Tag Archives: financial readiness

“Tis the Season to Spend Money, fa, la, la, la la…”

In case you missed it, the holiday season is upon us! Cue the cookies, carols, decorations, and, unfortunately, the long list of family and friends to buy gifts for. If you are like me, the idea of spending hundreds of dollars for just one day might bring on a sudden onset of hives. But, save the antihistamine and follow a few key tips to keep your holiday spending in check and maybe even have enough left over for a trip to the Class Six before the in-laws arrive!

According to the National Retail Federation’s 2016 study, American consumers plan to spend an average $935.58 during the holiday shopping season this year. However, that just covers gifts and not the typical other costs such as travel, parties, and other indulgences (like a Venti peppermint mocha with lots of whipped cream).

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Here are a few ideas to come out debt-free in the New Year!

  1. Set limits and budget based on your own finances. Now is not the time to keep up with the Jones’. True friends and family will understand that your financial security is more important than a $300 game system. To help visualize your own holiday budget, check out this free calculator.
  2. Santa brings gifts so you don’t have to. Parents, kids, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbors, hair-dresser, babysitter, post man, bus driver, oh my! The list goes on and on! Or, does it have to? Is it really necessary to provide gifts for every single person and end up in debt in the process? Perhaps your family will consider drawing names; they may be struggling with holiday spending too!
  3. Shop Smarter. Spread your shopping throughout the year and not just during the peak season (we keep an Excel sheet of what gifts were bought so that we won’t forget). Look for special “savings days” at your favorite retail stores. Use coupons from your newspaper, online or in-store. At the store, use your phone to see if you can get a better price elsewhere. If your favorite store has a price-match policy, you can cash in on savings right there. FYI, the base/post exchange will price-match AND you won’t pay tax (see store for exclusions). Plan your shopping trips by making a list and sticking to it to avoid impulse spending. Buying gift cards? Watch for fees or terms of usage that could erode the value of the gift. Buy directly from the store as bulk gift cards tend to be targets for scammers. Coordinate family gifts for the kids, so you don’t have to do it all yourself.
  4. Go online. Search for coupon codes. Take advantage of free shipping with coupon codes. Speaking of free shipping, December 16 is free shipping day at participating retailers. So make sure to ask if the store you’re shopping will honor that savings. What’s better than free shipping is that the gift is sent directly to your loved one! It will save on wrapping paper and shipping costs. But, you might want to let them know that a gift is on the way so that they can keep an eye out for it and not open it until the big day.
  5. Channel your inner Martha Stewart. Pinterest has TONS of great DIY tutorials that would be sure to please your loved ones. Homemade shows that you took the time to really create something that they would enjoy.
  6. Shop small. Support small businesses to include your fellow military spouses. Watch out for Small Business Saturday that comes the day after Black Friday for even more savings.
  7. Earn some green with credit card rewards. Utilize your credit card for extra rewards during the holiday season. Just remember to stick to your budget and pay the bill on time! Our family saves our rewards for the year and exchange them for cash and gift cards for travel and other unexpected expenses used for the holidays.
  8. Put aside money throughout the year. See if you can send automatic saving withdrawals to a separate savings account each month. Most accounts with online management will let you start a separate account with no changes or fees. Take your budget and divide it by 12. Save that money and, next year, you will be more than prepared to tackle holiday spending!

What holiday shopping tips do you swear by? Share them with us!

robyn_headshotPosted by Robyn Alama Mroszczyk, AFC, NMFA Volunteer

Pay With Your Phone: Trade in Your Leather Wallet for a Virtual One

Mobile pay is the new “it” thing. But if you’re skeptical, you’re not alone. Research shows 46% of consumers have concerns about the security of paying with their mobile device. So what are the facts, and is it safe?

Apple was one of the first to develop the mobile pay system technology and now Android, Samsung, retailers, credit cards, and your bank are even getting in on the action. Check out these frequently asked questions and see if it’s time for you to trade in your leather wallet for a virtual one!

