As the holidays get closer, many military families find themselves looking for ways to save money and budget appropriately for the upcoming gift-giving season. Random COVID-19 impulse buys, a downward spiraling economy, job loss, and purchases related to new homeschooling or virtual schooling curriculum are leaving many of us financially stressed in 2020. Check out these holiday budgeting tips that will help you start the new year off on the right financial footing.
Tips on budgeting for the holidays
So how do you try to save and budget for this holiday season when your finances may have taken unexpected hits because of the coronavirus pandemic? Financial expert and military spouse Lacey Langford from The Military Money Expert says there are three things you should evaluate when you start budgeting for the holidays: your current holiday savings, the total amount you want to spend for the holidays, and who is on your list.
“Knowing how much you have to spend is the jumping-off point for your budget,” Langford said. “Then you can look at [ways to save] between now and Christmas.”
You will also want to examine how much you want to spend for the holidays. You can do this by looking at your current savings account balance. Subtract the amount you want to keep in savings as your emergency and investment amounts to find your total holiday shopping budget. Once you have that number, you can write down the people on your holiday shopping gift list, and assign each person an amount of money you would like to spend on them. “[When you] know who you’re buying for it makes it easy to firm up your spending budget,” says Langford.
“Save money every month, starting in January. … Set up an automatic $100 transfer from your checking to your savings at the beginning of the month. By the time November rolls around, you’ll have $1,100 to holiday shop with,” Langford suggests.
But don’t fret — if you aren’t that organized with your holiday budgeting this year, you can still do some things to help you save some cash for the next several weeks:
Don’t procrastinate: Shop sales when you see them. You can even do this throughout the year.
Use apps like Qube Money that utilizes the popular envelope system or Tiller that helps you budget throughout the year.
Cancel your cable or streaming services.
Honey and Rakuten are two websites that offer cash back for purchases made on other sites — even Amazon, Wal-Mart, and Target participate
“Don’t forget to use your military benefits when shopping for the holidays,” Langford said.
Shop My Exchange, ID.Me Shop, and GovX are all military-specific and provide discounts or lists of companies that give military discounts online.
The military exchanges also offer a new layaway program as well. Layaway not only helps you pay for what you can manage in a certain timeframe but also allows you to stick to your monthly budget. There are several different options for layaway, from 30 days for clothing and handbags up to 120 days on fine jewelry. A deposit purchase of $25 and 15% of the item’s purchase price, plus service fees are required to put your items on layaway at any military exchange. You can find out more information by visiting the Exchange website.
Even if your family is in a good place financially, you should start considering your holiday budget about 6-8 weeks using the funds you have saved away throughout the year. Budgeting is a great way to keep your family on track, make sure your nest eggs continue to thrive, and help your family prepare for the unexpected — like a worldwide pandemic.
The Pentagon announced yesterday that they had met Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s deadline of January 1 to set up a streamlined system to recover bonuses they had accidentally paid to thousands of California National Guardsmen several years ago.
Late last year, Carter ordered the suspension of efforts to recover the funds from soldiers until a system could be set up to fairly recover the bonuses.
Peter Levine, acting as the undersecretary for personnel and readiness, headed up the team to develop the recovery system. Levine spoke to reporters during the press conference, admitting that, though some of the Guardsmen might have made mistakes, “sometimes the service does” as well.
Levine said he had worked with the National Guard Bureau, the Army Audit Agency, the Army Review Boards Agency, and the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) to develop the system, and that part of that system involved screening each case to determine if there was even enough information to pursue a resolution.
Cases that are determined to have enough information will go before the Army Board for Correction of Military Records, and Guardsmen will have an opportunity to make their cases then.
There are currently about 17,500 cases up for review which have been separated into two categories.
The Naval Criminal Investigative Service is reportedly looking into allegations that a company which runs military housing at one of California’s largest bases is scamming its residents out of money they don’t owe.
Lincoln Military Housing has reportedly been trying to get military residents to pay hundreds of dollars more than they owe for energy bills, according to statements from families obtained by We Are the Mighty. And if the residents don’t pay up, the Lincoln Military Housing’s San Onofre district office allegedly threatens to have the service members and their families evicted, these families claim.
The exact number of families who have received these eviction notices is unknown, though WATM spoke with multiple military spouses and service members who had been notified by their commands that Lincoln was ordering them out of their homes just before the Christmas holidays.
The residents, all of whom claim they are paid up on rent, all spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal from the housing office in question.
According to one couple who spoke to WATM, an eviction notice was sent to them in early December in response to an article that appeared on the website USMC Life, which is run by military spouse Kristine Schellhaas.
“This program has been hurting our military families since its inception,” Schellhaas told WATM in a statement. “Our families should be able to live on base without the financial burden and threat of eviction from poorly executed billing.”
Schellhaas wrote about the couple on her site in December, calling for the housing office to look into its exorbitant energy bills over the previous two months. Though Schellhaas declined to use their real names, the couple had posted about their frustrations in a Facebook neighborhood group page after being threatened with eviction.
Schellhaas indicated that NCIS was investigating the allegations. When reached for comment, NCIS said it was “unable to comment on an ongoing investigation.”
