Military Money Matters: 3 Resources to Encourage Financial Readiness

Did you attend the 2016 annual Association of the United States Army (AUSA) Meeting & Exposition? I had the chance to be there and I thought the family forums were a great way to learn about resources and topics of concern for service members and their families.

Preparing for a Life in or Outside the Army through Financial Readiness, Military Spouse Employment and Entrepreneurship” was a forum where various speakers touched on the importance of financial readiness within the Army.  There are three key resources that I would like to share with you, regardless of your branch:

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  • Command Your Cash Microlearning Center

The USAA Educational Foundation’s simple purpose is to lead and inspire actions that improve the financial readiness for the military and local community. The Command Your Cash Microlearning Center consists of tools, tips and tactics to help military members develop sound financial habits and take control of their personal finances. These courses can be used to support your financial decision making and improvement by taking one or all four of the following areas: build your credit, manage your debt, save your money, and control your spending. Sign up and get started and make sure to follow them on social media and use #CommandYourCash to share what you have learned.

  • Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB) Financial Coaches

CFPB launched 60 financial coaches throughout Department of Labor job centers and more than two dozen non-profit social services providers across the country to provide one-on-one coaching to help service members and their families plan for financial success. These financial coaches are free, trusted and certified AFCPE professionals ready to help your military family. Check out a list of financial coaching delivery sites, or visit the CFPB website for more information. A telecoaching function has been added for those service members and their families that are not near any of these centers. You can also look into On Demand Virtual training forums and tools through the CFPB website.

  • 2018 Blended Retirement System

Mr. Steve Hansen from Army G-1 briefly spoke about the blended retirement system that will take effect January 1, 2018. Those currently serving will have the choice to opt into the system, and there will be online training and resources uploaded to the Joint Knowledge Online system, as well as one-to-one opportunities if the service member still has questions and/or concerns. It is imperative more, now than ever, to begin planning whether it is beneficial for the service member of 12 years or less to opt into the new system. Has your family started planning for retirement?

Take this information and tackle your own financial challenges and turn them into successes. Are you educating yourself in the upcoming retirement changes and the long term positive affects it can have in your retirement portfolio? There is still time.

Share with us if you have used any of these programs already and how they have helped you and your family!

cynthia-gPosted by Cynthia Giesecke, NMFA Volunteer and 2012 Military Spouse Fellow candidate for the Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education (AFCPE) and part of the NMFA “Military Family Matters” blog team

Give Thanks for Open Doors and Open Arms

In towns that surround military communities across the country live local citizens who may have never experienced the life of a service member firsthand. However, the sight of a moving truck is a regular occurrence in their neighborhoods, and they may even be able to hear bugle calls from their home while sipping their morning coffee. The people in these communities may rarely set foot on the military base nearby, but their lives are interwoven with the military families who live among them.

They are the business owners who welcome the sight of uniformed personnel in their establishments. They are the community leaders who plan events and parades to honor local veterans every single year. They are the preachers who call spouses of deployed service members, just to check in. They are the school administrators who ensure that the military children in their schools are receiving enriching, supportive educational experiences.

They know that when their own children befriend the new kid at school, a military child, they are taking a bit of an emotional risk. Military children don’t often stay more than a couple of years in their town. They know that even though their own children are not military children, they will likely feel the sting of painful goodbyes.

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These school board members, city council members, teachers, physicians, business owners, ministers, postal workers, neighbors, and friends are all too familiar with the ebb and flow of new military families that arrive to their communities every year while the ones they’ve known for a couple of years pack up and move away.

But they welcome us anyway. They greet us with open doors and open arms. They learn our names, and they befriend us. They care for us.

To the local families who live among military communities: thank you. Thank you for the countless jobs you do to make these towns great places for military families to live. Thank you for supporting and including your military-connected neighbors. Thank you for giving us a place to belong, a home, even if for only a short season.

