There Must Be Resolve!

Stacy Livingstone-Hoyte, AFC®, is an experienced financial counselor who has worked extensively with U.S. Armed Forces members and families. She is a long-time volunteer blogger for Navynavstress.com and previously served at the Fleet and Family Support Center, Millington, Tenn. as a financial counselor. As a military spouse, Ms. Livingstone-Hoyte knows firsthand of the financial challenges and opportunities that face military families across the globe. To that end, she embraces a steadfast belief that financial success can be simple, just not easy. –NavyNavStress.com note

Did you resolve to be a better steward of your hard earned money in 2015? If so, over the next month or two, you may feel bittersweet at times…you feel empowered by your financial progress, and then the holiday shopping bills arrive. You are not alone, and with focus, you will prosper. This is the kind of stuff that life is made of; equations or solutions of a sort. Personal money management can be as simple as this equation:

(Saving Money + With Consistency) – Reducing Debt = A Measure of Financial Success

This is no mystery here, but this success equation demands that there is resolve! This is the kind that forces planning and demands daily attention to your spending habits. And this is precisely what a New Year can bring! To live this type of equation, we must know what our current money status is, set goals, set realistic plans, and determine what success will look like for you. Here are a few tips to help you find the right equation to achieve resolution in your own finances:

Gather Your Numbers: This is post-holiday stop number one! Gather the most up-to-date account information about your assets and debt obligations. One way to do this is with a simple Excel spreadsheet where your column names are the name of the creditor, the total balance, minimum monthly payment and interest rates. This will help identify your net worth and create a viable budget.

Create or Touch-Up the Budget: Consult with a subject matter expert or your household financial partner to construct a realistic portrayal of how you allocate income, savings, investments, expenses and debt payments. Take time to reflect on the results of this assessment and breathe a deep sigh of relief for having created a living budget.

Goal & Plans: Having the previous information in hand, set realistic goals and plans to span the next 12 months and beyond. Resources such as www.powerpay.org or the Navy Electronic Financial Planning Worksheet can help you determine a payback method best suited for you, whether it’s placing your initial focus on debts with the highest interest rate or following a snowball method where you pay off debts from the smallest to largest. Conversely, if your goal is to build your savings arsenal, prioritize your emergency savings above other budgetary goals, as this is the number one stressor in personal financial planning. While three to six months’ worth of expenses and debt payments are recommended as a fairly sufficient emergency fund, a more attainable goal for many is to start with a smaller goal of at least $1,500. For a more in-depth discussion on debt reduction resources, refer to my blog from August 2014 where we discussed tips and resources to resolve your debts.

Any long term goal should always reflect your current capabilities and realistic expectations for the future. If you plan to save up money for future purchases, set realistic expectations on the total amount of money needed and the timeline to accomplish. If your goals involve investing, ensure that you have first established sufficient liquid funds and have the ability to pay off any outstanding consumer debt.

Monitor & Revise: It is equally important to monitor the progress you have made towards your goals. As challenges and opportunities arise, adjust your initial plans. A windfall of cash, such as tax returns, present a unique opportunity to compromise between paying off debts, saving and spending. Conversely, when the unexpected happens, such as car repairs, revisit your financial plan quickly so that any lost momentum can be regained.

Credit Check: The start of each new year is an ideal time to review your personal credit report. Federal law allows each consumer to obtain their free credit report from each of the three major bureaus (Equifax, Experian and Transunion) once per year. (Remember, this report will not include your credit score, which is requested separate, and sometimes with a fee.) One strategy to monitor your credit report more than once per year is to pull your report from one of the bureaus in January, a second bureau in four months later, then the third report from the last bureau another four months later. You can go to www.annualcreditreport.com for additional details.

Make 2015 the year you resolve to focus on your finances! If you need assistance from a professional, contact your nearest Fleet and Family Service Center, Command Financial Specialist or Military OneSource representative for free advice.

Patience: A Spiritual Discipline

USS COWPENS (CG63) Chaplain Monya A. Stubbs reflects on the practice of patience to strengthen one’s emotional, spiritual and physical well-being in the New Year.

I recently visited with a Buddhist monk, and in our discussion on the concept of patience, he reminded me that patience is not the absence of engagement or an indifferent attitude. Rather, the monk explained, patience means maintaining a commitment to the “causes of your practice, no matter how long it takes to get the results.” I did not really understand, so I asked him to elaborate. “Patience,” he further explained “means sticking with the task – slow and steady.” In other words, I replied, “patience requires endurance.” “No,” he said, “patience is endurance.”

Patience means that we stick with things even when they take a long time to show the preferred results. We do not get frustrated or sloppy. Patience is always an efficient use of our emotional energy, but seldom fast. “A farmer knows,” the monk stated, “that you cannot plant the rice today and expect to have the grains ripened tomorrow.” It takes time and during the time between the planting and the harvest, it is going to require work. We must tend to the soil.

