Category Archives: Tools

Preparing for Back-to-School without Stress

Transitioning from fun in the summer sun to a new, school-focused schedule can be very stressful. It can also be an opportunity to make positive changes to routines and perhaps avoid last year’s pitfalls.

Here are some tips to help you and your family navigate the stress of back to school season:

Shop smart. Take advantage of tax free shopping on your local base or in your community, and stick to the school-supplied lists as best you can to avoid overspending. You can also search online for used textbooks and free shipping offers, or visit a local dollar store for smaller items such as pens and pencils.

Visit the school. If your child’s school hosts an open house, take advantage of the opportunity to not only see the classrooms and meet the teachers for yourself, but to familiarize your child with where they will spend their days.

Create a family calendar. Keeping school activities, extracurricular activities, and appointments organized can strain even the best memory, so consider a family calendar in a common area, such as the kitchen. Knowing who needs to be where and when will build confidence, reduce stress, and create a greater sense of control and trust within your family. Make sure you include family time, whether it’s a family movie night or a visit to a local park.

Above all, encourage your children. Your love and support will help ease any stress they may be experiencing about the new school year.

For more comprehensive tips to navigating back-to-school stress, read parts 1 and 2 of our 2013 series Strategies for Tackling the Stress of Back-to-School.

Break the Cycle of Debt and Rebuild Your Finances, 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 Navynavstress.com and previously served at the Fleet and Family Support Center, Millington, Tenn. as a financial counselor. Prior to government service, she worked as a financial services representative for several brokerage and insurance firms. 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.

While Part 1 of this two-part series discussed ways to increase awareness of your spending habits and tips to be better stewards of your money in the present and future, Part 2 will focus on tips and resources to resolve past debts.

Anyone burdened with debt is likely to hear the terms debt management plan, debt2debt settlement and debt consolidation. While each option provides unique advantages, there could be hidden fees and disadvantages, so you should always consider the assistance of a non-profit credit counselor or military financial counselor who will help you navigate the maze of alternatives.

Debt Management Plans. Through the assistance of a third-party, such as a non-profit credit counseling agency, a debt management plan utilizes a monthly structured payoff that creditors you owe have already accepted. As part of the terms of a debt management plan, the accounts included are closed, interest rates are usually reduced, your credit ratings are typically preserved, and most importantly, you can avoid bankruptcy.

Debt Settlement Plans. Unlike debt management plans, debt settlement plans involve a final, reduced payoff amount from each creditor that has been negotiated on your behalf by either yourself or a third party, such as a non-profit credit counseling agency. Although the amount you are required to pay back is reduced, a serious tradeoff of a debt settlement plan is how it will affect your credit report, as creditors are required to note such accounts as “settled” versus “paid in full.” What this means for you is that when you apply for credit in the future, whether it’s a vehicle, credit card or mortgage, the company that pulls your credit report will see that you were unable to satisfy a debt obligation. In addition, when you file your annual taxes, you may owe taxes on settled debt amount.

Debt Consolidation. Debt consolidation refers to obtaining one loan to pay off the existing balance of your collective debts. One advantage of this is that you make one single payment each month to one creditor; however, one disadvantage is that the interest rates can be higher than your existing creditors. As with debt management plans and debt settlement plans, it is always best to consult a non-profit credit counseling agency to determine if this is the best option for you.

Debt management can be extremely stressful, but having a solid financial plan will reduce this burden and set you up for greater financial successes in your future. For assistance locating a non-profit credit counselor, visit www.nfcc.org or visit your local Fleet and Family Support Center.

Break the Cycle of Debt and Rebuild Your Finances, Part 1

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. Prior to government service, she worked as a financial services representative for several brokerage and insurance firms. 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.

If at any time you’ve felt the pangs of realizing that you have accumulated too much debt, then you can probably relate to every other passerby at one point or another in their lives. Today, it seems that personal consumer debt (excluding mortgages) is not only commonplace, but is significantly on the rise. Also on the rise is the list of fallout attitudes and actions that may accompany our new debt reality: stress, anxiety, bankruptcy, divorce, collection activities, career effects, etc. Whether your debt stemmed from over-shopping, under-budgeting or emergency circumstances (medical expenses, home repairs, etc.), know that there are ways to climb out of the hole and regain your peace of mind.

How much personal debt is too much for you? Some maintain that any debt is too much. Others hold a more moderate view that debt which cannot be paid in full with existing funds, without creating strain, is an indication that you’ve crossed the line. For example, if you charged $1,000 on a credit card for debt1your annual auto insurance premium, but do not have that $1,000 already set aside to pay off that transaction, then you have created too much debt. Some guidelines state that having a debt-to-income ratio of 20% of net income is the maximum standard, while some institutions state that figure should be 36% of gross income. Whatever metric you choose, if your total outstanding debt makes you uncomfortable—considering your current income, level of savings, spending patterns, expected earnings, short and long term goals, etc.—then you probably have too much debt. So what is the next step?

Take control! Create a budget and spending plan. It can sometimes be a painful (yet thoroughly liberating) process, but by identifying your exact financial position you can get a better handle on your current and anticipated resources to pay down debts. Start by considering key items such as net worth, monthly expenses and income, savings and investments, total debt, etc. The Navy’s Financial Planning Worksheet can help you keep track of these items and achieve your savings and debt reduction goals, so that you can declare financial independence. A boost of confidence and the reality of what’s possible will follow.

