The battle for your buck -- Programs guide Airmen to financial daylight

CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- Editor’s note: This is the third of a three-part series about Airmen and their money.

“We have an investment in the Airman. We owe it to them and to the American taxpayer to take care of that investment,” said Linda Sapp, Cannon’s Personal Financial Management program manager and an accredited financial counselor. “[Airmen] can do awesome things with their money.” 

Part of caring for military members across the branches is teaching good financial practices that will carry them through their military career and beyond. But too many wait until they are in serious trouble before seeking help. Cannon’s Family Support Center has a goal to reach Airmen before they find themselves in dire financial straits. 

“Unfortunately, there seems to be an idea that if you want to talk to someone about your finances, you’re in trouble. That’s not necessarily so,” said Ms. Sapp. “My favorite [way to help Airmen] is to get someone in here that says, ‘I just don’t know a whole lot about my money. What can I do?’” 

Learning what to do with their money is empowering for Airmen and their families.
“Our goal is not to make their financial decisions for them, but to give them the opportunity to make valid decisions,” said Ms. Sapp.

The first step in learning to make valid decisions is to manage all bank and savings accounts. Ms. Sapp said she is amazed at those who do not know how much money they have, telling of one Airman she knows who has been overdrawn by about $500 for more than a year. 

Another step includes reevaluating money issues on a regular basis.
“As people go through life, financial needs and priorities change,” said Ms. Sapp. These changes may involve housing arrangements, changes in marital status, beginning a family, retirement or moving up or down in wages. 

Ms. Sapp said this is important for Airmen, since military pay rates do not always grow at a rate consistent with lifestyle changes.
Airmen must know the value of their money to reevaluate and make good decisions. “You work so hard for your money … at least 160 hours a month. Who deserves it more than you?” asked Ms. Sapp. 

Charles Brown, a former Airmen at Cannon learned that working to make changes in his financial outlook is a long process of working through past financial mistakes, but he and his wife now use a budget to stay on top of their finances. 

“If it’s not something you have to have, then don’t do it, because you’re going to need what you have to take care of what’s coming up,” said Mr. Brown earlier this year while still on active duty. 

He praises his wife’s quality of being a chronic list maker in an effort to help them with their finances. “She keeps a good budget of what’s coming due and how much is owed,” he said. “If it hadn’t been for that, things would have gotten a lot worse, a lot sooner.”

Instead of taking the steps to be proactive with their money, too many Airmen choose to remain complacent. 

“I think a lot of our financial decisions are based on inertia; a body at rest tends to stay at rest,” said Ms. Sapp. 

One way to ward off complacency is to always look ahead at the next step in life. “Once you master something, start looking at the step ahead,” she stresses. “Save for retirement, no matter what age you are.” 

Ms. Sapp reminds others to look ahead to short term obligations, “Christmas is not a surprise. School starts in August. Plan for it, and it’s not an issue.” 

The basics of bank account management, living by a budget and planning ahead are tools the military stresses and expects of its members. 

“Financial responsibility is something we expect of all our people,” said Chief Master Sgt. Gary Ashmore, 27th Equipment Maintenance Squadron.

While the military stresses good financial management for servicemembers, it knows there are times when the member may need to seek outside help. 

The need to ask for help may cause embarrassment for some Airmen or their families. When asked if Airmen should be embarrassed when needing emergency help, Chief Ashmore answered, “For a valid need? Never. Why would they? Everybody has situations come up that are sometimes beyond their control.” 

Pride must be put aside and Airmen must use their chain of command and seek military assistance to get help before financial problems spin out of control, Mr. Brown said.
Choosing to use military options over payday loan lenders is something Chief Ashmore does not seem to be able to stress enough. 

“You never, ever, ever need money bad enough to go see these people [the payday loan industry]. If you need money bad enough to see these people, you need to see your flight chief, your supervisor or your first sergeant. Always use your chain of command,” stressed Chief Ashmore.

Despite these warnings, Ms. Sapp and Chief Ashmore know there will be Airmen who choose the payday loan and quick cash stores, and get into trouble they are not able to get out of. In these cases, Chief Ashmore has very specific advice. 

“Go ugly early. If you have a problem, you need to identify it sooner rather than later. It’s going to prevent you from getting so far in over your head that you may never get out.”
Ms. Sapp seconds Chief Ashmore’s advice by saying that financial problems do not heal themselves, but need definitive action. Sometimes that help can come in the form of a legitimate loan with a decent interest rate. 

“If they [Airmen] haven’t already jeopardized their credit to the point where they’re not credit worthy, I can sometimes get a reputable lending institution to advance them money to pay off the debts and then they will have a loan,” said Chief Ashmore. 

One loan with a reputable lender can bring a sense of relief and control that cannot be achieved with many loans through less ethical lenders. There is nothing like financial freedom, said Ms. Sapp who adds that money does not give power, “but it can give peace of mind and options.”