this monthly, you are able to visually see your money coming in, and where your money is going. This helps in other areas of your life where money is involved. Visually seeing your money will make you more aware each month of how much money you are able to spend. And after a while, you will even be able to see how much you typically spend on common items such as groceries and gas, which you can then subtract from your monthly spending. Eventually, with practice, you’ll be able to see how much you can save each month. It might not always be the same amount each month, but you will be able to consistently put some money away.

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Cherish your hard earned money. Making your money visual and being aware of it can prevent you from making those impulse buys. Avoid those very tempting impulse buys by waiting a day or two, and see if you still actually want to make that purchase. Most of the time, you will no longer feel the need to buy that item. You might even forget about it.

Budgeting doesn’t always have to be complicated–it can be as simple as writing it down and making it visual. Take the first step towards responsible budgeting by making a pledge to save. It’s not scary, and it’s so easy, even a Millennial can do it!

What’s tip has helped your family budget and save? Share it with us!

Patricia-CPosted by Patricia Contic, Government Relations Coordinator, Resident Millennial and Saver

When a Saver Marries a Spender…and a Few Tips That Might Help

We were 20 and 23 when we married. I was a few months into my first job and my husband was in college. We took marriage prep classes through our church and discussed an array of topics from future kids and our perspectives on money.

We outlined our financial goals and priorities:

  • Support ourselves with jobs and income independent of our parents
  • Save for a down payment on a home
  • Save for the future

Creating shared goals was a great start but living the shared goals was another story. How should we prioritize paying off our student loan debt, saving money for emergencies, saving to buy furniture, and saving for the unknowns of the future (i.e. kids, retirement, dead car battery)? Living on one income, we had a very tight budget.

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This was where I began to notice our different feelings about money. If we were out of [insert household item here], one of us would jump in the car and run to the store to buy it. The other person would add it to the shopping list and wait to replace the item during a planned trip. One of us would clip coupons and only buy an item if it was on sale. The other was brand loyal and didn’t see toothpaste as toothpaste, and would only use a particular brand whether it was on sale or not.

Making decisions about how to spend and save money wasn’t easy. One of us wanted to save for a rainy day while the other wanted to spend our hard-earned money to buy a well-deserved treat/item/experience. We each played the role of “saver” and “spender.”

How did we resolve our different philosophies towards money?

We didn’t.

Instead we learned we needed to have continued conversations about money and develop short-term and long-term financial goals. After my husband joined the military, we participated in several free financial workshops hosted on base, online via Military OneSource, and even met with a personal financial counselor.

Here are some tips that have helped us along the way:

  • Set money goals and make a plan to achieve your goals. We were off to a good start by setting goals, yet we didn’t really have a plan. In the early years, the plan was to save whatever was left at the end of the month. This didn’t work for us because (1) there wasn’t money left and (2) we wanted to spend the money on something we felt we deserved.
  • Make savings a habit by “paying” yourself first. Whatever your goal is, you’ll need to create an action plan to achieve your goal. We decided to automatically put money into a savings account each pay period. We each set up an automatic deduction from our payroll account into a separate savings account. The amount we set aside changed as our income fluctuated. What is important is that the money is set aside in a separate account.
  • Review your goals and plan often. Most years our goals stayed the same – we still wanted to save for emergencies, a house, and our retirement, yet the plan to reach the goals would change. After a move and a break in employment, we had to adjust how much we set aside.

Military Saves is a great opportunity to pledge to become a saver. Yes, a saver and a spender can live happily ever after with shared goals, a plan, and an adjustment or two. The first decision is figuring out which one you are: the saver, or the spender.

How do you and your spouse reach financial goals together?

katiePosted by Katie Savant, Government Relations Issue Strategist

Meet the Best Military Spouse Photographers of 2016!

Last year, NMFA ran a promotion hoping to pair up fabulous military spouse photographers with families who deserved some family photos to cherish. These photographers volunteered to share their time and talents, and were eager to send us the best shots from their photo sessions.

Here at NMFA, we are proud to support military spouses as they chase their dreams. This contest gave us an opportunity to celebrate the talent found within our communities, and we hope next time you need a photographer, you check this list to hire a military spouse in your area!

