Before my husband deployed, there was a mandatory pre-deployment brief that both service-members and their families had to attend. My husband was already hip-deep in the pre-deployment military training and readiness craziness, which helps ensure the soldier is “battle ready.” It didn’t surprise me in the least to discover they had a “battle ready” seminar for the families, too.
It was intimidating to see hundreds of folks everywhere I looked, with children flailing about, nervously excited and awkwardly playing, unable to understand what was really happening. Spouses held onto their uniformed soldiers a little tighter while navigating this huge arena filled with information overload. A ridiculous amount of tables were set-up with pamphlets, packets, chaplains, JAG officers, and more.
It was all so overwhelming. I appreciated their attempts to ensure the families had all the important paperwork squared away before he deployed, but I’ll never forget the squirmy feeling I had in the pit of my stomach, sitting with the JAG attorney, discussing “what-ifs” and Power of Attorneys and Wills with hundreds of onlookers all around. Even if they were just like us, experiencing what we were, it was still nerve-wracking.
We maneuvered around, passing presentation after presentation, until I reached a class that made me stop in my tracks; “How to Write a Check and Balance Your Checkbook.” They called it “Financial Readiness,” and it was for military spouses. I froze in place, and pointed to it puzzled, “Babe? Why on earth are they teaching people how to balance a checkbook? Don’t they know how to do this already!?”
“Because most soldiers handle their own finances, and can’t when they deploy. The spouses now have to learn to take care of it while they’re away.”
It never occurred to me before.
He continued, “Plus, some of these soldiers and their families are fresh out of high school. Or they might never have learned how to yet…”
My mind wandered while I sat, looking at these spouses and soldiers, holding hands, feverishly jotting notes, and stifling tears. Most of these spouses were young women, looking so bewildered and so much more despondent than the rest. I saw their doubts swimming within the tears from their eyes. It flabbergasted me – how do schools not teach this to children before they graduate?
I distinctly remember learning how to write checks in the sixth grade. My teacher, Mr. C, had paired everyone up with another student, with whom we pretended to be “married” and given real life scenarios. “Little Johnny wants $60 designer jeans for his birthday,” or “Little Mary’s class is holding a fundraiser,” and we, the “parents,” had to decide what to do with the “money” we were given from our “jobs.” Day after day, class after class, we were made to budget, write checks, practice inputting and balancing our checkbook registers, all while making everyday financial decisions for our “family.”
I had assumed everyone everywhere had a class like this taught to them similarly, particularly in this day and age. I know we were never really taught about credit cards back then, because they weren’t a “thing” yet. (Ahem, did I just date myself?) Between my parents’ teachings about money, the information I learned from Mr C’s class, and from Home Ec classes in high school, I had learned how to budget my money, how to write a check, balance a check register, and how to pay our bills.
At that moment, I made the conscious decision to ensure my children would know how to do all of this, too, even if they weren’t taught in school. That might go without saying for some folks, but it was made quite apparent to me at that moment, from the droves of spouses frantically trying to soak in all the advice and tutelage from the class, that their parents had not done the same for them. I secretly made a promise to myself that, before they leave our house and into the big, adult world, they would know how to do all of these things, and then some.
You might notice the very first thing on our Family Bucket List is to “Pay off both our vehicles.” Our minivan will be paid off momentarily, as this is our last payment, with my husband’s car to be paid off by year’s end. Once those debts are obliterated, the breathing room in the budget will be HUGE! I am over the moon about it!
It’s really got me thinking – particularly because it’s tax time – about our money, our “worth,” and our futures. Why has it taken me so long to “get on the ball” about this financial planning stuff? Why, if I was taught about budget-making, and check-writing, and bill-paying, wasn’t there more talk about financial planning, and money saving, and retirement?
Being a young twenty-something, going to college, working, and enjoying the nightlife, I was too young to think about retirement when I hadn’t even graduated college yet. There wasn’t a lot of talk about retirement, particularly when I’d just scratched the surface with the work force. There was no 401K talk for me, even when I eventually started a salaried, managerial position in a store or restaurant thereafter. I also probably felt I was still too young to think of such things, or plan for it with decades to go. Also, back then, the internet wasn’t what it is now, and sites like Genworth weren’t as easily available, especially with fancy budget calculators like this:
Maybe it’s the way we, women, were raised – to think men would always be there to take care of us. Maybe I was just young and naive, not wanting to think about the bigger picture down the road when it was so far away. Whatever the reason was, I wish I would’ve done something sooner, particularly after reading this article, Growing Older Makes Women Better with Money from Yahoo Shine.
“Women need to be financially literate
Having a higher level of financial literacy translates into making better investment decisions, managing health-care costs better, increased savings, better debt management, and better retirement planning.
Being comfortable managing finances has become increasingly important as an increasing number of women outlive their husbands and are forced to become their own CFOs. The study shows that one spouse, typically the man, will handle the finances in a marriage because his wife may not enjoy managing the household finances, she may not have as much knowledge about finances, or it is a simple division of labor.”
Witnessing these military spouses in the financial readiness classes, cramming these teachings into their busied brains, and even though I’d just come from the JAG seminar, with all the talk of Wills, the thought had never crossed my mind that these spouses are learning this because they could be widowed. Oh my gosh! Women, particularly military spouses, need to know finances, period.
This conversation is super important to me, and I’d love to know your thoughts on it. Are you a woman, or a military spouse? Are you the bill-keeper and/or primary shopper, or is your husband? Have you given any thought whatsoever to financial planning and retirement at all? If so, what are you currently doing, or what’s your plan?
This post is brought to you by Genworth and Brandfluential.
My military experiences and and financial thoughts are all my own.