Have you ever lived in an awesome community? What would you tell the civilian supporters around you? 

teresa-bannerPosted by Teresa Banner, military spouse and NMFA Volunteer

10 Perks Military Families Often Forget

Every family has hectic days and busy schedules.  Military families are no different with the exception that their busy days include dangerous jobs, long term deployments of one or both spouses and the simple fact that the military didn’t issue a spouse and kids in the first place.  That is what an old Army Colonel used to tell, or yell at, young recruits, “Son, the Army didn’t issue your wife and kids.  Leave denied!”   The fact that a wife was in the hospital and two young kids needed care had no bearing whatsoever on what the Army required.  Fortunately, in the military, there are always kind neighbors willing to step in and help.

Is it any wonder that in the hectic and frequently worrisome situations of life, military families often forget about certain perks available to them?  Here is a list of 10 that are often overlooked.

FOOD DISCOUNTS
Who wouldn’t want a few discounts on food and snacks, especially when eating out? Many nation-wide eateries offer 10% or more in discounts to military personnel or their dependents.  Ben & Jerry’s discount is a generous 15-25% depending on the particular shop.  Others that offer discounts include, Arby’s, Back Yard Burgers, Bennigan’s, Buffalo Wild Wings, Burger King, Chic-Fil-A, Chili’s and Denny’s among many others.

THEME PARK PERKS
What military family couldn’t use some theme park fun to unwind following a long separation due to deployment?  Seaworld® offers 1 free single day admission for any active duty member and up to 3 of his or her dependents.  Walt Disney World offers special pricing for active duty or retired military personnel and up to 6 friends and relatives.  The discount is quite generous on 4 day hopper passes and is subject to annual renewal.

NATIONAL PARKS
There are more than 400 national parks in the USA and most have no entrance fees, but for those that do, fees are waived or greatly discounted for military personnel.  For most National parks, discounts can be acquired through the America the Beautiful Pass.

MUSEUMS
Museums across the country, both private and public, typically offer discounts to active duty military members and their dependents.  The Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in San Diego, Ca offers 10% off and free admissions on Tuesdays to student dependents.

HOTELS
If planning a vacation, look for discounts in advance. Some chains include a military discount in the booking price online such as the Hawaiian Inn in Daytona, Fl. Others just require proof of a military ID like Motel 6. Long-term extended stays such as Staybridge Suites offers a discount at over 200 different locations but has per diem rates.

WIRELESS & INTERNET SERVICES
Verizon Wireless, which boasts America’s Largest 4GLTE Network, offers special bundling programs for those serving the country, with special options for deployment time, which is helpful.  If Verizon isn’t your carrier, talk to your customer service agent and tell them what you would like to see in the future.  They may go ahead and arrange a discount or try to match their competition.

MOVIE THEATERS
We’re all used to getting less expensive tickets during matinee hours, but AMC Theaters offer $1.50 off ticket prices even for peak times.  Regal’s ticket price for military personnel is only $10 which is a dollar less than student tickets and almost all Cinemark theaters offer a discount at over 100 location across the U.S.

BANKS
USAA Banking, Navy Federal Credit Union and other national and local banks offer special services and lower fees to military personnel.

MOVING COMPANIES
Most people think he military itself does all the moving of personal belongings from one place to another.  It’s true that the military will handle these things but families sometimes move across town or need something moved from one state to another that doesn’t qualify under the military option.  Penske offers a military discount off truck rentals and is so gung-ho about giving good service, they created a special toll-free number for active duty personnel 1=844-4TROOPS.

NEW CARS
Get the GM Military Discount on eligible new vehicles including Chevy, Buick and GMC.

Typical daily life for anyone serving in the military, whether active duty or dependent, is fulfilling but difficult.  Don’t make the mistake of forgetting to take advantage of the discounts, big and small, that exist as a thank-you-for-your-service from businesses across the nation.  Simply ask about a military discount everywhere you go.  The worst thing that can happen is being told, “No, we don’t offer one at this time.”  And who knows, the question itself may bring about a new company policy.  Every little bit helps, right?  Ooh Rah!