Photo Contest Photographers

April Kroenke Portland, OR: April Kroenke Photography

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April Kroenke is an international award winning photographer who is recognized for the experience she creates for her portrait clients. She specializes in modern lifestyle portraits that tell the story of her clients through connection, expression, personality, and the surrounding environment. April’s passion is in creating beautiful works of art and a wonderful experiences for her clients. She looks forward to telling your story!

Find her on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest.

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Ashley Langtry Brunswick, ME: Ashley Langtry Photography

View More: http://ashleylangtry.pass.us/kellyfamily

Ashley Langtry specializes in baby and lifestyle photography. Her site says “I am painfully awkward, but equally awesome. I am an aspiring gypsy, lover of all things whimsical, and mama to two little crazies. I am hopelessly optimistic, believer in romance, hugger of trees, and lover of a US Navy Sailor. I try to design a photo, as well as document a moment. When people hire me to photograph for them, they are hiring me because someone they love is on the other side of my lens. For me, it is an honor to capture that love for them.”

Find her on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and Google+.

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Athena Plichta Naples, Italy: Athena Plichta Photography

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Athena is a food, lifestyle, and travel photographer currently based in southern Italy.

Find her on Instagram.

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Cindy Corcoran Newport, RI: Ellie Lynn Photography

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Cindy is a lifestyle photographer, specializing in portraits for families, children, couples, military members, seniors, and special occasions. Memories are only but a moment captured in time and she loves to capture real people living their real lives.

Find her on Facebook.

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Danielle McCown Lakenheath, England: Danielle McCown Photography

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Danielle has a beautiful natural style, and is wonderful with children and families.

Find her on Facebook.

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Emily Grace Fort Rucker, AL: Emily Grace Photography

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Emily says it best: “What photographs are you passing on to your kids’ kids? Instagram selfies? (No way!) Stop thinking you have to look a certain way to be photographed! You are you, and that’s beautiful. Don’t believe me? Ask your kids. Ask your spouse. Ask your neighbor. Ask me.”

Find her on Facebook and Instagram.

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Judith Lovett Atlanta, GA: Judith Lovett, Photographer

Judith loves to take portraits that tell a story.

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Find her on Facebook.

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Julie Rivera El Paso, TX: Julie Rivera Photography

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Julie has a message for you: “Your life, at this very minute, is enough. I want to show you the majesty in between the highlights. The day-to-day that is the very essence of your child’s childhood. I want you to see that everything you do is more than enough: it is the life of your family. And it is tremendous!”

Julie is not currently taking new clients, but you can see her work on Facebook and Instagram

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Kathryn Bailey Hessen, Germany: LittleB Memories

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“A toothless grin. A newborn snuggle. Tiny arms around your neck. Moments like these happen far too fast. Portraits bring those memories back long after those little ones have left the house. LittleB Memories is a place where that magic is treasured; I capture the times you value the most, so you can relive your favorite moments again and again for years to come.”

Find her on Facebook.

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Meagan Drew Monterrey, CA: Momma Mea Photography

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Meagan strives to capture moments for you and your loved ones just as a Momma would see them!

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Michelle St.Clergy Fort Polk, LA: Chaque Bonne Memoire Photography

Chaque Bonne Memoire means “Every Good Memory.” And that is exactly Michelle’s mission: to ensure each moment, each facial expression, and each journey that you take us on with you is left with an everlasting good memory.

Find her on Facebook and Instagram.

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Nichole Glover Fort Gordon, Ga: Glover Images

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Nicole specializes in family photography.

Find her on Facebook.

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Robyn Mroszczyk Huntsville, AL: Vanderport Designs 

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Robyn Mroszczyk is a natural-light photographer who specializes in family, maternity, and children sessions. She is a military spouse to her high school sweetheart, and they have two boys who keep her busy. Robyn believes in affordable photography so that everyone can have special moments captured and displayed. When she is not doing photography, Robyn is an Accredited Financial Counselor, where she assists transitioning Service members preparing for a deployment, redeploying, retirement, and everything in between. Her sense of humor, patience, and ability to make a fool of herself have served the photography world for the last four years. Robyn looks forward to creating memories in the Huntsville area until the fall when her family will move to Washington D.C.

