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DOD offers financial advice for families & children

son of military personnel playing with a piggy bank Knox Jasmin, son of U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Gaetan Jasmin, 21st Theater Sustainment Command transportation manager, receives a piggy bank during the “Youth Saves Event” at the School Age Program building at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. The event taught children how to build a financial foundation through saving, donating, investing, and practicing good spending habits (Photo by: Air Force Senior Airman Kristof J. Rixmann, 86th Airlift Wing/Public Affairs).

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Military families may face financial challenges for a variety of reasons, and without assistance these issues could affect the health and well-being of children of those families.

But help is readily available. Military families have access to financial counselors and other Department of Defense personnel - for free.

"Service members and families have access to free financial counseling and education services through Military and Family Support Centers and Military OneSource," said Beth Darius, a program analyst and an accredited financial counselor in the Department of Defense Office of Financial Readiness. "With the assistance of a financial counselor, service members and families proactively create realistic spending plans to meet financial challenges and goals such as planning for retirement, paying down debt, and making major purchases."

For families experiencing shortfalls, "the best place to start is to examine your spending plan. Determine your food expenses, your monthly bill expenses and any additional expenses. Help is available to walk families through this process and provide referrals to additional resources as needed," she said. "Additionally, you can include your children in meal planning, shopping and determining total food costs, which is a great way to build their financial literacy skills and nutrition habits."

"There are many places to go online to get free, unbiased financial information," she noted. These no-cost resources include the Office of Financial Readiness website, and the Milspouse Money Mission website, which has a section on raising financially fit children. Additionally, there is the Military OneSource website, the "Developing Your Spending Plan" course on the MilLife Learning portal, and the 'Sen$e' mobile application.

Military members also receive financial information and how to use these services when making a permanent change of station.

Establishing and following a spending plan is good to "ensure debts are paid, food is on the table, and financial goals are met," Darius said. "If there is a financial issue that's causing stress in the military family, reviewing the spending plan can help them gain some control and decrease stress."

Steve Harris, a personal financial manager and accredited financial counselor at the Navy's Fleet and Family Support Center in Washington, D.C., said: "A good financial plan represents both the needs and the wants of a military family." This could include items such as saving for a college fund for their children.

Military families that have appointments with the center for free financial planning should bring their pay stubs, leave and earnings statements, a list of bills and their bank statements for review.

"Basically, we have a confidential conversation about income coming in and expenses going out. 'What did you think you spent and what did you actually spend?'" Harris said. "We are looking at needs first and goals second. We like to nudge them back on the right track."

Echoing Darius, Harris said: "If there are stressors about finances, coming to see a personal financial manager can make a military family leave with less stress. A service member shouldn't have to be distracted about finances while supporting the mission."

For children, the Navy has a curriculum that addresses ages 3 to 19 called "Raising Financially Fit Kids." The other services have similar programs.

"Lessons include how parents can approach children about finances, introducing kids to money, costs, and allowances, how to set goals through saving - such as for the purchase of a new toy or electronic device - and an introduction to debit and credit cards and how to use them wisely," Harris said.

"Prioritizing is up the individual client, he said. "If there is a surplus of money or a shortfall, what are the two or three most important, often competing, goals? We want to address all of them."

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