What are your favorite perks? Share them with us!

chelsey-moterPosted by Chelsey Moter, military spouse

Could You Be the Victim of Domestic Violence and Not Even Know It?

Domestic violence.

Abuse.

We’re well aware of these terms…or so we think. Do you really know what domestic violence looks like? You may be in an abusive relationship RIGHT NOW and not even know it.

The common idea of abuse is that it involves being hit, shoved, called names, and degraded; we think physical abuse, rape, or threats. These are easily identifiable.

The truth is, abuse can be downright subtle.

It doesn’t have to be in-your-face to be abuse. It can be insidious, and sneak up on you. Often, it does. You meet an amazing person, they sweep you off your feet. Then suddenly, you start feeling self-doubt. You feel off kilter. You dismiss it as subtle signs of weakness on your part or just a bad mood.

Sure, it could be a bad mood. But it also could be a sign that you are in a domestically violent relationship. Sadly, this could go on for years without even recognizing it.

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If you’ve ever questioned whether you’re in an abusive relationship, here are some signs to look for:

  1. You are constantly second-guessing yourself and can feel like you’re walking on egg shells.
  2. Your self-esteem is inexplicably at an all-time low.
  3. You worry what you say and do will impact your partner negatively, so you start avoiding people and situations that may have that effect on your partner.
  4. You find yourself withholding information from friends and family so you don’t have to explain or make excuses.
  5. You feel responsible for everything that goes wrong in your relationship or in your partner’s life.
  6. Your constantly saying “I’m sorry” even when it isn’t warranted.
  7. You doubt your self-worth, your sanity, your intelligence.
  8. You ask yourself, “Am I too sensitive?” a dozen times a day.
  9. You often feel confused and even crazy at work and in other areas of your life outside of your relationship.
  10. Your relationship becomes the primary focus of your mental space, even when your attention is needed elsewhere.
  11. You stop doing things you enjoy because they don’t.
  12. You can’t understand why, with so many apparently good things in your life, you aren’t happier.
  13. You frequently make excuses for your partner’s behavior to friends and family and withhold information from friends and family so you don’t have to explain their behavior.
  14. You know something is terribly wrong, but you can never quite express what it is, even to yourself.
  15. You start lying to avoid the put downs and stress that your partner throws your way.
  16. You have trouble making simple decisions.
  17. You have the sense that you used to be a very different person – more confident, more fun-loving, and more relaxed.
  18. You feel as though you can’t do anything right.
  19. You wonder if you are a “good enough” girlfriend/ wife/employee/ friend; daughter.
  20. You lose your sense of self.

Do any of those apply to you? Sure, you have good times, your partner may even treat you amazingly well during those good times. But like a flash, things can go inexplicably wrong and you are left confused and anxious wanting everything to feel alright again. Hope becomes your best friend. Hope that your partner will be “themselves” again. Hope that this is the last time they make you feel this way. Hope that you won’t do something to anger them again.

A healthy relationship does not work this way. It is important to remember is that it is absolutely not your fault. Abusers are expert manipulators they can convince you that you do not deserve better treatment, or that they are treating you this way to “help” you. Some abusers even act quite charming and nice in public so that others have a good impression of them. In private is a different story, which is often a source of stress and confusion.

A healthy, non-abusive relationship is built on support, respect, admiration, empathy, and personal responsibility. If your relationship feels more abusive than loving, seek help from a therapist. Recognizing abuse is confusing at best. But acknowledging that you deserve a healthy, loving relationship shouldn’t be.

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

ingridPosted by Ingrid Herrera-Yee, PhD, Project Manager, Military Spouse Mental Health Professionals Pipeline 

 

Advice For New Moms: Just Kidding, We Know You’re Sick of It

Even on baby #3, it still feels like I can’t get it “right.” Part of that is because every baby is so different. But also, what’s “right” is a moving target. Those books you read 10 years ago? Toss ‘em. That advice your doctor gave you after baby #2? That’s no longer the case either. And every mom you meet is full of advice from their own personal experience.