The residents of the San Onofre II district aboard Camp Pendleton claim that, until roughly two months prior, their bills had been at or below the grace period, meaning they were not billed for utilities.
According to documents obtained by WATM, the residents all saw extreme hikes that had nothing to do with increased power usage.
Lincoln Military Housing declined to respond to multiple requests for comment on these allegations.
Lincoln Military Housing takes part in a program where, if residents manage to conserve energy, they can receive money back from the housing office. If they go over the allotted amount, they pay extra.
The energy bills are managed by a company called Yes Energy Management. The premise behind the company is simple — they are essentially a paid middleman for the middleman. Basically, Lincoln Military Housing — who is contracted by the Department of Defense to manage the housing on some military installations — pays Yes Energy Management to send an electric bill to the base residents.
Rather than having the actual electric company send the bill directly to the residents, both Lincoln Military Housing and Yes Energy Management oversee these bills privately — effectively eliminating any contact between the resident and the electric company.
Each of the homes is fitted with a third party Yes Energy meter that the company uses to determine how much electricity has been used.
The way the system works is that each neighborhood gets their energy usages during a trial period combined and an average is determined by Yes Energy. Those who are above that average get penalized. Those who are below it get rewarded.
Once the residents pay their bills every month, Yes Energy pays the actual energy company, takes its fee from the remainder, and sends what’s left back to Lincoln Military Housing, according to residents.
One of the problems, according to the residents of San Onofre II, is that the neighborhoods they live in weren’t built to have their energy usage measured individually. The residents say that an unnamed employee at their housing office explained that things like Camp Pendleton street lights are wired into their houses, which means that the residents are responsible for paying much more than just their own electric bill.
One resident told We Are the Mighty, “It’s just me and my husband, so when we received the outrageous bills we said something about it and come to find out, our house was hooked up to several street lights.”
Other residents allege that, in addition to paying for the streetlights, empty houses around them drive their monthly usage allotments down. Because there are no residents in those homes, according to neighbors, there is no usage – severely impacting the average usage in that community.
That isn’t a hard thing to imagine, considering Yes Energy has this on its website:
Neither of these theories exactly explain why an entire group of residents suddenly saw a significant increase in their bills despite not having changed anything in their homes, residents say.
Several residents say they questioned their bills, first going directly to Yes Energy; they claim that Yes Energy told them that the issue was not with them or the energy provider and that they should be speaking with the housing office regarding the way the communities were built.
These same residents allege that they then took their concerns to base housing, where it took months for just a handful of them to receive any type of response. Those that were fortunate enough to get a response also received messages that hinted Yes Energy was to blame for the outrageous bills.
Chelsea Levin, a service coordinator for Lincoln’s San Onofre Housing office, wrote in an email to a resident dated Dec. 7, “I am e-mailing as a follow up regarding the issues you have been having in the home with the Yes Energy account. I wanted to let you know that we are now waiting on the utility company to make the changes.”
The email is in response to a phone call placed to the housing office in September, according to the resident who provided the original email.
So where does that leave the residents?
Right where they were, for now.
The resident who originally spoke with Schellhaas alleges that they were served an eviction notice the day after Schellhaas’s post went live. According to that resident and the resident’s active duty spouse, the housing office contacted the service member’s command to deliver the notice.
In a Facebook post, the resident said that Lincoln cited the resident’s use of salty language in a phone call with the office as the reason they were being evicted.
The resident claimed that the office gave that reason directly to the service member’s command.
“They’re saying I was verbally abusive,” the resident wrote.
When We Are the Mighty reached out to the couple, the resident responded, “I feel as if the housing office saw the article that was posted in USMCLife and that is what caused them to call this morning as well as tell us we were being evicted.”
Other residents who spoke with us cited a fear of retaliation after it became public information that the original residents in Schellhaas’s story were being evicted. One resident wrote: “If you wouldn’t mind, could you please not mention our names or resident IDs? He’s a Marine.”
And another resident wrote to us regarding her husband’s concern about her speaking with us, “He’s terrified we will get evicted. I kept trying to reassure him, but the longer I was looking [at our bill] the more he started to freak out. … He says he’d rather get screwed than be homeless.”
Recently, Schellhaas was tasked with updating Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joe Dunford’s wife Ellyn on “hot-button” issues facing the military community.
In preparation for that meeting, she collected energy data from 17 base homes and four off base homes. What she found was that base residents were charged nearly 45 percent more for comparable energy usage off base. An entire breakdown of her findings can be reviewed here.
Schellhaas issued this statement to We Are the Mighty in regards to the entire energy program:
“I believe there hasn’t been enough due diligence in its implementation and no one authority has demonstrated that the organizations can be made accountable for their actions,” she said. “Privatized housing blames Yes Energy and vice-versa, meanwhile our families are suffering.”
The world would be a perfect place if everyone grew up with a financial advisor, someone who told them exactly what to do with their money and when. While the best rule of thumb is to start investing early and often, the benefits of compound interest just aren’t as interesting as spending your allowance on candy and Wiffle ball gear.
The rule that you should get started early still stands but it’s not necessary to get started quite that young. However, if being bullish on Wall Street is more appealing to you than playing ball in the street, go for it — your future, financial self will thank you.
