Twice a month, Coast Guard All Hands will feature “From the Homefront,” a column for Coast Guard spouses by Coast Guard spouse Shelley Kimball. Shelley has been married to Capt. Joe Kimball, chief of the office of aviation forces at Coast Guard headquarters, for 14 years. She currently serves as an advisor for the Military Family Advisory Network.
Written by Shelley Kimball
Don’t click by this column because it focuses on one of those dreaded topics no one likes to talk about: finances. It’s not exciting, but it’s important.
In my house, it is one of our least favorite topics. I hate talking about it. Hate it. And I know I’m not alone. But I also know that we need to be educated in our financial wellness to protect our futures.
In fact, lots of research on military families has similar findings, that financial uncertainty is a common concern among military families. For example, Blue Star Families has found it to be a primary concern for families in its lifestyle survey results in 2013, and again in 2014. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority found that service members regularly engage in financially unstable credit card practices like paying over-the-limit charges, or paying late fees. And more recently, the Military Family Advisory Network found in its research that service members wanted more financial counseling and instruction.
This kind of uncertainty can have detrimental effects on more than a family’s bank account, according to Lisa Johnson, family support services program manager for the Coast Guard. The increased stress from financial problems can lead to depression, anxiety or compulsive behaviors like over-eating, gambling or excessive spending. It can also lead to negative career consequences like revoked security clearance, military discharge or criminal sanctions.
“Financial concerns can be a major stressor for service members and their families and have been shown to have a direct impact on mission readiness,” Johnson said.
It is such a serious issue among service members and their families that one group took a holistic approach to studying all service branches’ compensation and found it to be a priority. The final report of the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission recommended that service members receive better financial literacy training at stages of their careers, and it specifically suggested technology-based instruction.
What does that tell us? That many of us want and need more financial training to make sure our money is protected. To that end, there are two avenues for financial wellness instruction for Coast Guard families. Both are free, and both are online. One is through Coast Guard Support, and one is through a military family nonprofit, the Military Family Advisory Network, in partnership with three financial institutions that serve military families and veterans.
Before I launch in and describe the programs, I bet some of you are wondering what happened to the Dave Ramsey Financial Peach seminars the Coast Guard used to offer? Those are no longer available. Now it offers internal programming.
The Coast Guard is offering the Personal Financial Management Program, which is a series of seven webinars to address careers phases and the financial wellness needs at each stage, beginning with an introduction to life-long personal financial habits and ending with how to plan for career transitions and retirement.
It was developed “to ensure Coast Guard employees and family members received the services needed to develop personal financial management skills and sustain or increase resiliency,” Johnson said.
The webinars are free, and they can be accessed through CG SUPRT. To register, go to the CGSUPRT website. Then choose the Quick Links tab at the top of the page. In that tab, choose Personal Financial Management. Some prerecorded webinars are available now, and some require preregistration. All are free.
Another new program uses social learning to make financial information more (dare I say it) enjoyable. The program, offered for free through the Military Family Advisory Network, is a 10-week online program available to anyone.
“There are thousands of financial resources — so many that it can be difficult to know where to start,” said MFAN’s Executive Director, Shannon Razsadin.“MilCents makes understanding finances easy, interactive and actually fun. This program will empower military families to take control of their finances, one step at a time.”
MFAN partnered with the Better Business Bureau Military and Veterans Initiative, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Investor Education Foundation and the National Foundation for Credit Counseling to develop the MilCents program. You can join directly through the MFAN homepage.
The goal of MilCents is to help military families understand their current financial situation, manage and protect their money, and plan for the future. During the program, participants can:
- Learn how to read a leave and earnings statement (LES).
- Get their credit score and learn how to improve it.
- Categorize their spending and saving.
- Create a budget.
- Find out how to avoid predatory lenders.
- Join a social community where they can interact with other program participants and financial experts, sharing their successes and asking questions.
The program has interactive assignments each day – most take one or two minutes to complete, and then participants can talk about what they are learning in an internal social network. (It’s not required to talk about it, and no personal information is shared or released.) It is intended to take the intimidation factor out of dealing with money issues in an easy way.
Did I mention both programs have prizes and drawings for participation? If that’s not an incentive, I’m not sure what is. For those of us confounded or frustrated by our finances, it looks like help is waiting for us.
What has helped you get your family’s finances under control? What programs have helped you? Share your insight below.
Coast Guard Personal Financial Management Program:This is the main link to all of the resources available to families looking for assistance through the Coast Guard.
Money coaches: As part of CG SUPRT, Coast Guard members and their families have access to money coaches. To access these services, go to the Personal Financial Management tab on the CG SUPRT page. It is part of the Quick Links tab at the top. A fast way to speak to a money coach is to call CG SUPRT directly at 1-855-CG-SUPRT (247-8778).
MilCents : This is a financial wellness program developed specifically for military families. The 10-week program launched this week, but you can still join in and catch up within the first three weeks. It’s free!
The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not to be construed as official or reflecting the views of the Commandant or of the U.S. Coast Guard.