Life can be cruel and sometimes just messy when we are intimidated or stifled by the weight that stress brings into our world. At the same time, life provides us space to create and experience moments of immeasurable joy that enrich the lives of those with whom we work and live. Life offers us a myriad of opportunities to imagine and build products that advance the human condition. Life also pokes and prods, hoping to stimulate us to confront injustices that oppress the human spirit. But, we live in an impatient society; when we engage the opportunities and difficulties that life brings, we are often overwhelmed, irritated, and disappointed if desired outcomes do not come at the pre-determined allotted time. Everything has to be done fast, and we expect fast results. We fail to appreciate the transformative power of patience and endurance.

As we enter this New Year, I invite you to reevaluate your pace. When you engage a problem that comes to your attention, tackle a task placed under your charge, or confront the challenges involved in interpersonal relationships, do so with patience – proceed with care and attention. As you work throughout the year to meet your career goals, to grow your personal relationships, and to strengthen your emotional, spiritual and physical well-being, know that you will encounter obstacles. Do not become discouraged by the natural delays that obstacles bring. Avoid internal dialogues about when the results are going to come, what they are going to be like, and how you can speed up the process. Rather, focus your creative genius on the generosity of the moment and the assignment at hand. Tend to the soil. Be Patient. Endure.

Food Everywhere – Too Many Choices!

Lt. Cmdr. Amit Sood, a dietitian, offers tips for you to enjoy the flavors of the holiday season and develop mindful eating as a way of life.

Food is often the center of attention during the holidays, and trying to regain a sense of control for the New Year can be tough. Many factors influence your food choices – the food around you, hunger level, boredom, your perception of healthy versus unhealthy food, among many others. This is where ‘mindful eating’ comes into play. You may have heard this phrase, but what exactly does it mean, and what is the benefit to us?

Earlier this year, we discussed mindfulness in the context of stress eating as: “experiencing and being fully aware of what your body is telling you in the present moment.” We live in a society where food is abundant and readily available, so being mindful of our body’s needs for nutrition and our food choices is key to maintain proper nutrition. You can start by creating a healthy eating environment.

If you think back to boot camp or officer training, meals were only available at one place, with set menus and times. Now, whether at home, in the office, barracks, commissary, or around your ship’s living spaces, no matter where you are, your environment is one of the main triggers of your food choices at any given time. If there’s a box of doughnuts in your spaces, you will likely crave it, and if you don’t, then you’ll probably want it anyway, just because it’s there. To avoid this common pitfall, especially around the holidays when potlucks and cookie exchanges are in abundance, ask yourself the following to see how you can improve your eating habits:

  1. Am I overindulging in food choices and quantities that I do not ordinarily eat because it’s available?
  2. Do I find myself eating when I’m bored or stressed?
  3. Am I grazing on food throughout the day without taking the time to taste and enjoy it?
  4. Do I mindlessly chomp on salty or sweet snacks in front of the TV?
  5. Am I skipping meals and not paying attention to when I’m really hungry?

If you answered ‘yes,’ to any of these questions, consider re-focusing your efforts to eat with the intention to nourish your body, enjoy the flavor of your food, and sustain positive energy levels throughout the day. Planning and preparing your meals ahead of time with a focus on healthy whole grains, fruits, and vegetables instead of highly salted, sugary, or fatty snacks will increase your sense of controllability and help you sustain positive food choices in your daily routines and during holiday festivities.

Here are some additional tips to control your eating this holiday season and set you up for success in the New Year:

  • Don’t purchase food that you are vulnerable to overeating.
  • Keep food in designated areas that will only be accessible during set meal and snack times.
  • Avoid grocery shopping when you are hungry.

You can also visit the Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center, Health Promotion and Wellness Department’s “Relax Relax” Toolkit for an audio presentation on Mindful Eating.

Call a Holiday Time Out

Chaplain Benjamin Box, who serves DESRON 23 at Naval Base San Diego, Calif., shares ways to regain your holiday perspective through an intentional timeout. Prior to his military service, Chaplain Box was a civilian pastor for 10 years.

Along with the challenges of shopping, traveling, decorating, attending parties, consuming calories, and balancing family expectations, it seems as though we can find ourselves with an abundance of eggnog and ugly sweaters, yet suffering a shortage of money, time, and peace of mind.

Shipmates, let me encourage you to hit your pause button and call a “Holiday Time Out.” Be brave enough to slow down, find meaning, and rediscover perspective. A time out can be a walk, journaling, star-gazing, or simply giving yourself space to gather your thoughts for an hour. Now that you have this special time set aside, what do you do?

1. Reflect.

  • Family: Take time to give thanks for your family. Maybe write them a note or a letter and mail it to them or place it in their stocking.
  • Friends: Express gratitude for true friends who enrich your life. Make a point to call a friend or two to catch up; or better yet, schedule a time to get together and “talk life” over lunch or a coffee.
  • Faith: For many, the holiday season represents more than “winter” break and festive decorations. If you are a person of faith, set aside some time to refresh your soul, and to connect with the One who gives you hope, meaning, purpose, strength, and a reason to rejoice.