Military members have experienced a lot of changes in the tried-and-true retirement and benefits packages we used to know. For new troops, guaranteed pensions by themselves are gone. This is true for some older members who decided to opt-in to the new system, too. And now, the military will match your contributions to your Thrift Savings Plan (a kind of military 401(k)). There are other variations in the blended retirement system that troops need to know, too.
Some will still wonder if they’re doing enough to save for retirement. This is a completely understandable feeling as a trade war with China grows and the stock market becomes more and more present in daily news cycles. After all, infantry troops and aircraft mechanics are not traditionally well-versed in financial products.
If you don’t know if you’re doing all you can to promote a healthy financial future, you should turn to the financial advisors available on base or seek help elsewhere. But for starters, here are few general guidelines to let you know if you’re on the right track.
Paying off your credit card feels like being awarded an achievement medal.
(U.S. Air Force)
Around age 22 — Get rid of credit cards and save some cash.
I know, every single financial advisor or personnel officer starts out with this advice, but it’s for a good reason: they’re right. Paying off your debt means you can use that cash and put it to work for you. When you have a lot of credit debt, you’re the creditor’s investment and they’re earning interest on your money instead of the other way around.
At about this age, you should also be saving a significant portion of your income, roughly 15 percent. While this sounds like a lot (and it very well might be, especially for military families), remember that every little bit helps. Setting aside an allotment of fifteen, ten, or even five percent of your pay is worth the time and effort.
How you do this is the (potentially) exciting part. Explore a 401(k) like the TSP, IRAs, and savings accounts — in that order. Just keep an eye on the management fees companies charge. Most charge a percentage of your overall portfolio and the difference between one percent and one and a half percent can be hundreds of thousands of dollars over a lifetime. Look into fiduciary firms to open these accounts. Most can even be managed on your smartphone, via tools like Wealthfront or Wealthsimple.
Paying off your student loan feels like a handshake from Chuck Norris.
(U.S. Air Force)
Your 20s — Don’t miss a chance to pay extra on your student loans.
They’re the goddamn worst.
Crazy things happen.
Your 30s — Prepare for your home and family.
You are never going to be fully financially prepared to have kids — nobody is really. But if you’re finally up to saving that 15 percent of your income, you can open a 529 pre-tax college savings account for the little ones. You can also be open to other kinds of investments, like a real estate investment trust, which is a kind of managed fund that buys and manages income-generating real estate.
Another thing that needs to go at this point are excessive fees that take away your money without giving you much in return. The market is flooded with organizations that want your money and they want to take it without you noticing. You shouldn’t be paying a lot of bank fees, ATM fees, or any fee that seems excessive. Keep watch.
By this point, you should be building up a savings account of three to six month’s worth of expenses as a cash reserve and, in the case of any unexpected windfall of cash that comes to you in the form of bonuses or gross profits or lottery win (no judgement), you should always put half away before enjoying the other half.
If you’d thought of this 30 years ago, DiCaprio would be your neighbor.
Your 40s — Expand your reach.
For the life of your mortgage, you should be trying to make an extra mortgage payment on your home at least once a year. If you have the means, you might even seek to buy a vacation home or investment property that you can make money from while working to pay off. Renting a house in New Mexico (or wherever) or putting it out on AirBnB for 15 years could turn into a fine place to retire later.
No matter what Tom Selleck, Fred Thompson, or Henry Winkler tell you.
Your 50s — Slow your roll.
Move investments away from stocks and think about commodities through exchange-traded funds (ETFs). They aren’t as prone to market changes as stocks are but still allow for growth over the years. As you approach your 60s, consider getting half of your investments into securities, like corporate or municipal bonds.
If those kids have flown the coop, this also might be a good time to downsize your home to take advantage of any equity from making those extra payments all your life. A reverse mortgage is not a good way to take advantage of your home’s equity because, like credit cards, you’re spending money you haven’t made yet.
Your 60s — Live it up.
Find a new career that you love for the love of the job. By this time, any money you make will just be the money you throw around for fun, instead of using your savings. Try to stay active, get out, and maybe see some of the world.
The Navy announced Wednesday that sailors interested applying for fall classes should get their applications for tuition assistance turned in as soon as possible.
The Navy tuition assistance program covers up to 100 percent of tuition for eligible sailors. Eligibility depends on grades, active duty time (for activated reservists), accreditation of the chosen institution, and whether the sailor agrees to fulfill an obligatory 2 years of service beyond the his or her scheduled end of active service.
Covered under tuition assistance are high school and general equivalent degrees, vocational and technical programs, undergraduate and graduate programs, and certification programs. The funds can only be applied toward tuition, and may not be used for books, fees, and other course materials.
Tuition assistance is capped at 16 semester hours at $250.00 per semester hour, 24 quarter hours at $166.67 per quarter hour, and 240 clock hours at $16.67 per clock hour.
The Navy requires that sailors wishing to utilize tuition assistance follow these steps:
Notify the command
Complete required training
Complete education counseling and formulate an education plan
Submit education plan to Navy and review with counselor
Submit WebTA application at My Education Portal
Generate voucher and submit to institution
Command approval is required for tuition assistance, and that approval must come from the sailor’s commanding officer or by Direction Authority. Sailors will be required to enter their commanding officer’s email into the application.
