Big Money Lessons for Military Families

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From the first sign that you may be shipping out, a soldier needs to prepare mentally, emotionally and financially.

My sister, Zulma Sanclemente-Youngs, is Rank Sergeant for the 230 Sustainment Brigade in Tennessee for the U.S. Army National Guard. Since Zulma served overseas in 2007, she gave me these pre-deployment tips for soldiers and their families.

Check out these 10 basic to-dos for getting your finances and life in order prior to deployment, which were reviewed by the Tennessee Military Department of Joint Public Affairs.

1. Saving is the name of the combat game.

Preserving a bit of the money from the military paycheck will help to deal with rainy days. “Biggest thing in finances is to save money and get everything prepared,” advises Zulma. Taking a small part of your paycheck and placing it in a separate bank account, while using the rest to pay bills, will assist in unexpected situations when returning from deployment. “When we came home, gas was outrageous … luckily we had plenty of savings to get us prepared,” Zulma said.

2. Know who is caring for your kids and your finances.

Take the time to find the right person to look after your children and take charge of your finances. “Get legal advice to figure out who has power of attorney to take care of your kids and someone that you trust,” Zulma said. Also, make sure it is someone that you trust 100% because they will have the authorization to act on your behalf in legal and business matters. “They are basically taking your place temporarily, not permanently until you come home,” Zulma said.

3. Introduce your power of attorney to EVERYONE.

Take time to introduce your POA to all you know. “Physically bring the person who is going to be in charge of your kids and finance and introduce them to everyone and also your creditors,” instructs Zulma. You want to make sure your lawyer, doctors, mechanic, accountant, friends and family personally meet the man or woman who will temporarily step into your shoes to assuage doubt and to give your loved ones advance notice.

4. Keep your payment schedules on clockwork.

Take a moment to show your POA your method of paying bills. For example, if you always paid on the 15th of the month, have your POA continue to do the same. This will avoid confusion on your part when returning home and in the payment process with your creditors or local bill companies.

5. Alert your community.

Speak with everyone that you know within your community. Reach out to your local place of worship and communtiy centers because they will be your support systems. “It feels good just knowing you have the church right there for you,” says Zulma. Also, notify your child’s school so the administrators will be able to address any issues involving your child.  “If you notify the school and give them the heads-up, they will be able to know how to handle the kids,” advises Zulma.

6. Notify all creditors.

Contact your creditors and local bill companies to advise them of your deployment. “Notify all creditors that are under that soldier’s name, letting them know that soldier is deploying,” advises Zulma. By reaching out to the companies ahead of time and explaining your circumstances, some may be able to work with you and assist the spouse that stays behind.

7. Liquidate unnecessary items.

Get rid of the physical belongings that you do not need. If it is an unnecessary item, sell it. Take the profits from the sale and place it in your bank account to have extra money upon your return. “Use that money and put it in savings because the soldier’s first check may be late before they start to get real money coming in,” advises Zulma. Those extra funds can also help your spouse or POA make payments on current bills or household and child expenses.  “Use that money from the liquidations, so you won’t have hardships,” says Zulma.

8. Don’t spend money pre-deployment to relieve anxiety.

During times of stress and with a full bank account, you may want to buy lots of things — avoid over-spending. Instead of relieving your stressful anxiety, in the long run, it will leave you broke and over-stressed.  “Try not to spend too much money when you see that money in the bank,” instructs Zulma. If you’re going to use the money, spend in moderation."

9. Keep a spending journal.

For the spouse that stays behind, jotting down your accounting expenses will help reduce any questions the deployed spouse may have of what you did or did not spend during their absence. “Keep a journal, like a planner, where the money went to in case your husband says, ‘I don’t know where you spent my money.’ Be nice and real calm about it and say 'Here, this is where our money went,'” advises Zulma. This will prevent any fights over confusing spending and also strengthen your own financial organization.

10. Don’t tie the knot to someone right before deployment.

If you’re dating someone, try not to get the marriage bug before you’re deployed just to maintain the relationship. “Don’t do it because you’re fixing to deploy and you’re afraid to lose each other,” says Zulma. But if you have plans to get married, try to postpone the engagement until after the deployment, as waiting will help build the foundation. “That is going to build the relationship and make the relationship even stronger.”

Ultimately, it is important for soldiers to prepare prior to deployment because, when it comes down to it, you don't want to leave the chaos of war just to deal with financial chaos at home.

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