“Oh he’s not sleeping? Have you tried keeping him up later?”

“You should put him down to sleep earlier.”

“Stop nursing him at night.”

“Definitely nurse him at night. You don’t want your breastfeeding supply to dwindle!”

I have to remind myself the breastfeeders and the formula feeders, the co-sleepers and the never-co-sleepers all want the same thing… happy, healthy babies.

October is Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) Awareness Month. If you’re a mom, you know about SIDS. It’s our worst fear. Once we finally get over the fear of losing our baby in utero, we move on to this next phase that keeps us up at night (along with the crying newborn).

In honor of SIDS Awareness Month, let’s try something different. I’m not going to tell you to how to take care of your baby or how to create a safe sleep environment. We get enough of that, right? Instead, let’s narrow down the whole conversation to two important points.

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  1. Babies need to breathe.

Mary Adkins, a member of the National Action Partnership to Promote Safe Sleep (NAPPSS) steering committee, agrees that moms get bombarded with enough advice.

“Parents are so tired of everyone telling them what to do and making them feel like a bad parent,” she said. “That just doesn’t work.”

Preach, sister. We are tired of it. I’ve read it all; I have a (sleep-deprived) brain; I can make my own informed decisions.

Keyword: informed.

“If you think about how tiny that nose and mouth really is and how very little it takes to obstruct that. If you can get that visual and always keep the air around your baby’s nose and mouth uncompromised, the other recommendations follow logically,” Adkins said.

  1. Babies will exhaust you in a way you never thought imaginable.

My one year old woke up EVERY HOUR for the first 7 months of his life. Even now, he’s up once a night. The toll this takes on your body and mind is no joke. You make decisions you wouldn’t normally make—letting your baby sleep on your chest while you sleep in a recliner, for example. No judgement, I’ve done it. Is it safe, though? Absolutely not.

“Parents, especially first time parents are pretty stunned about what that baby requires,” Adkins said. “They are not prepared for how different the sleep cycle of an infant is from their own.”

Unfortunately, there’s not a national program to help military spouses with newborn sleep, but there are programs like Mission Sleep taking steps to make a difference.

And here’s something I wish somebody had told me: you’re not going crazy. This is what babies do, and it won’t last forever.

Most importantly—ask for help and accept it when it’s offered.

Military spouses often find themselves in a particularly vulnerable situation: alone with a new baby while their spouse is deployed and their families are across the country.

If you find yourself in this position, don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor or your FRG leader about support groups. Take advantage of the military spouse tribe near you.

If you’re like me and you’re still not getting it “right,” don’t worry. That’s what ice cream is for.

What kept you sane during those rough, sleepless nights with your newborn? Share your encouragement in the comments!

besa_2016Posted by Besa Pinchotti, Communications Director

Sesame Street and the USO Tackle Military-to-Civilian Transition in New Show

“My family is going to be moving to a new base . . .again,” trails off Katie’s sorrowful announcement to her pals during the Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families – a free, traveling show for U.S. service members and their families. “It seems like every time I get settled, I have to move again.”

Katie’s sentiment represents the stark reality for many military kids. They move.  A lot.

A service member and his or her family will face countless changes and challenges throughout a military career and beyond, and deployments, frequent moves, navigating the transition from military to civilian life are just a few. Sesame Street and the USO understand these changes effect the whole family and hope to ease the stress that can accompany these transitions with messages and tips from this special Sesame Street/USO tour.

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The tour debuted in 2008 and has evolved to reflect the ever-changing needs of America’s military families. Last year, the tour traveled overseas to introduce its newest show about military-to-civilian transition called “Katie’s Family Transitions to Civilian Life.” This latest installment, featuring new songs and choreography, runs simultaneously with their ever-popular hit “Katie is Moving to a New Base,” bringing the journey of a service member and his or her family full circle.