There are specific obligations required for sailors utilizing tuition assistance. Grades must be a C or higher for undergraduate studies and a B or higher for graduate studies. Tuition assistance must be reimbursed for any grades that are determined to fall below those requirements.
Sailors must notify their Virtual Education Center of any changes in courses (including those changes which are not controlled by the sailor). Failure to notify the Virtual Education Center of changes can result in loss of tuition assistance and a requirement for reimbursement to the institution.
For more information and to apply for tuition assistance, Sailors can visit the Navy College Program.
Nearly 2 million US veterans would benefit from raising the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour.
Approximately 1.8 million of the 9 million veterans in payroll jobs across the US would get a raise if Congress raised the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2024, the liberal-leaning Economic Policy Institute determined in an analysis on the Raise the Wage Act of 2017 in honor of Veterans Day.
Nearly two-thirds of the veterans who would get the raise are age 40 or older, over 60% have some college experience, and nearly 70% work full time, the EPI found.
“This means that despite their service to the country, the intensive training that they have received, and the access to additional education provided to veterans through the GI Bill, 1 out of every 5 veterans is still being paid so little that they stand to benefit from raising the minimum wage,” the Economic Policy Institute’s David Cooper and Dan Essrow wrote.
The debate over raising the federal minimum wage has heated up over the past few years. Those against raising it argue that a higher minimum wage could lead businesses to raise their prices or to cut jobs and benefits in an attempt to offset the cost.
Those in favor of raising it, on the other hand, argue that raising the minimum wage above the current $7.25 per hour federal standard would improve living standards, and would enable consumers to spend more. That increased spending would then give a nice, healthy boost to an economy that still shows some slack several years after the Great Recession.
The current federal minimum wage is at $7.25 per hour. Parts of the country have raised their minimum wages above that, including a number of states and major cities like Seattle, Washington and Los Angeles, California.
The Raise the Wage Act of 2017 was introduced by Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Patty Murray (D-A), and Reps. Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Keith Ellison (D-MN) back in April, 2017. It would incrementally raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2024, and starting in 2025 it would be “indexed” to median wages so that each year the minimum wage would be adjusted based on the growth in median earnings. It would also increase the subminimum wage for tipped workers (which has been at $2.31 per hour since 1991) and phase out the youth minimum wage and the subminimum wage for workers with disabilities.
The real federal minimum wage peaked back in 1968 at $8.54 in 2014 dollars, according to an analysis by the Pew Research Center. The chart below from Pew compares the real (adjusted for inflation to 2014 dollars) federal minimum wage to the nominal (non-inflation adjusted) federal minimum wage since 1939.
A study from The Economist in 2015 found that “one would expect America… to pay a minimum wage around $12 an hour” based on how rich the country is and the pattern among other developed economies in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) .
Retired Army Sergeant, Alicia Hanf, served six years before transitioning to civilian life. Bridging the gap seemed easy. Hanf began her civilian career working for a marketing agency in Baltimore. Soon, she was at the top of her game. Then, one day, in an instant, her whole life trajectory changed.
She received a call from her brother. “Mom’s dead,” was all he said.
In that moment, numb to the world and short of breath, she could hear her drill sergeant’s voice.
“Do you know what your last known point is?”
Last known point is a component of situational awareness. It is the ability to re-orient yourself with your surroundings and find the last recognizable place in your environment. Finding your last known point helps you plot your way back from being lost.
According to Hanf, “From there, you find your way.” For her, last known point is the veteran’s edge in navigating the business world.
When Hanf was transitioning out of the military, she was mentored by a group of women. They helped her with her resume. They aided her in her job search. Their coaching helped her successfully cross over into civilian life.
Hanf says she could not have gotten as far as she is today were it not for the veterans and business organizations that helped create opportunities for her.
“When I think of opportunity, I think of all the things my mom gave up for us to have a good life. For me, opportunity is endless, it’s abundant. It’s always available to us,” Hanf says optimistically. She adds that such opportunities are available to all transitioning service members.
Whether it is help starting a new business, growing an existing one, or connecting with networking groups, Hanf advises veterans to seek out and take advantage of the many resources available to them.
For entrepreneurs feeling lost and looking for a last known point, there are numerous resources available.
Here are just a few to start that journey:
1) Resources available to all small business owners
The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has over 100 centers providing training and counseling services in a variety of topics to help Americans start, build, and grow their businesses.
Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) provide free business consulting and low-cost training. Topics include business plan writing, capital formation, and marketing, among others.
2) Resources available to women business owners
The SBA’s Office of Women’s Business Ownership sponsors a Women-Owned Small Businesses Federal Contracting Program to provide access to federal contracting opportunities.
International Association of Women (IAW) provides networking events, professional development opportunities, career and business development services, and promotional opportunities for women in all stages of business.
3) Resources available to Veteran business owners
The SBA’s Veteran Business Outreach Centers provide business training, counseling and mentoring to veterans in their local communities.
