Story by Erin Wittkop, Defense Media Activity
Money. Some people love to make it, some people love to save it and some people love to spend it. Regardless of where you fall on this spectrum, I think there’s one thing everyone can agree upon: it’s crucial to one’s long-term success and comfort in life.
However, managing money isn’t a skill we’re all born with. Financial management is learned over a lifetime and access to this type of information isn’t always readily at hand.
Barbara Thompson, the Defense Department‘s Office of Family Policy, Children and Youth director, says the DoD is working diligently to develop this life skill in service members, beginning in basic training, to set them up for long-term financial success.
“We really are very focused and we have a requirement that all of our basic training enlistees get some form of financial training during basic training. Then, at their first duty station, they’re required to go to have again more financial training.”
She notes that the department has developed this training to accommodate for a lack of financial management skills seen in young adults coming straight out of high school. While the DoD believes that financial readiness equates to mission readiness, officials within also realize that a lack of financial education will having lasting effects beyond the organization’s own walls.
“If you’re distracted because you have financial issues, it takes away from your concentration on your job and your family. We want our folks to feel that they are in control of their financial well-being.”
“If [a] service member is needing help, we’re here to help and it’s ok to ask for help, because it’s kind of a national issue; it’s not just within the Defense Department. The more that a service member can learn about financial readiness and the impact that it has on his or her financial well-being, the better, because once [they're] armed with that knowledge, that’s power and [they can] make good decisions.”
Basic training is only the first instance that service members are introduced to financial management skills. The department has developed an arsenal of financial management and planning resources to help troops throughout the entirety of their careers as their financial portfolios grow and change with them.
Some of the most popular and effective programs are:
- Installation Personal Financial Managers – Personal financial managers can be found in every installation’s family center and are accredited professionals available to help service members and their families manage their money.
- Military OneSource – This website offers podcasts, a c.d., articles and financial calculators all aimed educating service members and their families on financial management and how to overcome financial challenges should they arise. They also staff certified financial counselors who are available online or for in-person sessions for individuals who want more in-depth, hands-on guidance. Deployed service members or troops preparing to deploy can also find a deployment guide that walks them through pre-deployment preparations, such as authorizing a Power of Attorney, and their rights and protections once they’re out of country, including the Service Members Civil Relief Act which offers protection against identity theft.
- MyMoney.gov – This website is a product of the Financial Literacy and Education Commission, which is made up of more than 20 federal agencies including the Defense Department. MyMoney.gov is dedicated to increasing financial literacy among all Americans and covers everything from earning, saving, spending, investing, borrowing and protecting your money. It also offers planning options for major life events as well as tools to help you better manage your finances and quizzes to test your knowledge.
These programs are working, too. Self-reported data collected on troops in pay grades E-1 through E-4 reveal that they’re reaching increasing levels of comfort and financial stability.
At the end of the day, Thompson wants service members to learn to keep financial stress to a minimum throughout their lives.
“[We want service members to be able to] meet financial obligations with undue stress. If you are living paycheck to paycheck or you are using your credit card to pay your bills because you don’t have the money in the bank…that’s stress. My goal would say every military member and their families meet their financial obligations with undue stress.”
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