Have a safety net to buffer you from the “what ifs.” What if the roof leaks? What if the A/C in the car stops working in the middle of July? What if…? Having extra savings will provide a safety net in case of unforeseen expenses or a loss of income. At least three months’ worth of expenses should be saved. If that’s not feasible based on you circumstances, a much more attainable and less intimidating goal of around $1,500 serves as a starter fund or work through your spending plan and budget to determine a financial cushion that works best for you. Once a reasonable amount of savings has been accumulated, the extra funds can then be redirected towards debts in a strategic manner (e.g. smallest balance or highest interest rate first, etc.). Try a debt repayment tool to help you create a practical plan that works for your family’s goals and abilities, such as the tools on http://www.powerpay.org.

Be cautious of exhausting your savings in the name of repaying debts. If an unexpected event pops up that requires those funds, you have now put yourself back into debt and will erase the leverage that you possessed in repaying debt(s). Again, if no savings exist then that should be a priority above paying off debts – as long as the required debt payments can be met to maintain or regain good standing.

Personal discretion can be much more influential in curbing debt than trying to conform to a generic description or percentage of what that should be. Be careful that you’re not overgeneralizing, however, as you may be unintentionally creating your own loophole to spend above your means. As the West Indian adage goes, “Don’t hang your hat where your hand can’t reach.”

Stay tuned for Part 2 where we will share tips and resources to navigate repayment of past debts to rebuild your financial future.

Postvention is Prevention

Losing a shipmate to suicide is one of the most difficult situations Sailors may face. Those left behind may experience immediate or delayed emotional reactions including guilt, anger, shame or betrayal, and no two people will grieve the same. In the aftermath, finding balance between the grief process and mission demands can be challenging. It’s important for our Navy family to recognize how postvention efforts can serve as psychological first aid to shipmates and loved ones.

Postvention refers to actions that occur after a suicide to support shipmates and family affected by the loss. Because each situation is unique, examples of postvention efforts can include thoughtfully informing Sailors about the death to minimize speculation, one-on-one outreach to those most affected by the suicide, encouraging utilization of support resources and monitoring for reactions.

For a command that has experienced a suicide, fostering a supportive environment is vital to sustaining psychological and emotional resilience. For many, the impact of suicide will not go away just because the memorial service is over and duty calls again. The Five Principles of Resilience can assist with the recovery process following a suicide, helping to promote a healthy grieving process and a return to mission-readiness.

  • Predictability – While suicide is not necessarily predictable, a command’s commitment to a healthy and supportive environment can be. Encourage your shipmates to speak up when they are down, and reassure them that seeking help is a sign of strength. Ensure that support resources are in place and accessible (chaplain, medical, Deployed Resiliency Counselor and/or SPRINT team).
  • Controllability – After a suicide, it’s normal for things to seem out of your control. The grieving process may seem overwhelming at times. Be patient with yourself and with those around you who may be grieving differently. To allow yourself time to regroup, it’s ok to set limits and say “No” to things that may hamper the healing process.
  • Relationships – Our connections with peers and loved ones can be protective factors during challenging times, providing us with a sense of community, hope and purpose. Take a moment out of each day to ask how your shipmates are doing—and actively listen. Start the conversation. It’s all about being there for “Every Sailor, Every Day.”
  • Trust – Trust plays a critical role in withstanding adversity and extends beyond individual relationships. Similar to predictability, the presence of trust before and after a tragedy promotes a supportive command climate and can help preserve mission readiness while promoting emotional health.
  • Meaning – Following a suicide, it’s common to search for answers. While you may never understand the events leading up to the tragedy, leaning on the support of your shipmates and leaders can help strengthen the recovery process by sharing meaning and fostering hope.

The Defense Centers of Excellence has a comprehensive fact sheet with the common emotions experienced while coping with a suicide, in addition to suggestions on how individuals can navigate those emotions.

For additional suicide postvention resources and support, visit:

Peer to Peer, Beyond the Pier

Talking about stress can be a challenge in itself. Finding someone who can relate to your experiences and help you work through them can seem even tougher—particularly with the range of stressors unique to military V4Wlife.

Recognizing the unique challenges and bonds that service members, veterans and families share, the Defense Suicide Prevention Office (DSPO) has sponsored Vets 4 Warriors peer support line. This resource offers active duty, National Guard, and reserve service members and families access to 24/7, free and confidential support from peers—veterans and family members who can relate to your experiences and feelings. Veterans and family members who have “been there.”

Vets 4 Warriors is not a crisis line, though staff will connect callers with immediate resources if an emergency is imminent. Rather, the network offers an outlet for callers to talk through stressors and get connected with the right resources, with the help of those who understand military life first-hand. Vets 4 Warriors’ “Veteran Peers” work diligently to connect callers with specific resources for any issue: finances, legal matters, medical services, transition or reintegration difficulties and more. They can provide information and advice, as well as referrals. And, support can be ongoing for as long as you, the caller, choose to remain engaged. Veteran Peers are not clinical or medical care providers, nor will they share any information with the military or VA. They’re simply here to lend a hand when you need help getting over any of life’s numerous hurdles.

If you choose to call Vets 4 Warriors, you can expect a non-judgmental conversation with a veteran from your branch of Service, who is ready to listen and offer help—and hope. Veteran Peers are trained to help callers feel comfortable speaking about issues, addressing the internal, external and environmental barriers that can often keep us from seeking help. Best of all, peer support offers reciprocal benefits. By talking with a Veteran Peer, you’re helping him or her grow from personal challenges as much as he or she is helping you withstand, recover and adapt from your own. That is how we truly build resilience. Together.

For more information, visit http://www.vets4warriors.com/ or call 1-855-838-8255 toll-free. You may also email or start a live chat with a Veteran Peer. For OCONUS callers, please click here for instructions.