Veteran Entrepreneur Portal is a part of the VA’s Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization. It provides business education, financing opportunities, information, and links to government programs created specifically for veterans.
When young service members graduate from basic training or earn their commission, the biggest threat to their financial security isn’t that brand new muscle car for $0 down and a 15 percent interest rate. In fact, the biggest threat is one that targets service members across all ranks and Americans from all walks of life.
In 2019, Americans lost $1.9 billion to phishing and fraud. That year, the Federal Trade Commission received 647,000 complaints about imposter scams which topped $667 million in total losses, making them the number one type of fraud reported to the FTC Consumer Sentinel Network.
*You may be asked to verify confidential information if you call your bank, but rarely the other way around (American Bankers Association)
Imposter fraud most commonly takes the form of a criminal posing as a financial institution in order to scam information from a consumer in order to access their accounts. Every day, thousands of Americans receive calls, texts, and emails from these scammers pretending to be a bank. Depending on how much information the scammers have been able to find about the consumer, they may even pose as the consumer’s actual bank. In order to gain access to your accounts, the scammers need to ascertain certain information from you. Luckily, this information is standardized across the financial industry as information that banks do not ask for.
The other most common types of fraud scams are romance and employment scams. Romance scams will have a scammer posing as a romantic interest online who eventually asks to be sent a sum of money. Employment scams can be more complex and range in form from paid job applications to startup business ventures requiring immediate payment. These types of scams have also become more common due to the fact that many people are now working from home.
The easiest way to protect yourself from fraud scams is to recognize the signs. If you receive a call, text, or email that you believe to be fraudulent, contact your financial institution immediately. “If you even have an inkling that something doesn’t seem right, just call,” said Stacey Nash, USAA’s SVP of Fraud. “We can address the fraud before it becomes a problem.” USAA is a leader in the financial industry at detecting and combating fraud. As a digital institution, the bank has been forced to stay ahead of fraud threats in order to protect its members. “When we are alerted to fraud, USAA engages law enforcement with as much information as possible,” Nash said. “We’re committed to upholding justice.”
USAA’s 24/7 fraud prevention teams flag unusual activity and reach out to members to ensure that there is no possibility of fraud. In cases where a member is buying into a scam, USAA representatives will educate the member on the signs and dangers of fraud to help prevent them from becoming a victim.
Seventy nine percent of adults surveyed in 2019 say they were targeted by fraud over the phone. In total, it is estimated that nearly 50 percent of adults have been the target of an imposter scam at some point in their life. Aside from recognizing the signs of fraud yourself, the best way to combat the threat is to share the information. Among military ranks, it is of the utmost importance for leaders to educate their subordinates on how to protect themselves from scams like these. Though junior service members are not exclusively targeted, they can be a more vulnerable population. “Be vigilant,” Nash said. “At the end of the day, if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.”
Every one who’s ever work the uniform loves that military discount. No matter how hard you try to deny it or blow off a small discount, that extra ten percent ain’t bad. In California, that’s like not paying sales tax. While we all love them and appreciate them when it happens, many of us don’t really go looking for them. Let’s be real: shopping purely for military discounts can be a lot of work. Now you can find everything you’ll ever need discounted in one place.
And what’s more, your shopping spree will go toward helping your fellow veterans.
Then you can keep your savings in one place.
GovX has access to the products and brands everyone loves, not just veterans. From outdoor gear by The North Face to Ray-Ban accessories, this site covers most anything you can think of wanting or needing for work or play. Like the A-10 being a tough plane designed around a giant gun, GovX is a retailer designed around providing amazing discounts to military, veterans, and first responders.
The site is like the exclusive Costco for the military-veteran and uniformed community. A membership with GovX provides access to discounts on brands like 5.11 Tactical, Propper, Vortex Optical, Under Armour, and – amazingly – Yeti.
If you’re unfamiliar with this miracle brand, I suggest you head to the Google posthaste.
But wait. That’s not what really makes GovX stand out. The real power of this site is that every month, the company selects a new nonprofit organization who does work related to first responders, military members, veterans, and their families and donates a portion of its revenues to the chosen groups. This is what GovX calls “Mission: Giveback.”
Previous Mission: Giveback recipients include the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Firefighter Aid, National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, the Semper Fi Fund, Team Rubicon, The Pat Tillman Foundation, and the Green Beret Foundation.
In 2019, GovX is supporting the Military Influencer Conference, a three-day event that brings together entrepreneurs and veterans from all walks of life to share knowledge, build one another up, and help mentor each other through the rigors of starting their own businesses. Learn more about it by visiting the website and look for a Military Influencer Conference near you.
Now feel free to splurge on those yoga shorts you were iffy about buying – and feel good about doing something for your brothers and sisters in arms.
The business world seems to have realized that veterans make great entrepreneurs. Profiles of vets starting coffee shops, tech support companies, landscaping services, security firms, and a whole host of other businesses appear across the web on a frequent basis these days.
This should not be a great surprise. There are nearly 2.4 million veteran-owned businesses in the U.S., representing almost 9 percent of all businesses nationwide.
And, a study by the Kauffman Foundation, a well-respected entrepreneur support organization, indicates that approximately 25 percent (some say as high as 45 percent) of all active duty personnel want to start their own businesses upon leaving the service.
