Tag Archives: military families

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

Soldier to Civilian: Establishing VA Benefits

My husband, Clay, recently retired after more than 20 years of service in the United States Army. Over the past 20 years of his career, his life was reminiscent to the Johnny Cash song, “I’ve been everywhere.” He has been stationed, or trained on just about every military installation in the continental United States, not to mention assignments in South Korea and Germany. Oh, and there were the deployments, training exercises and more deployments.

Our family’s transition was fairly easy. Clay has a tremendous VA staff while undergoing this process in South Korea. He was shown how to properly complete the paperwork and they handled his case with the utmost importance. Unfortunately, not all service members receive the same care in this process.

Are you a military family nearing retirement and transition? Do you know a family who is transitioning from active duty to civilian? One thing that can be difficult for some is healthcare in the VA system. So, to help, I wanted to share a list of helpful information for you prior to your transition from the military to civilian life in regards to VA Benefits. Here is my checklist that helped our family:

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  • Document EVERYTHING! I don’t care how minor the issue, go to sick call and get it documented. When you begin your transition, the VA requires a copy (digital or hard copy) of your medical records. It’s difficult to claim a disability when you’ve never gone to a doctor or physician and had it documented.  You must approach the VA as if you are the person scrutinizing your own claim.
  • Make copies.  The VA requires a copy of your medical records. If you’ve served one day in the military, you already know paperwork gets lost. Don’t be a statistic. Do yourself a favor by making copies. In the event you need to file an appeal with the VA, you will need those records. Never give your only copy away. When the military medical system went online, your medical records went digital are are now kept on a secure server. If you’re like my husband and enlisted prior to 2005 (and when medical records went digital), part of your records are hard copies. Worse yet, he spent four years of his military career as a recruiter. That means he had medical records from a civilian doctor. What we found out was that the military medical system frowned upon civilian records. For example, he was stationed at Fort Bliss, TX, after recruiting. When we left Fort Bliss, all Clay’s civilian medical records were missing. Luckily, he had made copies and inserted them back into the medical records we were keeping. However, every time we PCS’d, the same happened to his civilian medical records. If you remember nothing else from reading this, remember this: MAKE COPIES!
  • E-Benefits. Each branch of the military as some sort of class that help the service member transition back into civilian life. Part of the Army Career Alumni Program process is establishing an account on E-Benefits. This website allows the service member to track and manage your benefits. You can also establish care at the closest VA medical center through this website. Take time to navigate through the website and familiarize yourself with the information provided – there’s a lot of info!
  • Disability claims. Claim everything. Sore knees? Claim it. Injured your wrist in training? Claim it. Do not be shy, timid, or think the claim “isn’t that bad.” If you have had an issue with your health (physical or mental) caused by your service, or the underlying condition could become worse as time goes along, claim the disability. Your VA representative can help you fill out the paperwork.
  • Service Officer. The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) offers assistance when filing VA claims. The claims process can be confusing and one that service members and veterans shouldn’t try to navigate alone.  VFW Service Officers are trained experts, helping veterans develop their case with ease by reviewing and applying current law, pertinent legislation, regulations and medical histories. As skilled professionals, they assist in filing for disability compensation, rehabilitation and education programs, pension and death benefits, and employment and training programs. And they won’t hesitate to request hearings before the VA and the Board of Veterans Appeals to present oral arguments when needed. This is a service the VFW is proud to offer–free of charge–to anyone seeking assistance with the claims process.
  • Do not waitGet your medical documents together as soon as possible. When Clay retired, he retired from an assignment in South Korea. The wait time to obtain a copy of his records was about a month. If you wait until the last minute, there could be a delay, or worse, a denial of benefits. Get seen by medical professionals, get your concerns documented and request the records.
  • Be prepared. I wish I could tell you why the VA approves and denies claims. I’m as confused concerning the approvals and denials of benefits, too. Having said that, be prepared to appeal. Chances are, you may not have to appeal; however, be prepared to appeal. It’s always better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it. Keep copies of your medical records secure. The copies that will be provided to you will more than likely be digital copies. Continue to monitor, manage and track the VA claims process through E-Benefits. Don’t hesitate to contact a VFW Service Officer to assist you in the claims process. Continue to ask questions as they arise and research on your own.
  • Be patient. The process could take up to 6 months before you receive your disability rating. There is absolutely nothing you can do to speed along the process. Every VA area is different in regards to timing. We decided to retire in Tennessee. The wait time for Clay’s disability rating was a lot quicker than most of our friends who retired in other states, yet slower in a few other states. The point I’m trying to make is to be patient. Monitor the process through E-Benefits. You can call the VA everyday, but it makes no difference. When the VA gets to you, they will get to you. Remember there are hundreds of other service members who are going through the same process as you. Be patient.
  • VA Appointments. When your service member is retiring, they will receive a call from the VA to schedule their VA appointment prior to their official retirement date. Ensure the service member’s information is up-to-date with the VA through the E-Benefits website. Whatever phone number you designate as your point of contact, try to keep it until your appointments are complete. The last thing you want is a missed call or missed appointment. These appointments will take place at the nearest VA medical facility. You will also receive a small travel reimbursement for the mileage it takes to drive there. Be prepared for the appointment to last at least 2 hours. Your service member will be asked a plethora of questions and will be checked physically from head to toe. If your service member is claiming a mental disability claim, they will also be seen by a psychologist or licensed therapist. If a service member is not retiring, the process is the same, but the appointments may or may not occur prior to your official retirement date.

