FORT WAINWRIGHT, Alaska - Military Saves, a Defense Department and nationwide effort to encourage saving among military families, is coming to Fort Wainwright this month. While saving money and getting out of debt is something military families can always work toward, Military Saves Week, Feb. 22-26 here, highlights the importance of this issue and will encourage Soldiers and families to make a pledge and work toward building an emergency fund and nest egg, said Monica Teel, Army Community Service Financial Readiness program manager.

"The purpose is to improve quality of life for Soldiers and families," she explained. "To reduce our credit and loans and to promote saving more for smaller emergencies and larger purchases."

The program encourages Soldiers and family members, including teens, to make pledges this month to become savers. A Military Saves booth will be at the PX mall Feb. 22-26, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4 to 6 p.m. with information and pledge cards. Online pledges are also an option for Soldiers and families at

Locally, MAC Federal Credit Union on post has joined the program's efforts offering incentives including a donation of $1000 to the company family readiness group fund with the most pledge forms submitted to ACS between Feb. 15 and March 31. Soldiers and families can participate by visiting the Military Saves booth this month and completing a pledge form or by completing an online form and bringing it in to ACS.

With numerous corporate sponsors like the famed Dave Ramsey and Financial Peace University, Military Saves provides the resources and influence to reach every installation with the message that saving money will improve the quality of life for Soldiers and families.

There are some obstacles to their mission, however, Teel said. One of the problems is that many Americans have developed a "debt culture mentality" that states, "I've always been in debt. I can't change it and the only way to get out of debt is to make more money."

There is a better way, she said. "People don't have to live with debt. It's a hard sell when people are living paycheck to paycheck, but if they recognize that they can look at how much money they make now and make a plan with what they have, they can make changes," Teel said.

From emotional spending before, during and after a deployment to not properly planning for a PCS move, Teel said there are a variety of life events that can trip up military families on their road to financial freedom.

"A PCS move from Alaska can be a significant financial event for families," she said. "While the major move expenses are typically covered by the government, many families don't plan for the sight-seeing and family visits along the way. And if they put all of those extra expenses on a credit card, it's not uncommon to accumulate $3000 to $6000 in debt."

Add in the loss of COLA, BAH and even a spouse's income lost due to a move and this can spell real trouble for a military family, Teel said.

"Studies show that most payday loans happen within the $500 to $1000 range," she said. "As Americans continue to spend more than we make, just coming up with that amount can be a financial burden."

This is why only working to pay off debt alone is not enough; families need an emergency fund and need to save for expenses in their lives or they can often end up right back in debt even after working diligently to get out from under it, she explained.

"It's never too late to start a new pattern for savings," Teel said. A deployment is a good time to evaluate spending and savings plans and make new goals. "Extra money during a deployment, income tax returns and the PFD are all excellent opportunities to set new goals," she said. "If they even consider saving part of those for an emergency or PCS fund and then using the other part, there really are so many things they can do. They just need to talk about saving and planning for changes. We can help them do that."

Teel said that the Financial Readiness program has resources and can provide one-on-one assistance, briefings for FRGs and other groups and answer questions Soldiers and families might have. She can also evaluate current budgets and plans and provide guidance about how to save more, pay off debt and help Soldiers and families work toward financial freedom.

"Having a savings and no debt helps create peace and means less stress and worry," she said. "This will mean you can enjoy your Army life a little more and take advantage of the amazing opportunities available here in Alaska or wherever you're stationed."

For more information about the Military Saves program, making a savings pledge or for information about the Financial Readiness program, call Teel at 353-7438.