Category Archives: Resources

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 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. – 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 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 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.

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!

The 80/20 Approach to Stress (and Spend!) Less this Holiday Season, Part 3

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 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, and offers budget-friendly tips to help us “Keep an Even Keel” this holiday season. – note

Now that we have determined what is most important to us this season in part121221-N-IN807-471 one of this series, and have adapted a budget-friendly means to gift giving in part two, it’s time to focus on how to celebrate the holidays without breaking the bank. Family gatherings are often the most anticipated events of the holiday season and expenses can quickly add up for both the travelling and host families. Late planning and missed holiday promotion opportunities can easily turn into very costly last-minute trips amidst swarming holiday shoppers. To keep spending and stress levels down, try these tips using the 80/20 rule:

  • In addition to searching for the best travel fares and booking in advance, keep in mind that you may not be able to visit everyone on your list. Decide what is in your budget, and which trip will be the most meaningful. Overspending to please everyone may result in detectable tension, fatigue, and financial strain.
  • If you are hosting a gathering, ask others to help out by contributing to the event. This can be in the form of a dish, drinks, cash, etc. Holiday meal planning costs can be kept reasonable by utilizing wholesale membership buying programs and using coupons. When everyone contributes to the process, there is a greater sense of community, which is what the holiday season is all about.
  • Choose inexpensive and free events that visiting family can enjoy. Base holiday concerts and activities and city/town lighting events are just a few ways to engage in cheap or free holiday fun. When your loved ones look back on these moments, the important thing will be the meaningful time spent together, not the amount of money it took to make it happen.

If you decide to opt-out of this year’s family reunion, perhaps your family can use this time to volunteer to serve others. Look for local events and activities where your family can contribute (local feeding events for the less fortunate, sponsor a service member for a holiday meal, etc.). Bringing joy to others is a gift that both the giver and recipient will relish.

Whether you’ll be spending the holidays in the company of family and friends, or through long distance communications during deployment, remember, you get the most value from nurturing your relationships with those important to you—not from stretching your financial limits. By considering what’s most meaningful, you’ll stay in control of your budget and “keep an even keel” this holiday season.

Food and Mood

Lt. Cmdr. Amit Sood, OPNAV N17 Dietitian, reflects on the impact food choices have on one’s mood to encourage readers to “Keep an Even Keel” this holiday season with family, friends and shipmates.

The holidays are here, and you deserve some much needed time off, so take George H.W. Bush is conducting training operations in the Atlantic Ocean.every opportunity to spend it with family and friends. Now, combine those relationships with good, conscious food choices, and you have the right ingredients to recharge your spirit!

Whether your time is spent with family, going to a potluck with friends, or sharing the holiday with your shipmates at sea, remember it’s all about balanced eating. The food we consume can affect the way we think, feel, act, and interact with those around us, so it is important to consume each of the food groups at each meal, at roughly the same time each day. In doing so, you can stabilize blood sugar levels and increase energy levels to enjoy the taste and spirit of the holiday.

Here are three ways food and mood can impact your relationships:

  1. Enjoying a meal with family and friends can enhance interpersonal relationships and boost your sense of community.
  2. Keeping a balanced and consistent food intake can positively affect your level of self-satisfaction and sense of controllability.
  3. Giving, such as contributing to a potluck and seeing others enjoy the food you provide, will increase your feelings of self-worth and meaning in your relationships.

You can also use a nutrition tracker, such as the SuperTracker on, to help you plan and manage your nutrient intake and portion sizes. With conscious effort and consistency, you’ll find monitoring your food intake to be a simple, yet incredibly powerful strategy to help keep your mental, emotional, physical, and social well-being in check. So, enjoy good food, share and spend time with others, recharge your spirit, and remain resilient and all season long!

The 80/20 Approach to Stress (and Spend!) Less this Holiday Season, Part 2

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 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, and offers budget-friendly tips to help us “Keep an Even Keel” this holiday season. – note

In the first part of our series, we talked about gauging where our focus is this 141002-N-VY375-046holiday season, with a goal of 80% on personal relationships, and 20% on material spending. Now, we can tackle gift-giving without breaking the bank.

How do you shift your holiday gifting goals and priorities to a mostly non-material state? The answer is to reserve some time to explore simple and inexpensive creative ideas. Here are just a few:

  •  Homemade greeting cards: Use cardstock, markers and design a pattern as simple or elaborate as you desire. Add mementos or a family photo for more personalization and meaning.
  • Thoughtful keepsakes: Ornaments are a meaningful token of the holidays that can help us feel connected with loved ones even when we’re unable to be with them. Try framing your children’s artwork and sending a personalized copy to your Sailor or family, so that they have a piece of home for the holidays.
  • Family-wide gift exchange: Instead of attempting to send individual gifts to a number of family members, which can quickly add up, get your family to agree to write everyone’s name on a separate piece of paper, place all of them in a box, then have each individual draw one piece of paper from the box to indicate who they will purchase a gift for. To keep the meaning of the season in perspective, include a favorite charity in the name drawing.
  • Think locally and globally: Perhaps you realize that your family has all it needs this holiday season and wants to contribute to the local community. Think about participating in a gift-giving program for families, such as the Marine Corps’ Toys for Tots, or a shoebox gift-giving concept like Operation Christmas Child.

Your biggest tool to help you maintain the 80/20 rule is to set limits. Find joy in giving any gift, big or small, from the meaning behind it. It’s also imperative to the success of any holiday budget (and to maintain your own peace of mind) that you stick to the amounts designated for gifts in your financial plan. Doing this upfront and discussing with those involved will help manage and curb expectations.

It is not always possible to give or participate financially, so other intangible gifts like time and service are worthy substitutes. They instill a sense of gratitude and are true reflections of the 80/20 idea. As the old adage goes, “don’t hang your hat where your hand can’t reach.” In other words, be aware of your financial limitations and do not overreach in areas you simply cannot afford just to please others.

Stay tuned for part three of our series, “The 80/20 Approach to Stress (and Spend!) Less this Holiday Season.”