FORT LEE, Va. – With inflation soaring in the U.S. and elsewhere, many among the military community, including reservists and veterans, are struggling to make financial ends meet and are in need of a good battle plan to beat their budget foes.
Anyone in such a predicament would do well to employ the Department of Defense weapon system at their disposal – namely the Financial Readiness Program, or FRP, which is part of the Army Community Service troop and family support network.
RECEIPT OF THE MISSION
“I give them the order to be financially successful going forward,” said Wanda Butler, a personal financial readiness specialist for Fort Lee’s FRP, as she described the initial guidance she provides to customers.
Locked and loaded at every installation, FRP specialists like her are the battle captains with the ability to lay out strategies for eliminating debt, balancing budgets, understanding the pitfalls of credit, achieving forward movement with a saving and investing plan, and more.
“The Financial Readiness Program is about financial education and financial literacy,” Butler said. “My job is to teach as much as I can and to reach as many as I can as a financial counselor.”
It would be a misfire to compare FRP specialists to off-post financial advisors. They’re not in the business of setting up stock investment strategies or individual retirement accounts. Instead, the FRP achieves its objective of increasing financial literacy within the U.S. military community through classroom training, individual counseling sessions and collaborative planning with non-profit organizations like Army Emergency Relief. Many tools and resources also are provided online.
It’s “all about information,” Butler emphasized. “Even if our patrons don’t absorb everything we’re giving them at the time of a class or counseling session, they still have access to the online resources that we provide them. They can always go there and research whatever they need; whatever applies to them at the time. The Office of Financial Readiness is our ‘go-to’ because it has so much basic literacy training information.”
COURSE OF ACTION DEVELOPMENT
The DOD Office of Financial Readiness website – finred.usalearning.gov – provides support with a variety of resources created specifically for the military community. The goal is to foster a financially secure and mission-ready force.
“I also direct people to militaryconsumer.gov, which is another good website because it offers tips on things as simple as setting up an allotment,” Butler said. “So, if the service member decides ‘I want to start an emergency fund,’ one of the ways they can do it successfully is to pay
themselves first with the military allotment and have that money in an emergency fund coming directly out of their paycheck into their savings account.”
People often do not know what they need until there is an emergency, Butler pointed out.
“If I can get them to start with the basics of an emergency fund, that would be a great place,” she said.
To help people within the military community identify risks while they execute their personal finance plans, the Federal Trade Commission created Military Consumer Month. The July observance is meant to increase awareness of consumer control measures (protections) and financial readiness for service members, veterans and military families.
According to the FTC, certain scams are more likely to target the military community, in part, because it’s a population that relocates frequently and has many service members who are living on their own and earning a paycheck for the first time. Frauds against military consumers can undermine military readiness and troop morale. So, the commission works to eliminate scams through aggressive enforcement and ongoing educational campaigns.
For example, the FTC and a group of 18 states recently sued a national retail chain for jewelry to stop them from cheating military families with illegal financing and sales practices. The deceptive practices of “payday lenders” also are of major concern, and further underscores the need for building financial literacy across the force.
According to the 2021 Better Business Bureau Scam Tracker Risk Report, the number of active-duty service members exposed to a scam was nearly identical to the general population reporting monetary loss, but the susceptibility of active-duty military was 42 percent higher than the overall population.
Also, according to the 2021 Online Shopping Scam Report, more than 10 percent of online purchase scams reported to the BBB Scam Tracker came from the military community. Active-duty military (78.3%) and military spouses (75.2%) were more likely to report losing money to these scam types than non-military consumers. As well, the median dollar loss for all military consumers – active duty ($178), military spouses ($119), and veterans ($139) –is higher than non-military consumers ($100).
PLAN OF ACTION APPROVAL
The Office of Financial Readiness sets out every July to increase service members' knowledge of how to recognize and avoid scams, as well as understanding consumer protection laws, insurance and warranties, and smart buying strategies.
“What I like about Military Consumer Month is it applies to everybody – service members, their families and veterans,” Butler said. “I wish it was something every month to be able to keep that emphasis going, but I’ll take what I can get. The timing is ideal as well because this is the when a lot of people are PCS-ing (Permanent Change of Station) and their finances are getting impacted if they don’t have enough saved up for the move. It can be a huge wake-up call, ‘Oh, wait a minute; maybe I should go ahead and start saving.’”
The best chance a military community member has to accomplish financial success in an economic environment of soaring inflation is to be trained, financially aware and ready to take budgetary action.
The DOD tools provided by the Financial Readiness Program and the Office of Financial Readiness and Military Consumer will help assess an individual’s unique financial situation and execute the appropriate action at the appropriate time.
“Inflation is an important consideration when we talk about a spending plan,” Butler said. “For example, some variable expenses such as gas prices can have a significant impact, so we talk about ways to adjust.”
Those wanting assistance with developing a well-thought-out and intentional spending and savings plan should contact the ACS office at 804-734-6381. The listing of financial readiness classes can be viewed on the Family and MWR website, lee.armymwr.com. The online resources at finred.usalearning.gov or www.militaryconsumer.gov also can help people get started on or continue their decision-making process.