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How do I use mobile pay?
To use, you simply hover your phone over the payment terminal where you’re purchasing goods or services, and verify the transaction on your phone. And unfortunately that means, for now, paying at the pump with your phone is out. To use mobile pay, your phone must be associated with an account at AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, or Verizon Wireless. In addition, Android Pay will only work on devices that run the KitKat version of the operating system. Apple Pay is available on iPhone 6 and newer, or the Apple Watch.

Who’s doing what?
Retailers are also getting in on the action. The Starbucks app allows customers to load money onto a digital gift card and to pre-order so your coffee is ready when you arrive at your local Starbucks (how awesome!). The Paypal app allows you to also pre-order and pay for food at participating restaurants.

Banks, credit unions, and credit cards are beginning to utilize the QR code as means to pay. Chase Pay is working on technology that will allow you take a picture of your receipt to pay the bill.

Another program incorporating mobile pay is CurrentC.  Many large retailers are collaborating on this project, like BestBuy, Target, WalMart, Kohl’s, Shell, and Wendy’s, just to name a few. This program allows you to save all your store loyalty cards and coupons electronically in one place.

Is all this mobile pay safe to use?
Risk and security experts suggest protecting your device by locking it when not in use, using a password or fingerprint access point, and only utilizing secure Wi-Fi connections that require a password. The Apple Pay, Android Pay, and Samsung Pay systems all use a Tokenization system to protect you and the transaction. This means your real credit card numbers are never associated with the sale, thus making the transaction more secure. Many in the industry feel mobile pay is safer than using the microchip credit cards, because those cards still contain your credit card number on the front.

Faster than we know it, we’ll all be using virtual wallets, but that doesn’t mean you have to be in the dark about whether your personally identifiable information is secure. Try it out for yourself and let us know what you think!

Do you use any of these mobile pay options? Are they more convenient? Share your experience in the comments! 

Posted by Carla MacDonald, NMFA Volunteer

Basics of Money We Can Learn From Kids

As part of becoming a personal financial counselor, I had the privilege to teach the financial literacy program, “Money Management” to the Girl Scouts of Southern Arizona Cochise County for two years. I entered this teaching opportunity naively thinking I would teach these young girls about money. Ultimately, these girls reminded me of the basics of money. A subject that we have simply forgotten.

Here are two things you can learn from them too:

What is a need versus a want?
The Girl Scout Brownie Curriculum says a need is something you must have to stay healthy and safe. A want is something you enjoy and want to have, and is not a need.

This was easy subject matter to teach children. They understand they need food to stay healthy and a home to stay warm and safe. However, according a blog called “The Secret Shame of Middle Class Americans,” adults have forgotten this over time. This blog asked individuals whether they could come up with $2,000 within 30 days for an unanticipated expense. Slightly more than one-quarter could not, and another 19% could do so only if they pawned possessions or took out payday loans.

The conclusion: Nearly half of American adults are financially fragile and living very close to the financial edge. Households are living paycheck to paycheck, or in other words, beyond their means. Have we forgotten this basic concept?

One girl scout’s solution: ask yourself when you go shopping, “Is it a need or a want?” If it’s a want, maybe it can be saved for another day, or perhaps a birthday or holiday gift of some sort. Too often, we fulfill our wants, leaving our needs to be tightly met by a small amount of remaining funds.

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What is a savings account?
According to the Girl Scout Money Management program, a savings account is used to deposit money in a bank and earns interest over time. The purpose of this account is to save money that one does not need for daily use. This account is the easiest account to open because of its simplicity.

When I asked the girls if they owned a piggy bank, all the girls’ hands went up and they described their piggy banks to me. Some owned a butterfly, a frog, and one even owned a hippopotamus. While a piggy bank is not a savings account since it is not growing interest, it teaches children the importance of putting money away for use later. A recent Forbes.com article said 63% of Americans don’t have enough savings to cover a $500 emergency. This means that families are resorting to charging to a credit card or borrowing funds in order to meet the cost of the unexpected event.