Find her on Facebook and Etsy.

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Rosie Suerdieck Colorado Springs, CO: Reflections by Rosie

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Rosie is a wife, mother of four, cuddler of her Lab and Jack Russell, and momma to 10 chickens. “Life is an adventure, and I take it on. I specialize in high school senior portraiture for the fashionable girl, and mentor fellow photographers on how to be better businesswomen.”

Find her on Facebook and Instagram.

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Sarah Case Washington, DC: Tiny Sparrow Photography

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Sarah’s intention as a photographer is simple: “When time has erased all the details — of the long stretches of sleepless nights, small meltdowns, first words and first steps — what I hope will remain are the beautifully captured moments and timeless photographs I have created for you — that we’ve collaborated on together.”

Find her on Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter.

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Stefanie Adams-Figueroa Ramstein, Germany: Wunderkind Photography

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…because they’re only this little once…

Find Stephanie on Facebook.

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MilSpouse PhotographerWhy choose a military spouse photographer? These entrepreneurs have set up their businesses again and again at each new duty station. Many photographers build their business through word of mouth, and when you move every 2-3 years, it isn’t easy.

We are proud to be able to promote these photographers as a special “thank you” for the time and service they donated to their communities this year! Help us encourage these spouses  by hiring one in your area next time you need family photos taken. This is an investment you won’t regret!

Interested in being featured on NMFA as a military spouse photographer? Our family photo contest runs each spring, and pairs hardworking photographers with military families for a special photo session. If you’d like to hear more about the program and donate a photo session to a deserving family while building your business at your current duty station, fill out this form.

I Used My Spouse’s Post-9/11 GI Bill…and I Don’t Feel Guilty

I have a confession to make. I used my husband’s Post-9/11 GI bill for myself instead of saving it for our kids.

Gasp!

Do I feel guilty? No, I don’t.

First of all, the Post-9/11 GI bill is my husband’s benefit – not mine. When I decided to go to grad school, he offered to transfer it to me. I said, “Don’t you want to use it?” He knew he would have additional educational opportunities through the military and at that point in time he wasn’t interested in further education post-military service.

“What about our kids,” I asked? “Should we save it for them?”

“You want to go to school now. Our kids are in diapers.”

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So, I started to do some research on how I could financially support my family with an advanced degree. The Department of Labor reports “few things affect people’s earnings power more than their level of education. In general, more education means more dollars earned.” There are several reports with lots of data confirming that lifetime earnings increase as education levels increase. The Department of Labor also reports in 2014 the median weekly earnings for full-time workers were:

  • $488 with less than a high school diploma
  • $668 with a high school diploma and no college
  • $1,101 with a Bachelor’s degree
  • $1,386 with an Advanced degree

Wow – that is a $898 weekly difference!

What does all of this data mean for me? It means by using my husband’s Post-9/11 GI bill to obtain an advanced degree I have a better chance of supporting my family financially over the long term. It also means, with careful planning we’ll be able to set aside money to send our kids to college.

Another consideration for our family was to gauge whether the Post-9/11 GI bill would be available for our children. Recent proposals include reducing the Post-9/11 GI benefit for dependent children by removing the housing stipend for dependents receiving a transferred benefit. This proposal wasn’t approved by Congress last year; however no one can accurately predict what the future benefit will look like.

The idea that the Post-9/11 GI bill might not be available by the time my children are old enough to use it is scary. And knowing that I could provide more financial stability for my family sooner than my kids would be able to use the benefit made the choice easier for us to make.

So yes, I’m guilty as charged: I used my husband’s Post-9/11 GI bill benefit. And if it’s the right choice for your family, you should consider it, too.

If the Post-9/11 GI bill isn’t an option for your family, consider applying for one of NMFA’s many military spouse scholarships! There’s something for everyone, and even partner colleges and universities who have incentives on top of our scholarships! Apply by January 31, 2016!

