<i>This is a commentary by William Bradner of the Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command.</i>

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (Army News Service, Feb. 26, 2007) - For most Soldiers, a savings account is something that's not on their agenda, and in many cases, if they think about it at all, it's in a vague, sometime-in-the-future sort of way.

"Maybe after my next promotion, I'll start saving," or "I just can't afford to put anything away, I'm living month-to-month right now" is an all-too-common frame of mind.

Regardless of the rank or marital status, the Soldiers who make regular deposits to a savings account are by far the minority, and even fewer are planning for retirement, according to recent surveys by the Thrift Savings Plan, a voluntary retirement plan for DoD employees and uniformed service members. They recently surveyed almost 20,000 uniformed and civilian federal employees and discovered that less than 21 percent of active-duty servicemembers are saving for retirement. Lack of funds was cited as the largest reason for not contributing to a savings or retirement account.

However, it's not just the distant, retirement future that servicemembers should be worried about. The immediate future ... this week ... today ... is just as important to save for.

Unexpected medical expenses, new brakes on a car, replacing uniforms, parking or speeding tickets, emergency dental work... If one thing is certain, it's that life happens. In fact, it happens regardless of whether or not you have the money to cover its expenses.

Americans take out an estimated $2 billion a year in pay-day loans, which often charge as much as 500-percent interest, to cover emergency expenses. A modest savings account in each household could end the need for predatory lendors. It could also mean the difference between staying afloat and falling into serious debt.

For Soldiers, the risk of falling behind financially carries even more problems; severe debt can result in the loss of security clearances and disciplinary or administrative actions. It also adds to their stress if they are deployed, as they're distracted about payments, repossessions, or the welfare of their dependents rather than the mission they're facing. Financial security directly impacts Army readiness and reduces stress for Soldiers and their dependents.

To combat this, the Defense Department has designated Feb. 25 through March 4 as Military Saves Week. This is part of the DoD Financial Readiness campaign, and the purpose is to encourage Soldiers and their families to establish positive fiscal-management habits through savings and financial planning.

The Army's Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command, with the Office of the Chief of Public Affairs, is coordinating the Army's response to Under Secretary of Defense David Chu's message urging all departments to participate in Military Saves Week.

The Department of Defense has teamed with the Consumer Federation of America to provide tools, resources and financial counseling to servicemembers through the Web site <a href="http://www.militarysaves.org"target=_blank> www.militarysaves.org</a>. FMWRC is also supporting the effort through a month-long media campaign encouraging Soldiers and their families to participate, and special events through the Better Opportunity for Single Soldiers network to encourage single Soldiers to be more fiscally responsible.

Many installation credit unions and banks will be participating by offering reduced minimum deposits for savings accounts and special offers to servicemembers to entice them to make short- and long-range savings plans.

It doesn't have to be much. Cutting out the morning stop at the coffee shop on the way to work can save more than $40 a month. Paying credit cards on time to avoid service fees adds as much as $25 a month more. Simply going to the post library rather than the name-brand bookstore frees up money to put in a savings account, and using post recreation facilities (theaters, bowling alleys, gas stations, gyms and clubs) not only frees up money in the budget from the reduced costs of the items and services, it saves on gas, oil and wear and tear on a personally-owned vehicle.

Programs like the Thrift Savings Plan and Savings Deposit Program make it easy for Soldiers to save, and there are huge tax and savings benefits to Soldiers who participate in these programs while deployed.

Most Soldiers have $50 or more that they can put away, if they really sit down, make a plan, and stick to it. In less than a year, they can go from "I never have enough money" to "I'm confident we can face an emergency, if it comes."

The local Army Community Service Center and <a href="http://www.militarysaves.org"target=_blank> www.militarysaves.org</a> can show the way. You can also find more information about Military Saves and financial planning online at <a href="http://www.armymwr.com"target=_blank> www.armymwr.com</a>, in your post newspaper, and at your local banks and credit unions.

Don't just think about doing it. Think of protecting your finances and your family in the same way you think about protecting your country and our freedoms - it's not something to put off until "someday."

Page last updated Mon February 26th, 2007 at 12:01