Why do children grasp the concept of money, yet, as adults we decline to follow the very basics of money management? We are the example for our children and yet we allow instant gratification and fulfillment of our wants to get in the way of our savings. Next time you take a look at your shopping list, take a moment to take a step back to basics! We are our children’s most powerful teachers on how they will view and manage money, learn a little from them as they learn a lot from you!

Have you learned any money tips from your kids? Leave us a comment and share it!

Cynthia Giesecke is a candidate for the Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education (AFCPE), a Girl Scout Money Management volunteer and part of the “Military Family Matters” blog team for NMFA

Mascara, Money, and the Military

It was August 2014, and I was working to find balance as a mother and military spouse during my husband’s second deployment. He had been gone 7 months. Any military spouse knows this is a challenging role that requires flexibility and patience while leaving little room for your own career path. My days consisted of the ‘usual’ military spouse duties; raising our daughter during the terrible twos, keeping up with the housework, and wondering when my husband would call next.

One evening as I was scrolling through Facebook, I saw a fellow Army wife post about a new mascara. I wasn’t a big makeup wearer (and still am not), but I’ve always loved a good mascara and was intrigued.

I was happy to support my friend and purchased the mascara.  As soon as I tried it, I knew I had to tell all of my girlfriends about it. My husband made me promise I’d never “do one of those direct sales companies again,” as I had tried several in the past with little to no success. But I just had a feeling this was going to be different. The cost to sign up was minimal and there were no monthly fees or quotas, so I figured it was worth a shot.

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The days and months that immediately followed my decision to join Younique filled my life with much more than money and makeup. Don’t get me wrong…I am proud to be a mother and military spouse; these will always be my favorite “jobs,” but this little makeup business gave me a PURPOSE outside of “mom” and “wife.” This was something for ME, and I soon realized that I could help change the lives of other women.

Twenty-two months have gone by and it’s hard to imagine my life without this business. The success I’ve had, the relationships I’ve built, and the customer base I’ve created, has been more fulfilling than I can express. I am now a Top Leader in Younique with a team of 1,708 amazing women. I am proud to live and share our mission every day, “To uplift, empower, validate, and ultimately build self-esteem in women around the world through high-quality products that encourage both inner and outer beauty and spiritual enlightenment while also providing opportunities for personal growth and financial reward.”

We have PCS’d twice since December 2014, and I am so grateful I haven’t had to worry about finding a job, or child care, with each move. In fact, the military lifestyle has allowed me to expand my network with each new station. I work my business 99% through Facebook on my iPhone, and I can work whenever and wherever I want. I am able to coach, mentor and build my team around the world, all while providing stability and balance to my family. It’s a dream come true!

As a military spouse and stay-at-home-mom, it is empowering to be able to financially contribute to our family. I love to support fellow military spouses in Network Marketing and truly believe it is the perfect opportunity for us. I am so grateful for the freedom and confidence that Younique and Network Marketing have provided to me and so many women. We have a saying in our company, “so much more than mascara”… There really couldn’t be truer words spoken for myself and my family.

Posted by Tracey Greene, military spouse, and Exclusive Black Status Leader with Younique

Take Your Military Family on Vacation…On a Budget!

It is that time of the year again–time to plan one last family vacation before we PCS. The leave form has been signed and approved, and we are ready to soak up the sun at the beach! Our family has learned that the key to a stress-free trip is to budget a travel fund throughout the year and try to save money wherever we can while we are traveling.

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Here a few simple ways you can take advantage of the resources around you, leave more money in the bank, and still have an enjoyable vacation:

Hotels/lodging

  • If your service member goes TDY as much as mine does, he/she may have rewards programs where points can be redeemed for free nights in hotels.
  • Book lodging on a military installation for deep discounts. We just booked a mini vacation to Florida, right on the beach, for $60/night! There are military installations with lodging available in a variety of locations, both CONUS and OCONUS that are open to DoD service members and their families.
  • Ask for military discounts. A government issued ID card will have to be shown for verification. And remember: the military/government rate may not be cheapest option!
  • Check to see if the hotel offers free continental breakfast. If not, see if you can purchase a breakfast along with your room at a discounted rate.
  • See if there are hotel/attraction packages. All-inclusive packages can sometimes be money-savers, but shop around and remember that tips are not included.
  • Book a studio (a room with a kitchen) and try cooking one meal a day to save money.

