My family and I recently went on a road trip. As we loaded up our car, my husband asked, “Is everybody ready?” With excitement, my kids yelled back, “Yes, dad! Let’s go!”
But have you ever thought about what it means to be “ready”? In terms of our road trip, it meant that we had all our necessities, along with a plan and directions to get us where we wanted to go. When it comes to being financially ready, we can think about our financial journeys in the notion of preparing for a road trip. In that case, ask yourself: What does it mean to have financial readiness?
What is Financial Readiness?
The Office of Financial Readiness defines the term as "the state in which successful management of personal financial responsibilities supports Service members' ability to perform their wartime duties." For military families to be financially ready, each family member must participate equally and engage actively with financial responsibilities. This means – but is by no means limited to – saving for emergencies, paying bills on time, and living within your means.
What Does it Mean to be Financially Ready?
When military families feel confident about their personal finances, they can better focus on their day-to-day tasks (i.e., work duties, household responsibilities) and minimize financial stress. Families equipped with the latest financial information can make responsible, educated decisions regarding their financial readiness. Put simply, being financially ready means that Service members and their families are prepared for whatever lies ahead. It means they have:
- The ability to respond to new financial opportunities. This might include purchasing a home, starting a new business, or going on a dream vacation.
- The flexibility to make financial decisions for the future as well as the present (e.g., saving for child’s college fund, investing in a retirement account).
- The tools to remain stable and equipped for unforeseen emergencies (e.g., unexpected medical expenses, replacing flooring in your home after a flood).
Why does Financial Readiness Matter?
Financial readiness matters because it can directly impact the entire military family. Unresolved financial issues can place significant stress on personal and familial relationships. A lack of financial preparedness may limit Service members’ and their families’ ability to achieve both short- and long-term goals, especially as they transition from the military into civilian life.
Furthermore, Service members and their families distracted by financial problems lack the ability to plan for and complete their missions. For example, financial difficulties are considered “an indication of poor self-control, a lack of judgement, or a disregard for rules and regulations” and an overall detriment to the mission of a “ready military.” This means that Service members with a poor financial history (e.g., unpaid debts resulting in collections, excessive gambling, living beyond one’s own means) are a higher security risk. Thus, Service members with financial problems may find security clearances difficult to obtain or have clearances revoked altogether.
Helping professionals might ask Service members and their families to think about their financial journey as a road map. To illustrate, consider these steps as you assist military families to achieve financial readiness:
- Allow family members to share a vision of how their financial journey ends. This is a creative way to get them thinking about the opportunities their financial future might hold. You might ask, “What is your financial end goal?”
- Assist military families in establishing financial [SMART] goals. Grounded in personal and financial values, each family member shares their financial goal.
- Co-create mile markers that lead military families to their financial destination. Each family member can be actively involved and have an equal say in the financial decision-making process – generating a plan to achieve financial readiness one step at a time.
- Share current education and resources on financially relevant topics. Provide military families with tools for navigating their financial road map. Is financial education outside your professional scope? Refer service members and their families to a Personal Financial Counselor.
- Finally, follow up: Plan weekly or monthly check-ins. Achieving big goals means completing plenty of small ones. Scheduling pit stops with Service members and their families helps ensure they reach their mile markers. Without pit stops, families may get discouraged and wander off the map.