2. Regroup and Re-enter. Next, you will now want to prioritize and prepare to tackle the sources of your holiday stress. In your mind, or on paper, walk through the days ahead and ask yourself: What stress points can be reduced? Who do you need to discuss this with? Are expectations aligned and realistic? How can you be proactive, intentional, and assertive? With these questions addressed you can move forward with confidence, ready to make the most of the meaningful days ahead.

3. Focus. As 2014 draws to an end, give consideration to how the year went for you, and to how satisfied you are with it. What accomplishments are you proud of? What regrets do you have? What lessons did you learn? What memories did you make? How did you grow? Are you happy with whom you are as a person? What goals do you have for yourself in 2015? Do you have a clear vision for the year ahead and what you want your priorities to be?

Once you have completed your holiday time out, my sincere hope is that pressure gives way to perspective. May this busy, holiday season and New Year be blessed for you and your loved ones.

Holiday Festivities or Stressful Activities? 5 Tips for Celebrating Responsibly

The holidays are full of joy, love, and festivities, but they can also bring an increased level of stress and anxiety. While our social calendars fill quickly with trips to the mall, holiday parties, family get-togethers and other activities, we can easily become overwhelmed, anxious, and exhausted. Given the increase in social activities and related stress around the holidays, it is more important than ever to remember to drink responsibly.

Below are five tips on responsible drinking to help get you through the holiday season and keep what you’ve earned:

1. Don’t rely on alcohol to reduce your stress:

We’ve all heard the “I’ve had a stressful day” excuse for having a drink or two too many. Drinking alcohol may lead to positive feelings and relaxation momentarily, but if you try to deal with stress through drinking it can lead to serious problems. Instead of “calming your nerves,” drinking can actually work against you, increasing your risk for alcohol dependence and leading to other psychological health problems. If you’re feeling stressed this holiday season, look for other ways to reduce stress such as exercise, yoga, meditation, or just taking a moment each day for yourself to relax and be in the moment. If trying to de-stress with alcohol has become a common practice for you, it’s probably time to self-refer for help. Talk to your Drug and Alcohol Program Advisor (DAPA), chaplain, doctor, or command leadership about where to get help.

2. Practice good self-care:

Mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing and casserole, pie, pie, and more pie. There are many treats to indulge in over the holiday season and as your social calendar fills up it becomes more difficult to make time to stay healthy. During the holiday season it’s okay to allow yourself some additional treats, but be careful not to over-indulge—especially when it comes to alcohol. Drinking in excess during the holiday season can lead to bad decision making, whether it’s the decision to eat more than you had planned, skip out on the gym, or worse, drive yourself home after drinking. Keep your diet and exercise routines on track and don’t let alcohol steer you wrong—you’ll feel better for doing so!

3. Know your limit:

Many people, particularly those who don’t drink that often, find themselves participating in more social activities that involve drinking this time of year given the celebratory nature of the holidays. In fact, according to the Distilled Spirit Council of the United States, the $49 billion distilled-spirits industry makes more than 35% of its profits from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day. If you find yourself drinking more often during the holiday season, you should know your limit, don’t try to keep up with others, and learn to say no to peer pressure to drink more than you had planned. Exercise Controllability, one of the Five Principles of Resilience, and monitor your consumption to help you keep what you’ve earned. Whether you’re the host or a guest, there are plenty of festive alcohol-free drinks to enjoy this season! Non-alcoholic eggnog, anyone?

4. Plan ahead for a safe ride home:

Studies show that during the holiday season there is an increase in drinking and driving, making it one of the most dangerous time of the year to be on the road. According to the National Highway Safety Traffic Administration, during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend in 2012, more than 300 people were killed in traffic accidents nationwide. This holiday season, plan ahead for a safe ride home before you go out for the night. Make the choice: will you drink or will you drive? Stick to the plan! Remember that even buzzed driving is illegal and more importantly can lead to dangerous accidents.KWYE_Holiday

Furthermore, this season the Keep What You’ve Earned campaign is encouraging all Sailors to take the pledge to be a designated driver for a shipmate, friend, or family member. You can give the gift of a designated driver to a loved one by downloading the printable holiday gift cards, and don’t forget to take the pledge to be a designated driver this season. Exercise Trust, another one of the Five Principles of Resilience—don’t put your friends and shipmates at risk by deciding to drink after committing to serve as a designated driver.

5. Talk it out:

Do you blame your stress, loneliness, or feelings of depression on the “holiday blues?” Do you often feel alone amongst all of the holiday activities and social gatherings happening around you? Do the hardships you’ve experienced in the past 12 months feel magnified during this time of year? These feelings can slowly build up over time, especially as we deal with the stress and anxiety associated with preparing for the holiday season.

Rather than bottling up your feelings—or turning to the bottle to relieve stress—it’s important that you talk to a friend, family member, fellow Sailor, DAPA, chaplain, doctor, or any other resource available to you. If drinking to relieve stress has become a trend for you, remember that a self-referral is the best option for seeking help. When Sailors get help via a self-referral or through the help of their command, neither results in disciplinary action.

Keep an Even Keel, Shipmates—and Keep What You’ve Earned this holiday season!