Food/Dining Out

  • Google “Kids Eat Free in [insert city]” for a list of restaurants that allow kids to eat free, usually with a paying adult, on certain days.
  • Use coupon sites, and warehouse/membership stores, to buy discounted gift cards. We search for the city and try new restaurants in the area. This also works for attractions/services all over the world.
  • Visit a local grocery store and stock up on essentials to make snacks and lunches. Most parks, amusement parks, and attractions allow you to bring in your own food.
  • Pack reusable water bottles to fill up with water for free.
  • Check out the local installation’s Commissary and Exchange. One of our best memories was buying sushi at Naval Base Coronado and eating a picnic lunch on the secluded beach.
  • Go out for lunch instead of dinner. Or, take advantage of early dining options to save both wait time and money!

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Attractions

  • Visit Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) to rent equipment such as boats, campers, canoes, skis, etc. at bargain prices. You can also purchase discounted tickets to theme parks, local attractions, hotels reservations, cruises, and so much more, from MWR.
  • Research memberships prices, like annual passes, to see if you can save money on tickets, food, souvenirs, and more!
  • Book last minute! Being in the military life, it can be hard to plan a trip more than 2-3 months in advance. You can score great deals on last-minute bookings by being flexible with your destination.

Souvenirs

  • Shop at discount stores near the attraction. They sell t-shirts, mugs, lanyards, pins, and more. The only difference? They are a fraction of the cost!
  • If you have children who insist on buying overpriced trinkets, let them earn spending money before the trip. Better yet, they give the money to you, and you pay for the goods while earning points on your rewards credit card. Be firm and let them know that when they spend their money, it’s gone.

Try a Staycation

  • Use coupon sites such as Groupon and Living Social for deal-of-the-day services that are 40-60% off. Be a tourist in your own city!
  • Have a movie marathon with free rentals from the installation library.
  • Camp in the backyard, roast marshmallows and pop Jiffy Pop over a bonfire. Added bonus-clean bathrooms are only a few steps away!

Hopefully, these money-saving tips will make your trip one to remember and not just because you are still paying for it! Share your money-saving tips with us in the comments section!

robyn_headshotPosted by Robyn Alama Mroszczyk, AFC, National Military Family Association Volunteer, Redstone Arsenal, AL

Military Money Matters: 4 Tips for PCS Budgeting

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PCS season is upon us, and almost every military family can agree that a Permanent Change of Station (PCS) move is difficult for even the most seasoned service families! One of the biggest concerns during a move is the impact it can have on your budget.

Each time we PCS, it presents us with an opportunity to break out our budgeting tools, crack open our family’s trusty budget spreadsheet, or just bust out the paper and pencil and re-visit that tried and true paycheck planner. Whatever your method of choice, it’s imperative that you prepare for your move in advance by making a travel budget.

Having sufficient funds on hand to make the move is critical to alleviating unnecessary stress. While your branch of service will reimburse you for many travel expenses, crunching the numbers before you back out of the driveway or hit the runway will make your PCS much more enjoyable! Thankfully, there’s a wealth of information out there; here are a few tips to help you navigate the sea of great financial resources:

  1. Start with the basics! Begin gathering information on the cost of living at your new duty station by visiting the Department of Defense BAH Calculator. Simply plug in your service member’s rank, your new duty station’s zip code, and the year, and the calculator will provide you with the BAH rates for your family. Once you have this information, take a look at area housing and compare costs. Remember to consider the cost of utilities, too. Call the local cable company and lookup the average cost of electricity, gas, heat, etc. for homes in the area. Knowing your basic housing costs is an excellent place to start!
  2. Take a look at the distance between where you might like to live and the nearest commissary. Commissaries save military families an average of 30% on their groceries, so most of the time, it’s worth the trip! If you will be quite far from the commissary, locate some information on what basic food items in the area cost so you can estimate your monthly grocery bill. Housing, utilities, food and vehicles make up the bulk of a military family’s monthly expenses, so starting here will give your budget a solid foundation.
  3. Speaking of cars, check your vehicle expenses. When you move, insurance rates can change, along with taxes paid on your vehicle each year. This is especially important for leases. Car insurance will fluctuate, and remember each state has different laws regarding insurance coverage. Take a moment to look up this information and adjust your plan accordingly. Planning for possible insurance cost fluctuations is much cheaper than paying the ticket you’ll receive if you drive without the proper coverage! Also, don’t forget to factor gas prices and commute into your budget.
  4. Get the scoop from your Admin section before you leave your current duty station. Take a moment to visit with your personnel office and learn your entitlements before you go. Many military families don’t ask about Dislocation Allowance (DLA), which they are entitled each time they move. DLA’s purpose is to offset the cost of a military PCS, so that families don’t spend an excessive amount of money out of their own pockets when they move. In addition, make sure you understand what receipts to save and what expenses are covered as part of your move. When travel claims are filed, you want to have the necessary documentation so that any monies you are owed are returned to you as quickly as possible.

In the end, no two military families PCS in the same way, so choose the methods which are best for you. Just be sure that budgeting is a part of your process! Having a financial PCS plan will go a long way toward starting your new tour off on the right foot.

What are your best budgeting tips for a PCS? Leave us a comment and share!

meredithPosted by Meredith Lozar, MHR, AFC, Volunteer & Community Outreach Manager

Get Organized and Save Money During Your Next PCS!

As a military family, we move…a lot. And moving comes with a long list of expenses–everything from non-essentials while moving, to security and utilities deposits. But one place you can save some money is by keeping yourself organized so you don’t have to buy multiples of the same things because you can’t find them, or because you recently got rid of something that you will need in just a few years.

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Pack Outgrown Kids Clothing by Size
When kids outgrow clothing, it is easy to just throw them all in a few boxes and decide you will just go through the clothing and organize it if you have anymore children. But the majority of the time, those boxes end up donated or mismarked, and you find a box of clothing that is too small for any of your little ones, months after it would have been useful. Instead, pack up clothing by size. I keep a clear plastic bin in my daughter’s closet with a label taped on the inside with the current size she is wearing. Then as she outgrows a piece of clothing, rather than returning the clothing to her drawers after washing them I place it directly into the bin.

By taping the label on the inside I don’t have to worry about the label getting lost or torn during moving. I labeled each bin with a simple breakdown. For example, the very first bin was labeled Newborn & 0-3 Months. I put everything from clothing to socks and hats. That way, if we ever have another child I know where to start.

Pack Up Kid Toys by Age
Using this same idea, I have been packing newborn and toddler toys in clearly marked oversized footlockers. That way, if another child is over visiting, or if we have anymore children, I will know exactly where to find the perfect age-appropriate toys, without paying for new toys each time.

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Keep Seasonal Wear, Even When You Know You Won’t Need it For a Few Years
When orders come in and you find yourself moving to a warm and sunny climate, it can be tempting to void your closet of all your oversized wool sweaters, winter coats, and snow gear. But we all know what happens when four years later, you find yourself PCSing way up north. All of sudden you have to go and repurchase all those things you got rid of. It is a rookie mistake almost every military family makes at some point. One easy way to save some money is to invest in a few really good storage containers and fill them will all your seasonal wear that will now be obsolete.

Hold onto Household Goods That Might Not Fit Your Current Home
I know a lot of military families that have a box with multiple move stickers on the outside with at least one set of curtains on the inside. When you move as often as we do, things like curtains and rugs often fit one house, but not the next. And buying curtains and rugs at each house can be quite expensive, so to save a little money, I keep a box of all those extra little things that may not fit this house, but just might fit our next.

It is amazing how much staying organized can really save your family money in the long run! If you’re interested in learning how to save even more money, take the pledge to save as a part of Military Saves Week!

Where do you save money through organization in your home?

Posted by Tara O., National Military Family Association Volunteer