If you’ve used your spouse’s Post-9/11 GI bill, how did you family decide on this? Tell us about it in the comments.

katiePosted by Katie Savant, Government Relations Issues Strategist

5 Tips to Fund Your Military Family’s Future

New Years can call for reflection and resolutions to set the next 365 days in the right direction. You resolve to take care of yourself, your military family, and this includes your financial well-being, too. If you’ve decided that this is the year to take charge of your finances, take advantage of these five budget tips to monitor your monthly expenses.

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Organize Your Bills Digitally
There are many software programs, online services, and apps available designed to help a person track their monthly bills digitally. Some of these services require paying a few dollars a month. However, others are completely free. Money Stream is a free online service that can alert you when bills are due with a calendar interface.

Track Receipts
Bills are only part of a person’s monthly budget. If you want to get a clear picture of how your finances are being spent, track all of your receipts. But doing this by hand can be a real pain. Thankfully, there are receipt scanners and smart phone apps that can automate the process for you and add totals to a database.

Consider VA Loans
If you are a service member, veterans, or eligible surviving spouse, take advantage of the Veteran Administration’s loan program. A VA loan is a type of mortgage guaranteed by the federal government, but made available to veterans and service members through different lenders, some that even provide loans with an interest rate 2% less than expected. VA loans have some great benefits for many prospective home owners, like not needing a down payment. They also offer interest rates lower than comparable conventional mortgages.

Create an Emergency Expense Account
You should have one savings account that is strictly for emergency expenses. This can include sudden bills, like when your car needs unexpected repairs, or if your plumbing goes awry. You may also have health bills and need to pay off a good portion of your deductible at once. This account should have a few thousand dollars in it and be replenished as the money is spent.

Create Budgets
Create budgets to track your expenses. This should include budgets for particular months, as well as budgets for the week. You can do it on paper, or even in a spreadsheet file. This way, you can add totals and change numbers around as needed.

Fiscal responsibility is something that is important for everyone to manage properly, especially as a military family. Take advantage of the resources available to you, and put some plans in place to make sure you have the ability to accurately track your expenses. Avoiding debt is always worth the effort.

Will you try any of these tips with your military family’s budget? Let us know! 

Posted by Rachelle Wilber, a freelance writer living in the San Diego, California area. When she isn’t on her porch writing in the sun, you can find her shopping, at the beach, or at the gym. Follow her on twitter: @RachelleWilber

Smooth Moves: How to PCS with Your MilKid’s IEP or 504 Plan

Moving with the military is always extremely fun. It’s like a game: what will they break this time? I bet $100 it’s your great-grandmother’s irreplaceable antique tea set.

The other part of moving that is always especially wonderful is finding a new school for the kids. I know you just can’t wait to do this! And for those who are traveling with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or a 504 Plan, this process is just super smooth, right?!

All kidding aside, moving is hard and trying to find a district or school that will meet your child’s educational needs is unbelievably challenging. But, armed with a little knowledge, the process doesn’t have to be a battle.

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Get the records.
Get all of the records from the school that you are leaving. This is your right under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). The law states your school must provide access (copies) to your child’s educational file upon your request. Since we all know you are more likely to get service with a smile if you use a little courtesy, it is best to let your school know about your request a few weeks before you move. And if they give you any pushback, remind them about the law. Lots of school will offer to send those records along for you, but as a teacher and mom, I would always feel better if I have a copy to hand carry in addition to the forwarded copy.

Know the law.
While each district might have its own forms, and each state might tweak the process a little bit, an IEP or 504 Plan is a federally protected legal document and must be adhered to until the new district convenes a meeting, or requests new evaluations. In other words, if a child is getting specific services in District 1 of North Carolina, the new school in California must provide comparable services until a new IEP is agreed to. The word comparable is important, since the law doesn’t require an exact match in services, just similar services.

Bonus: There is new language in the Federal Register that took effect on July 27 that requires DOD schools to comply with federal regulations about accepting IEPs from other school systems.

On the downside, private schools are not required to provide comprehensive services for students who have IEPs. Some schools do go above and beyond. And public school districts may be required to provide equitable services, but these will likely not be an extensive as if your child were placed in a public school setting.