I hope this list assists your family during the transition process. Reach out to other veterans to learn from their experiences and visit your local VFW. The guys and gals in the VFW are loaded with helpful information.

Do you have any helpful tips for other transitioning military families? Share them with us!

laura-prater-headshotPosted by Laura Prater, National Military Family Association Volunteer and blogger at Raising Soldiers 4 Christ

Survive and Thrive: Monterey, California!

People come here, to Monterey, California, on vacation–I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve stopped on my morning run on the rec trail to take a picture for someone who was struggling with a selfie. There are certainly worse places to spend a year or three, but with so much to do, it’s easy to get lost in a sea of tourists and chased back home by that pesky fog. Here are some tips to survive and thrive, should your military family find yourself here at some point:

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Think like a local.
I’ll tell you: all the houses are circa 1950, small, and insanely expensive. Now that we’ve cleared that up, get used to being on a vacation from your dual sinks and walk-in closet. And lets talk central air conditioning. This south Texas native broke out into a nervous sweat when I was told my AC was just to “open the windows.” But I survived the Indian summer without incident. In fact, while I was confused the first time our heater kicked on in June, my cold toes were definitely appreciative.

Like any savvy local, you’ll need a parking pass as soon as you roll into town. It’s $10 for the year, and it gets you two free hours of parking at three lots in town. It’s saved us oodles of cash in parallel parking and parking at the Fisherman’s Wharf (where I jump on the coastal rec trail for a jog). Annual passes to popular attractions are well worth the money if you can swing it. And finally, thinking like a local means avoiding the crowds. Skip the beach on holiday weekends, and hike instead. Outsmart the line for the aquarium that wraps around the block by showing up right after lunch (that’s when the field trips are loading back on to the buses). But, crowds or not, you need to see the whales, see the greens of Pebble Beach, and visit the world-famous aquarium.

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Go green.
Monthly power outages will remind you in the most inopportune times that electricity is a luxury. Stock up on flashlights, candles, and don’t count out that generator just yet. You’ll also want to collect reusable shopping bags since much of the area charges for bags. And, there’s no better motivation to kick your family’s recycling up a notch like the teeny little trash can you’ll find on your curb.

