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Less stress through financial readiness

MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho -- Even though the government did not shut down April 8 at midnight, as many feared it might, the effects of that close call were far reaching.

Many government employees, including military members, found themselves reaching for their wallets - not to spend, but rather to see if they had enough cash on hand to pay the bills once their paychecks stopped coming in.

In today's struggling economy, being financially prepared is critical. Yet in spite of the warnings all around us, we sometimes spend more than we have. According to a recent study by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, 82 percent of military members have an auto or mortgage loan or have at least $10,000 in credit card debt.

Some think that because they are in the military that they are somehow immune to the financial woes this country has been facing.

The near-shutdown opened many eyes to the fact that our income may not be as steady as we once thought. Military members traditionally have a higher level of job security than people in the private sector, but we learned recently that our work could go uncompensated for an undetermined amount of time.

Should your pay be disrupted for a week, a month, or even more, will you be able to make ends meet? Having a savings account - with sufficient funds in it - is essential. Having that buffer can prevent unnecessary debt and reduce personal stress.

Many people mismanage their income and do not have sufficient funds at the end of the month to save anything.

If you have ever fallen into this trap, you are not alone. The FINRA study also revealed that only 50 percent of military respondents had money saved for emergencies.

"The biggest financial mistake people make is not having emergency savings," said Susan Rueger, an Accredited Financial Advisor with the 366th Airman and Family Readiness Center.

So when it comes to building a savings account, you might be asking, "just how much are we talking here?"

"At a minimum, in general for military, about $3,500," said Rueger.

Ignorance of how to manage finances might be one excuse offered by a military member in a cash crisis. However, it's not a valid excuse.

All Airmen coming through the First Term Airman's Course receive four hours of financial management training. Additionally, the AFRC offers numerous resources to help prevent a financial crisis such as the Personal Finance Refresher class and a course called "When Credit is Due," which runs two hours a week for six weeks. Additionally, the AFRC has two financial advisors on staff whose services are available to Airmen at no charge.

One tough question to consider with is "what do I really need?" Do you really need a new sports car with monthly insurance premiums higher than the loan payments? "I don't have a car loan," you might say. How about something on a smaller scale? Do you really need all 500 digital channels, or would the 200-channel package suffice?

"The first thing on financial preparedness is assessing yourself - your personal needs, your assets - and figuring out if you are doing the best for yourself," said Rueger.

It's unfortunate that many endure the stress of living from paycheck to paycheck - stress that's amplified by circumstances which threaten to cut off that source of income. What's more unfortunate though is that most who live that way do not have to.

Sometimes "taking care of Gunfighters" means taking care of ourselves. Being financially prepared is just as important as being medically and legally prepared for the myriad of unforeseen circumstances that we may face at any moment, regardless of whether you are a uniformed member or a civilian. Take the time you need to prepare today so that you are able to handle whatever comes your way tomorrow.