So, what makes veterans such successful entrepreneurs?
It is finally being recognized that the attitude, training, and skills gained from military service, such as discipline, hard work, a commitment to accomplishing the mission, the ability to both lead a team and function as a member of a team, and, most important, the almost innate ability to immediately pivot from plans that aren’t working to plans that do, are valuable traits that make for a successful entrepreneur.
Indeed, the Kauffman Foundation states that veterans’ “commitment to excellence, attention to detail, strategic planning skills and focus on success are the same traits that make business owners successful.” And, Dan Senor and Saul Singer, in their book, “Start-Up Nation,” say the main reason Israel is one of the most entrepreneurial nations on earth on a per capita basis is the country’s compulsory military service, which creates an environment for hard work and a common commitment to accomplish the mission.
But, even though veterans have received excellent training in the military in the skills necessary to be successful entrepreneurs, not enough younger veterans returning from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are choosing to start their own businesses. And, we don’t know why.
After World War II, nearly one-half of all returning veterans started their own businesses—but, by 2012, that rate had dropped to less that 6 percent. Even more important, just over 7 percent of all current veteran-owned businesses are started by veterans under 35 years of age. The rest are started by older vets.
This makes some sense. Personnel mustering out of the Armed Forces after 20 years or so have a pension that gives them a financial cushion to take the risk of starting a new business. And, older vets retiring from a traditional job at around 65 years of age, and who are looking for something else to do, would most likely have their house paid off and their kids out of college, giving them the financial means to start a new business without risking their family’s financial future.
But, it is the lack of younger veterans who are choosing entrepreneurship as a viable career path that is the critical issue in veteran entrepreneurship today.
Fortunately, over the past several years, there has been a burgeoning industry that has sprung up to help veterans who want to start their own businesses. Veteran led incubators and accelerators, as well as university and community college programs, government services, online resources, and community-based organizations have all answered the call to help aspiring veteran entrepreneurs realize their dream of owning and operating their own businesses.
While it is not possible to list all of the resources available to help veterans–and, particularly, younger veterans–who want to start businesses, a small sample of these programs in each of the categories mentioned is provided below:
Veteran Led Incubators—Bunker Labs (https://bunkerlabs.org) is probably the best known and most successful veteran led incubator in the country. While headquartered in Chicago, it has expanded to eleven cities around the nation. Its Chicago location is in the 1871 incubator facility, which gives veterans the crucial opportunity to interact with non-veterans who are creating new businesses. The “Bunker in a Box” program (http://bunkerinabox.org) enables veterans who are not near one of its urban locations to get some of the basic tools necessary to start a new business.
Veteran Led Accelerators—Vet-Tech (http://vet-tech.us) is the nation’s leading accelerator for veteran-owned businesses. Located at Silicon Valley’s Plug and Play Tech Center in Sunnyvale, CA, it has an extensive network of financial, government, and management resources to bring a veteran-owned business to its next level of success.
University Programs—Syracuse University’s Entrepreneurial Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities (http://ebv.vets.syr.edu) is one of the most extensive programs in higher education for veteran entrepreneurship. This program is offered at eight other colleges and universities around the nation.C
Government Services—The SBA’s Boots to Business program (http://boots2business.org) is an example of the type of program offered by the government to transitioning service members to give them the basics in starting a new business.
Online Resources—VeToCEO (http://www.vettoceo.org) is a free online training program that assists veterans in leveraging their skills to start or buy a business and run it successfully. The American Legion Entrepreneur Video Series () is another no-cost source to give aspiring veteran entrepreneurs at least a basic introduction to starting and running a business.
Veterans interested in starting a business should research what resources are available to them in their local communities, and then pick a program that fits the type of business they are interested in creating.
Given all of the resources that are currently available to veterans interested in starting businesses, what does the future of veteran entrepreneurship look like?
It looks pretty robust.
There are only two cautions that need to be mentioned about support for entrepreneurship initiatives for veterans:
The first is that many of these veteran entrepreneur support programs are relatively new—within the last couple of years, or so. The proof of their efficacy—of their value and worth—will be when they produce long-term, sustainable and profitable veteran-owned businesses—and, by long-term, I mean businesses that are in existence for at least five years, at a minimum. Some of these support programs are so new that not enough time has passed where this can be determined.
The second “caution”, if you will, would actually be a good problem to have. While there is no evidence that this is presently occurring, there could come a time in the future when there are actually more veteran entrepreneur support programs than there are veterans to fill them. This will become evident when these programs begin to admit non-veterans in order to maintain their viability.
But, for now, it’s all “blue skies and smooth sailing” for veterans who want to start businesses and the programs that support them.
Paul Dillon is the head of Dillon Consulting Services, LLC, a firm that specializes in serving the veteran community with offices in Durham and Chicago. For more visit his website here.
While the Air Force has gotten the F-35A to its initial operating capability, the service is having a ton of other problems — problems that could place the ability of the United States to control the air in doubt.
According to a report by FoxNews.com, the service is short by about 700 pilots and 4,000 mechanics. This is not a small issue. A shortage of well-trained pilots can be costly.