And since we already know that your abode will be on the small side, you might as well get outside whenever possible. There are hiking trails and beaches everywhere. I can literally use the same parking lot for the beach and the grocery store. Between the redwoods, waterfalls, beaches, sea cliffs, and valleys, you have too much to see to just spend Saturday at the movies. Make sure you have your free (for military) America the Beautiful national park pass, and, if you know you’ll be a frequent visitor, consider a California park pass.

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Ignore the weather.
The sea fog outsmarts me more than I care to admit. Some days it hangs around until after lunchtime, and just when this work-from-home mom has committed to a day of sweatpants, the sun breaks out, shining down rays of guilt for not being more productive and/or adventurous for the day. Other times our outdoor plans are dampened by cold drizzle. We know better now — we throw on raincoats and hike anyway. You can also expect to be cold 11 months of the year — coats are beachwear.

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Branch out.
Fun Monterey fact: It’s the language capital of the world. Embrace it! Learn something new. Befriend an international student.

And, in an attempt to squeeze two meanings into this last ambiguous instruction, “branch out,” as in get out and explore the state — there are some big-ticket bucket list items just up (or down) the road!

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Have you lived in Monterey? What tips would you add?

Posted by Kristi Stolzenberg, military spouse and NMFA Volunteer

Need Bonding Time With Your Spouse and Kids? Operation Purple Healing Adventures Brings the Magic!

Not long ago, I worked at one of our many Operation Purple Healing Adventures®. This retreat is for wounded service members and their families to celebrate rediscovering family-fun and togetherness after an injury.

As I met and registered the families for the retreat, it was clear to me how some families seemed disconnected, while others seemed excited with anticipation. It reminded me of my own joys and pains of being left behind during deployments with a young child. I was worried about my service member, yet upset he was leaving me with all of the responsibilities that I didn’t create alone.

Once everyone was registered and settled into their rooms, dinner was served! The parents were quiet and tired from traveling, and I assumed they were also probably nervous about the weekend ahead of them. But the kids were enjoying meeting one another, playing with the therapy dogs, chatting about the nature hikes, climbing the indoor rock wall, riding the giant swing, flying over the water on the zip line tower, canoeing and kayaking, eating s’mores at the campfire, arts and crafts, watching movies, and the numerous carnival games to come.

I’d be looking forward to a good night’s sleep, too, if I were those parents!

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At breakfast the next morning, the parents looked rested, and the kids were ready for all the activities. I could see the parents watching, taking pictures and videos, and talking amongst one another while the kids took on the activities, and I hoped they’d eventually join in the fun together as a family.

Then the magic happened: one father challenged his child to a zip line race, and one mother bonded with her child by seeing who could scream the loudest on the giant swing. And the next thing I knew, parents were bonding with their children by participating in all the activities, no matter what their injury.

After working up an appetite and eating an awesome lunch, the parents took part in the Operation Purple FOCUS (Families OverComing Under Stress™) Parent Groups. This allowed time for them to work together, with support, to enhance their relationships through communication activities aimed at building connections and family closeness.

During the FOCUS Parent Groups, the kids did more activities outside supervised by an amazing camp staff. At first, the parents were quiet, listening to the Operation Purple and FOCUS staff do all the talking. But one woman spoke up, sharing a personal story that many others could relate to, and pretty soon, all joined in, sharing their own experiences.

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At dinner, parents were busy talking about what went on during the Parent Group, while the kids continued to tire themselves out with more activities. I could see a difference in the families from the previous day, where most seemed to be at Healing Adventures for their kids, rather than themselves. But the next day, the parents found themselves again as husband and wife through togetherness, smiles, and hand-holding.

And on the last day, guess what? The parents realized for all the fun, food, and lodging, all they spent was time.

If you are a military family with a service member who is wounded, ill, injured, medically separated, or medically retired, and want to join us on an Operation Purple Healing Adventures, check out our website to see if a camp will be near you.