Both moving and military-to civilian transition effect the whole family. The U.S. Department of Defense Education Activity website states military kids move six to nine times between preschool and high school education. These statistics, and the faces they represent, provided Sesame Street and the USO an opportunity to combine their skill and knowledge to create an entertaining resource that tackles these realities head on. The goal of each show is to ensure that military kids and their parents are empowered with the confidence and assurance that they are not going through these transitions alone.

In the new show, Katie — Elmo’s military friend — is transitioning back to civilian life at Sesame Street after living on military bases for the past few years. At first, Katie feels unsure about this big change in her life, but her Sesame Street friends help her realize that she will always be a part of the military community even as she goes on this new adventure. Her experience echoes that of many military kids.

Sesame Street and the USO know everyone can relate to having to find a new job or changing careers, but military families face that challenge, as well as a host of other important changes, when they transition from military to civilian life. For military families everything is different. From the lingo and clothing to the surroundings and structure, none of the everyday rituals of life exist any longer. These types of transitions, and others, can stress both parents and children. To help fill that space and alleviate that burden, the Sesame Street/USO tour helps kids express how they are feeling and what they might be thinking.

The Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families tour is currently touring in the U.S. and will wrap up at the end of October 2016.

Has your family seen the Sesame Street show? How awesome was it?!

Another “First Day of School?” Check Out These Tips!

School is back in swing, and we know it can be an exciting time filled with new experiences, teachers, and friends, but along with that excitement often comes a bit of apprehension. Those concerns can be amplified for military children who, according to the National Military Family Association, change schools on average six to nine times during their K-12 years. Pediatric neuropsychologist, Dr. Jim Olsen states, “uncertainty is the number one challenge for kids and the cause of most anxiety during [a] move.”

If your family has recently relocated to a new duty station, take a moment to recognize that mixed emotions are normal! Staying in touch with friends from former duty stations can help kids establish a sense of continuity in their nomadic military lifestyle, and the era of social media, smart phones, and Skype has made it easier than ever to do so. I’ve found that social media can also be a great way to engage with a new community. Check out school social media pages for clubs, sports, and other ways to get involved and meet potential friends.

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In the quest for new friendships, don’t forget to encourage your family to occasionally put down the electronics and reach out to others in person (neighborhood Halloween party, anyone?). Sometimes the best ways to make new friends are the decidedly old-fashioned ones. If you have older children, volunteering over the summer, or during breaks at school, can be a great way to make new connections, fill school community service requirements, build a resume for future college applications, and a surefire way to start feeling at home.

What else can you do to ease your military kid’s transition back to class this fall?

Use the first few months of the new school year as an opportunity to establish good communication with school and educational staff. Let your child’s teacher know about any special circumstances that might impact their classroom performance such as a current or upcoming deployment, homecoming, reintegration challenges, or changes of duty station. This is particularly important if your family is living in a non-military town where teachers and staff may be less familiar with the lifestyle challenges of the military family.

The new school year is also a good time to assess how your child is progressing academically and determine if any assistance is needed to reach educational goals. The Department of Defense offers free memberships to Tutor.com for all K-12 military students providing one-on-one online tutoring and homework assistance in math, science, social studies, languages, and test preparation. Check it out!

If you are located on or near a military base, make sure to take advantage of the many resources available through community service programs designed to help your child succeed in school. Have a child with special educational needs? School liaison officers are available to serve as disability advocates. Need help purchasing school supplies to start the school year? Check out Operation Homefront’s Back-to-School Brigade program which distributed more than 25,000 backpacks full of school supplies last year to children aboard military installations nationwide. Reach out to your family readiness/liaison officer or ombudsman for more information about these and other installation specific programs.

Making the transition from the lazy days of summer back to regular school routines can be stressful for both children and parents alike. Calm first day of school nerves by practicing the new routine a few days in advance. Routines are comforting for children, and knowing what to expect will make the first day run much more smoothly for everyone. Most importantly, don’t forget to smile for those first day of school pictures! It’s the beginning of a brand new year of learning and fun.

What are some tips you have for military kids who are starting a new school?

Posted by Barbara Eastom-Bates, NMFA Volunteer