F-16s fly beside a KC-135 during a refueling mission over Ramstein Air Base, Germany. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Preston Cherry)
In World War II, the United States had a strict policy of rotating experienced pilots back to the states. This is why John Thach, the inventor of the Thach Weave, had only seven kills in World War II, according to Air University’s ace pilots list.
He was sent back to train the pilots needed to fly the hundreds of F6F Hellcats and F4U Corsairs. By contrast, Japan kept pilots on the front line until they were shot down or badly wounded. It cost them experience.
Maintenance personnel also matter. A fighter on the flight line does no good if it can’t fly, and the mechanics are the folks who keep it functional. The thing is, no mechanic — no matter how good he or she is — can fix two planes at once.
So why is the United States Air Force facing this much of a shortage? An Air Force release notes that the decline took place over the last ten years, but was exacerbated by the sequestration cuts of 2011.
“The risk of manpower shortage is masked and placed on the backs of Airmen,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein said in that release. “Because if you go back and look at the data and the way we measure readiness, did we taxi? Yes. Did we launch? Yes. Did we make the deployed destination and accomplish the mission? Yes.”
But accomplishing the mission came at a price, Goldfein explained. “What’s masked is the fact that the shortage of people has fundamentally changed the way we do business in terms of the operational risk day to day.”
When asked for a comment by the writer, Elaine Donnelly of the Center for Military Readiness said,
“I’m not aware of an official survey to confirm what may be going on, but it appears that the mystique of being an [Air Force] pilot has been eroded by a combination of budget cuts and social agendas; e.g., Air Force Secretary Deborah James’ Diversity Initiative Fact Sheet. Mandates such as this clearly indicate that qualifications and high standards are not very important, and certain types of applicants need not apply.”
Donnelly also pointed to aircraft readiness issues in the Navy and Marine Corps, as well as the many aging airframes in the U.S. inventory.
Also of note – FoxNews.com noted that in 1991, the Air Force had 134 fighter squadrons. Today, there are only 55, marking a reduction of 59% in the number of fighter squadrons.
Many principles of physical fitness are similar to those of financial fitness. They both require patience, discipline and consistency to be successful.
Fitness and lifestyle content creator and Navy veteran, Austen Alexander, recognizes the benefits and challenges of both. During his first years of service, Alexander accumulated debts that impacted his financial future as well as his mental and physical health.
By applying physical fitness principles to his financial well-being, Alexander was able to pay down debt and start a business. Today, he is also in the best shape of his life. The lessons Alexander learned along the way are an inspiration to others – both in and out of uniform.
Growing up in Florence, Alabama, Alexander was interested in working out and staying physically strong. When he went into the Navy, the military kept him fit.
Mission-focused military life places a high priority on physical health. But for some, financial health may be an afterthought.
Although his family was frugal when he was growing up, Alexander says he went “a little haywire” while at his first duty station in Bahrain. He admits there was a void he was trying to fill being away from home, leading him to purchase things he couldn’t afford.
As his physical fitness became more robust, Alexander’s financial fitness was quickly declining. During his brief periods of relaxation, he purchased a GoPro, a laptop and stayed in expensive hotels…all purchased on credit. The discipline he used in the gym didn’t translate to his finances.
In Navy boot camp, recruits have to pass a physical assessment twice to test their capabilities. There is no financial class to show them how to manage their money, how to open a savings account or when to begin investing.
At his low point, Alexander started to educate himself on financial fitness. He was resourceful and dove into books. He taught himself financial terms like Annual Percentage Rate and 401(k) – a retirement savings vehicle offered though civilian employers. He learned about different types of investments like mutual funds and IRAs.
He realized that credit card companies were charging him high APRs and the money he was paying was mostly covering interest (the cost of buying on credit). He learned that minimum payments reduce only a tiny portion of the principal (the actual money he borrowed). So, he decided to reduce his credit card debt.
Alexander transferred the balance of his highest card to a new card with a 15-month 0 percent APR. This allowed his payments to go directly toward the principal, not interest.
In addition to this method of paying down his debt, Alexander created a six-tiered approach to paying off debt quickly:
Make an Attack Plan
Create a monthly budget to track expenses and designate amounts spent in various categories. Budgets are organic and can change. Alexander suggests using three months of expenses to catalog what you or your family typically spends. Once an inventory of spending is taken, determine what money can be used to attack debt. If there isn’t enough to make a dent each month, consider where to cut back. Channel extra income to start paying back what you owe.
Set financial goals that are practical, measurable and have a deadline. Macro goals like paying off debt, paying cash for consumables and buying a house are all long-term goals. Alexander suggests establishing micro goals as stepping stones to help reach macro goals. These might include paying off one credit card by Christmas or staying under your monthly grocery budget.
Credit card statements generally arrive weeks before payment is due. Alexander suggests automating monthly payments to arrive a day (or even a week) early. This practice may help reduce late payments, which incur additional fees and can negatively affect your credit score. Higher credit scores can help reduce the cost of borrowing and, over time, can lower lifetime debt.