We can’t wait to see you!

nataliePosted by Natalie Mizell, Youth Initiatives Program Coordinator

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

To the Military Spouse Unpacking Boxes…

This is likely not the first time you’ve packed up all of your earthly belongings and relocated across the country (or across the globe) to a new installation–one you’ve probably never been to before. You’ve painted walls and planted roots in so many homes in nearly as many years. You’re an expert at the art and science of PCSing.

Exciting opportunities await you and your service member at this new assignment, but getting there implies goodbyes, packing, traveling, and living out of a suitcase for a few weeks.

After long hours in the car with kids (and maybe a dog and a cat), you survived the journey along a path that connected your old home to your new home. And you kept track of all the kids’ school enrollment paperwork, teddy bears, and tablets. You navigated backseat sibling rivalry, and developed innovative answers to the age-old question, “Are we there yet?”

And now you’re here. Your new home. The unpacking begins.

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You’ve wondered to yourself, “How many more boxes?” and “When did we accumulate this much stuff?” and “I just need to unpack my right shoe. Where is my right shoe!?” And if you’re like me, you might have lost your cell phone among the jungle of cardboard that has swallowed your new home. Twice. A day.

You’re feeling a bit peeved because you still can’t find the box that has the hand-embroidered heirloom Christmas stockings. Of course you carefully checked for each numbered box when the movers unloaded, but this one seems to have somehow escaped roll call. But you have found the box where the movers packed your plunger. As in, your toilet plunger. WHY, movers, WHY?

You worry about the kids. How will the moving affect them? How soon can they make a new friend? The preschooler has asked a hundred times already when we can go back to the “old house.” You gently remind them that there’s a “new house” to be excited about. But in the pit of your stomach, you feel homesick, too. When it it’s time for your service member to go back to work with his or her new unit, and you stay home home unpacking the remainder of household goods alone, loneliness creeps in.

We know what you’re going through, dear military spouse. We see your strength. We see the way you carry on and just simply make it all work.

Dear friend, this is what we want you to know: You’re doing great. The kids will be okay. They will make friends. And you will, too. Take a deep breath. You might even find that pesky box of Christmas stockings hidden among other identical boxes in the garage. This season of unpacking opens the door to a new season of life in your new garden. Paint those walls and plant those roots. Grow and bloom, friend.

Do you have a friend who could use encouragement? Share this blog post with them!

teresa-bannerPosted by Teresa Banner, National Military Family Association Volunteer

Grab a Bite to Eat, and Help Military Families…At the SAME Time!

Summertime means BBQ, family time, and travel! And this summer, the National Military Family Association is excited to partner with TravelCenters of America for the fourth year in a row to honor active duty military, veterans, and their families.

From June 28 through August 5, Country Pride and Iron Skillet full-service restaurants will donate $1.00 to NMFA on select breakfast, lunch and dinner menu items sold each day for the duration of the campaign.

That’s right…donating to an awesome cause just got THAT much easier, and more delicious! Just by eating food, you’ll help NMFA continue to impact military families, like the Stack family, who attended our Operation Purple Family Retreat in Wyoming.

“We are so thankful for this opportunity to come here and be able to reconnect,” Jason Stack, active duty service member and father of two, shared. “We get to just be together as a family without the distraction of phones or internet, or anything. It’s really nice to just bond together as a family.”

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Does it get better than that?

Actually, it does.

On July 4th, select menu items will be available for free to all active military personnel and veterans at both TA and Petro full-service restaurants to honor the service and sacrifice of the men and women who’ve served our country—something the Stack family knows all too well.

“We try to support him,” wife Christina explained. “Especially when he’s away, I try to make sure everything’s taken care of at home so he doesn’t have to worry about it. He knows and trusts I can handle life at home while he’s gone, and that helps him focus on his job while he’s away.”

So, as you and your family travel around this summer, keep TravelCenters of America in mind to help give back and support military families, like the Stack’s.

Our nation’s military families sacrifice every day. Take a pit stop to show them their sacrifice isn’t unnoticed.

shannonPosted by Shannon Prentice, Content Development Manager