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Know your rights.
You have federally protected rights that are mandated in ALL states. You have the right to:

  • understand the procedural safeguards
  • inspect and review educational records
  • participate in all educational meeting
  • request an outside independent educational evaluation or IEE (this is NOT required to be paid for by the school district for 504 Plans)
  • to receive prior written notice about all meetings and proposed changes to the IEP/504 Plan
  • to consent or withhold consent (withholding consent means that the current IEP will continue until a consensus on a new IEP is reached)
  • to use mediation or other means specified in IDEA 2004 to resolves disputes

Make a Friend
This might be the most important thing you can do. Teachers know the system, the laws, and have access to all of the educational options in the district. They know what is available, reasonable, and what is considered best practice. You need your teachers on your side.

I know we can all become a protective ‘Momma Bear’ when it comes to our kids, but pull that bear back to the mouth of cave. Teachers are highly educated and certified professionals, so take every opportunity to listen to their advice. She might be seeing things that you aren’t, or see a different way to approach a difficult situation.

You don’t need to bake her a cake, although teachers do love cake. Just keep her in the loop from the first day of school. Let her know all about your child, and the strengths and weaknesses you see. Advise her about what has, and has not, worked in the past; she will thank you for not letting her go down a dead end street. Above all, treat her like a professional who takes her career seriously, and who loves your child.

With your records in hand, a good grasp on your laws and rights, and with an ally in the classroom, even moving schools with an IEP or 504 Plan can be made slightly easier.

What tips would you add for military families with IEP or 504 Plans?

meg-flanaganPosted by Marguerite Flanagan, M.Ed, founder of MilKids Education Consulting, a blog focusing on military and special needs children offering practical tips, fun ideas, and advice on decoding the very dense special education laws.

Be a Homework Genius! 7 Ways to Help Your Child With Any Subject!

I was a really good student back in the day. I got good grades, and didn’t struggle… but these days, my child asks me for help with his school work, and at least one a week I am losing badly at “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” I don’t think the schoolwork has become more difficult over the last 20 years or so, but I do know that I need help. I don’t remember all the ins and outs of grammar, or all the steps for finding the inverse of I-don’t-even-know-what in math class.

What I do know, is that there is help for parents like me.

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Ask the Teacher
Hopefully, your child has a kind, approachable teacher. You don’t need to be embarrassed if you don’t understand how to help your child. Send them a quick email, or write them a note asking for help. Oftentimes, they will be more than willing to work with your child, and you, to be sure everyone understands the work.

Learn Alongside Them
As my child gets older, I am realizing how important it is for me to look over the lesson in the textbook so I can better help him. If he is stuck on something, sitting down with him to review the text often gets us much farther than just trying to work through the problems.

Visit Kahn Academy
Kahn Academy is my favorite website for reviewing how to do math problems. You can search for specific skills, and there will be a video lecture to explain the work. Oftentimes, there is more than one way to do the problem, and the videos will show you all your options until you find one that works for your child.

There’s an App for That
Sometimes, the problem isn’t that I don’t understand how to do the math, it’s just that I am so tired I can’t think straight. PhotoMath allows me to simply hold my phone over the problems, and it will give me the correct answer to make checking my child’s work quick and easy. Be careful though, it’s a tempting tool for kids who are inclined to take the easy way out.

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Make an Appointment with Tutor.com
If you need one-on-one support, you can’t beat Tutor.com. It’s free for many military families, and you can make appointments with teachers who will walk you through specific questions and concepts over video chat. If you have children writing essays, they also have a wonderful tool where you can submit an essay for review, and have it back within 24 hours with suggestions to edit it.

Use Games for Extra Practice
If you have a child who “gets it” but just needs extra practice, don’t overlook the huge amount of free resources available online. There are websites for everything from spelling games, to grammar quizzes, math facts practice, and even quizzes to check reading comprehension.

Keep Positive
Whatever you do, reassure your child that everyone needs help from time to time. Model a positive attitude for them, and teach them to be resourceful by showing them where they can go for help when they need it.

Good luck this school year!

How do you help your child when they need it? Share your tips in the comments!

HeatherPosted by Heather Aliano, Social Media Manager