Tag Archives: money

“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

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

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

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

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