How's your readiness?

  • Published
  • By Maj. Chad Heyen
  • U.S. Army Command and General Staff College
When you did your taxes this year, did you ask yourself, "Where did all the money go?" Have you asked that same question in previous years? Regardless of your rank or income, that is a common question both in and out of the military. Are finances a source of stress in your life? Are finances a source of stress especially during deployments?
You're not alone.

When we prepare to deploy, or prepare our Airmen to deploy, we focus on readiness in the aspects of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. We spend days in deployment preparation and deployment reintegration covering those four areas upon our return. How much time did you take to think about finances? Are you, as the military member, the keeper of the finances or is your spouse? How are you finances going to change while you are gone? Do you even talk about finances on a regular basis while you are home or are finances just a source of frustration and fights?

It is unfortunate that America's high schools provide very little education when it comes to personal finance. All of the military services have increased training and counseling services to help improve financial readiness. Financial problems don't just affect your personal life, they can have a negative impact on your professional life as well. The military is seeing an increase in personnel either unable to get an initial security clearance or losing an existing security clearance due to financial problems.
As a former squadron commander, I saw many instances of folks on the brink of financial disaster. In many cases, if the individual was willing to accept assistance, I chose to try to educate first rather than discipline, to see if we, as a unit, can help bring the individual back from the financial brink.

If a young Airmen didn't learn how to handle finances from parents or school, and if we only gave them basic financial skills in basic training, we looked at other resources. Financial counselors through the Airman and Family Readiness Centers are a big help. Leaders and first-line supervisors who took the time to teach personal finance management to new Airmen inspired me. Those supervisors weren't being nosy by asking about bills and checking account balances, they were being proactive instead of reactive. As a commander, that is what I like to see. We had many successful cases and I would like to think we helped educate future leaders along the way.

Handling personal finances is not much different than your profession. It takes practice and time. It takes someone who cares, to check on your work and show you better ways of doing the job. It becomes second nature once you are confident at it.

Financial readiness is just as important and critical to mission success as is physical, mental, emotional and spiritual readiness. Can you imagine a deployment where you didn't have to worry about finances back home? That type of preparation doesn't begin in the deployment line, it begins months and sometimes years earlier. However, if you are getting ready to deploy, you are probably thinking, "this would have been great if I had months or years, but I don't." Well, let me just say there is no time like the present. Start tonight with a face-to-face conversation with your significant other with no other distractions. Be honest with your spouse about your current finances and how that makes you feel. Let them know you want to be a better position financially before you deploy. Once you start the dialog, you can both come up with a game plan as to how to tackle the issue. Talk about wants versus needs and getting on a budget that you both can agree on. Come up with a plan as to how you are going to get out of debt.

You didn't get into debt overnight, so it is unreasonable to expect to get out of debt overnight. Drafting a budget may be the single most productive thing you can do to get out of debt. But a budget requires constant communications from both sides. The person who handles the finances in the house can't have all the control. The other spouse can't just be hands off either. I can speak first hand that budgets are not easy to build and they are not easy to initially talk about. But have no fear, it will get better! Over time you both will become more confident in how you handle finances and in many cases you will find that the better you communicate about finances, the better you will communicate in other aspects of your life.
For those who know me, know I am a big Dave Ramsey fan. For those who have not heard of Dave Ramsey, he is a nationally syndicated radio and TV host helping those in financial troubles. He is an author of numerous books to include the New York Times best-seller "The Total Money Makeover," and he also developed Financial Peace University (FPU). FPU is a 13-week course that teaches you everything from building a budget to getting out of debt. It also provides training in the basics of investing, insurance, and home buying. His programs have been instrumental to our own financial freedom and I use his guidance as a part of my guidance to share with my Airmen.

So what is the road ahead? Well, Dave has seven baby steps that he uses to guide others: 1) $1,000 to start an Emergency Fund. 2) Pay off all debt using the Debt Snowball. 3) Increase the Emergency Fund to 3 to 6 months of expenses. 4) Invest 15 percent of household income into Roth IRAs and pre-tax retirement. 5) College funding for children. 6) Pay off home early. 7) Build wealth and give.

Personal finances are not just a couple times a year experience. They are a part of everyday life. They are a part of your personal readiness. Financial readiness is important to both your family and your unit. If you are struggling, please get help. There are tremendous services available through the Airman and family readiness center, the chapel and the local community. Almost without exception, every leader out there would much rather help you before you get into trouble rather than after. Implement just a few of these suggestions, and the next time you deploy, you will have done your part to reduce the stress on those left behind.

You can find additional resources at the Airman and family readiness center.