Create a Debt Snowball
Alexander recommends a snowball effect to reduce debt. The debt snowball is the total monthly principal and interest payment of all your credit cards. He suggests shifting all principal payments to the smallest balance first and making only minimum payments on the other cards. After eliminating the card with the smallest balance, add that payment to the next card’s monthly minimum. Continue the practice until you’re making that same huge monthly payment on just the one remaining card.
Making just the minimum payment is like firing a squirt gun on a burning building. It won’t be very effective to accomplish the bigger goal. Even if it is $40 more each statement, this actively pays down the principal instead of just the interest.
Pay with a plan
Many resources, including free financial counseling, are available to military members. On base Family Support Centers have counselors that can help you create a debt snowball, establish investment accounts, or answer questions about the Thrift Savings Plan. Services that you would normally pay for in civilian life may be available for free while you’re in uniform. The finance officer at your deployment location may be another helpful resource.
The path to military financial readiness is paved with steps to show you how to make interest work for – not against – you. Additionally, savings vehicles like the TSP, mutual funds, IRAs and 401(k)s are great ways to build wealth. For more financial tools and tips visit Victory Capital.
Would military spouses be happy with any ol’ job, as long as they were out of the house and earning an honest income?
My guess is, generally, no.By and large, military spouses are calling for employment that does much more than pay the bills. They want meaningful, purposeful employment that helps them advance their goals. Numerous studies support this, and the military spouse employment movement is making enormous strides.
So, if you’re a military spouse looking for meaningful employment, where should you start? What are viable career options?
Given your lifestyle, you’re probably looking for something portable, flexible, universally necessary and barrier-free. It just so happens that a number of our country’s growing industries have opportunities that fit the bill.
Let’s take a look at five promising industries that military spouses should consider for employment.
1. Health care
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the health care industry will have the highest growth over the next decade, predicting over 3.4 million additional jobs by 2028. That’s a lot of opportunity!
Nurses, home health care aides, social workers and medical aides are examples of jobs in this field. These jobs generally pay well and are necessary everywhere (check!), making you highly marketable every time you PCS. While the process of transferring licenses or honoring licenses from other states has yet to be completely smoothed out, officials are working to lift those barriers (check-almost!).
One thing to consider is that not all health care-related jobs require a license. For example, home health aides, the fastest-growing subsection of the industry, may not have to be licensed, but certification requirements vary depending on the state.
You probably can’t go a day without hearing that a friend has started a home-based business, quit her job to become a freelancer or established his own web-based company. Entrepreneurship isn’t a trend that will soon fade; it’s a legit movement, which many military spouses are joining, excited to take ownership of their own careers.
While entrepreneurship can be risky, it offers you portability and flexibility (check! check!). Depending on the type of business you’re running, you may need to maintain and transfer licenses across state lines, but you’ve probably done your homework and found a niche that’s needed in the market (check!), making any paperwork worth it.
Plus, numerous organizations have established training and support programs, designed to help military spouse entrepreneurs get their businesses off the ground in the strongest way possible. As a military spouse entrepreneur, you’ll have a wide community of experts and supporters ready to offer advice and mentorship, as well as cheer you on.
3. Leisure and hospitality
Like health care, BLS predicts favorable opportunity for the leisure and hospitality industry. Over the next 10 years, BLS says that over 1.5 million jobs will be added to this sector.
This industry is growing across America, including right in the backyard of every military spouse. It just so happens that these leisure and hospitality companies were named among the 2020 Military Spouse Friendly Employers: Motel 6/Studio 6, Hilton and La Quinta by Wyndham.
These companies offer tailored onboarding practices, career portability and flexibility (check! check!), opportunities for advancement and more – specially for military spouses. Plus, you generally won’t have to worry about transferring a license or going to school for decades to begin working (check, check and more checks!).
4. Professional services and business
As a military spouse, you’re resourceful, adaptable, cool under pressure and organized. These “soft skills” make you an excellent contender for the types of jobs in the professional services and business sector.
This sector, which BLS projects will add 1.66 million jobs by 2028, includes a wide variety of jobs, such as sales managers, human resources managers, executive assistants, advertising, financial managers, operations managers and more. It even includes highly technical jobs like architects and engineers.
You can adapt your mad military spouse skills to suit a number of different career paths, and many of them could lead to remote work (check!). For example, virtual assistants are becoming hugely popular with real estate companies, corporations and high-achieving entrepreneurs. Many companies are outsourcing managerial and research work to remote employees, too.
Think about this industry as your oyster. With so many options to consider, you can zero in on just the right job that suits your ever-changing lifestyle – talk about flexibility! (Check!).
5. Information Technology
Technically, this bad boy falls under the professional services industry, but since it’s such a behemoth, it makes sense to discuss it separately. There’s not a corner of civilization that isn’t wired, making information technology experts absolutely essential to any business or organization (check!).
Despite what you might think, this industry offers a lot of flexibility, too (check!). Although your particular skill set might be defined, the type of company you can apply it to (i.e., your work environment) ranges far and wide.
From schools to ski resorts, national corporations to nonprofit offices, information technology specialists are needed everywhere. Whether you prefer working solo or with a team, in an office or at home, chances are that no matter where you PCS or how often, you’ll be able to take your work in computers with you.