When I met my husband, I realized quickly, he was the numbers guy in the relationship. He was the one who could calculate 40% off of a $32 sweater within seconds. He could leave a perfect 18% tip for a server at a restaurant without blinking an eye. He was my financial savior.
I was the eighteen-year-old who was bouncing checks because I didn’t keep a running ledger in the back, and was faced with a domino effect of the bank charging an overdraft fee. Hundreds of dollars in fees later, I realized that finances were not my forte. After we married, I handed over our finances to my financially savvy husband, because frankly, I just wasn’t that into managing money.
Last fall, I was introduced to a fantastic financial literacy program that helped me get up to my husband’s speed and help me carve out my position as an equal in the management of our family’s finances.
MilCents (MilCents Financial Education brochure) is a one-of-a-kind financial education program designed to help military families save money, understand their taxes, plan for retirement, track credit and avoid financial predators. This program is back in full swing again this spring, just in time for tax season, the most stressful time of year for so many families, including my own.
Let me share with you how this program helped me become just as savvy as my numbers wielding husband:
- MilCents wasn’t a huge time commitment.
I admit, the last thing I want to do each day is sit down to a computer and learn about finances. I’m sorry, but finding out what crazy thing some celebrity did that day is so much more interesting to me than finances. But even I could spare 5 minutes a day to learn how to prepare my family for the future. Some days, I admit, the program could be longer, but I was prepared for it. In some sections, I could work ahead a day or two if I was really feeling the assignments. Other times, I’d slow down, walk away and call my husband so we could discuss the unit. That brings me to the next point:
- MilCents creates conversation.
Too often, I was accustomed to having my husband handle all the bills (easy way out, I realize), but this program brought us together as partners. It starts from the basics of how to read an LES statement and progresses on to how to plan for retirement, even if it is a few years out. He and I certainly have differing opinions on what we want to save for (I love saving for vacations, he loves to save for car parts), but the program gave us open dialogue to have those conversations.
- MilCents is developed by experts.
The program was developed by Military Family Advisory Network, who partnered with Better Business Bureau Military and Veterans Initiative, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Investor Education Foundation (FINRA) and the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC). Its industry-validated resources are part of an online platform that fosters collaboration based on social learning principles that are particularly effective among adults. Google Hangouts and Twitter chats are used for sessions with experts on specific topics.
- MilCents is interactive on my own time.
The program allows me to interact with other families going through the program in an interactive social platform. But I could also go through it on my own time, when my schedule allows. What I love is that the program is based on various learning styles: visual, verbal, textual (by doing), etc. There are live google hangouts that can also be replayed if you miss those, twitter chats, a private social platform to chat with other participants, and your own worksheets to work through during the course. The program is built to be a 10-week course, but you can go through it at your own pace. Everything is designed to be controlled by the user.
- MilCents is 100% free.
No gimmicks, no selling. It really is free. I’m the first person to think everyone is out to sell me something, but seriously, this program isn’t like that. Unlike financial advisors who will provide you a free consultation, and then hit you with all of their recommendations for products, this program just wants every military and veteran family to have a better understanding about their finances.
By the end of the 10-week session, I no longer had to ask questions of my husband on his LES; could find my credit scores (reliably) and knew how I could go about improving them; categorize our family’s spending and saving habits; create a family budget; identify and avoid predatory lenders; and ask questions and share successes with other military family members in the program. New this spring, the program added a tax unit, in preparation for the dreaded April 15 deadline. I may jump in again, just to add that to my financial repertoire.
If you are ready to take control of your own financial future, like I did, this is the perfect program for military families. It isn’t just for the new military couple or the seasoned spouse. There is something for everyone. It’s how I made cents of my finances.
About the Author: Kim Robertson is an Air Force spouse, a mother of a tween, and the author of 1200 Miles Away, a blog she started when her husband received orders for California and Kim and her daughter stayed in Colorado. Kim currently serves as an Advisor to the Military Family Advisory Network. Kim has also written for NextGenMilSpouse.com and the National Military Family Association and is a Scout for the Military Property Project, a program that helps military families invest in real estate.