FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. – The holidays are right around the corner, and Soldiers looking to provide the perfect Christmas for their Families may be struggling to make their money work for them.
However, Fort Campbell is home to several services and subject matter experts who can help them along the way. Army Community Service, or ACS, and the Transition Assistance Program, or TAP, offer financial counseling, and Soldiers can also consult their brigade-level financial counselor.
“I always tell everybody to start with a spending plan,” said Brett Ives, personal financial readiness specialist, Army Community Service-Financial Readiness.
“Create a list of everybody who you’re planning to gift something to and set a limit on how much you’re going to spend on each person. Then shop around and take your time finding the best prices on each item,” Ives said.
Spending plans are even more effective when they’re developed a year in advance, said Samantha Cote, financial counselor, Transition Assistance Program.
“If you save for that holiday all year round, you don’t have to worry about it later because you’ve been planning for it the entire time,” Cote said. “Let’s say my short-term goal is to save $1,000 for Christmas by December of next year – I can plan to save about $80 a month and put that aside into a separate account.”
No matter the timeline on a spending plan, she said using the SMART method – specific, measurable, action-focused, realistic and time-bound – is an effective way to stay on target.
“It’s about stating your goals very specifically and clearly,” Cote said. “When a goal is measurable, you know there’s a clear success point for what you’re trying to meet, like raising a specific amount of money or raising your credit score to a certain amount.”
She said SMART goals should also be achievable and realistic within the planner’s current financial situation and adding a time limit encourages follow through on the spending plan.
Having a plan in place can set Soldiers and Families up for success, but they can also practice smart shopping to cut back on costs.
“For example, there’s price matching at the Exchange,” Ives said. “And they don’t charge sales tax, which is a huge benefit – especially in this area when you have a 9.5% sales tax rate in Montgomery County. Take advantage of military discounts as well, and always ask businesses if they offer them.”
Ives also recommends Soldiers and Families exercise caution when shopping online, particularly when it comes to choosing which websites they order from.
“There are a lot of scams out there, especially during the holidays, so make sure it’s a legitimate website,” he said. “I always suggest that if people are shopping online, they use a credit card rather than a debit card, because if a debit card number gets stolen it’s linked directly to their bank account. But if it’s a credit card number and you have a fraudulent charge, you can dispute it and they’ll typically refund you that money.”
However, Ives said it is important for shoppers to make sure they can afford any purchases made using a credit card to avoid taking on debt.
“What happens when people don’t plan their Christmas purchases ... is that it ends up on a credit card because you panic and don’t have the money for it,” Cote said.
Overspending with credit cards can mean paying interest and paying more money in the long run, she said.
According to the Federal Reserve, the average credit card interest rate in the third quarter of 2022 was 18.43%, reflecting a steady upward trend. Paying off that interest can prove challenging for Soldiers and Families.
“Debt is a really hard cycle to break, especially if you have several credit cards and you don’t have the room in your budget to pay them off,” Cote said. “That will affect you for several months depending on how fast you’re willing to pay off your credit cards, and if you continue to use them it’s significantly harder.”
Those looking to avoid that outcome can schedule an appointment with ACS-Financial Readiness by calling 270-798-5518, or visit TAP at 5661 Screaming Eagle Blvd. to consult with financial advisers and develop a spending plan.
“Creating amounts to set aside for things is very helpful in budgeting for the Christmas season and holidays in general,” Cote said. “Breaking it down into steps makes it easier instead of just taking on that full cost at Christmas, and there are also tons of creative gifts that don’t require money.”