Category Archives: Tools

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.

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.

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

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

Holiday Shopping Tips and Strategies

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

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are an exciting – and equally tempting – time of year to indulge in our purchasing desires. The retail world promotes extravagant discounts in big, bright, bold print, and for some, it really can be the best opportunity to secure favorable prices on sought-after items. But, buyer beware! Whether your buying experience is exclusively online or you’re a store-to-store shopper, here are some words of advice that can help minimize regret from your year-end shopping spree.

Start with the Truth
Groundwork is the basis for any major event. When it comes to earning, saving and especially Black Friday spending, a realistic budget will always be the place to start, even before you dream of your desired items! Determine precisely how much money is available to spend after you have accounted for savings, investing, and debt payments. Next, if you decide to use credit for any of your purchases, identify upfront where the repayment funds will come from. A good rule of thumb is to have it already set aside so that you are using credit as a convenience or to accumulate certain user rewards without incurring interest fees or other penalties.

Research before Buying
Now that you have committed to a budget, research your intended purchases. Glitzy packaging, celebrity endorsements, and clever advertisements can often present a false image of product capability. Check customer reviews, read any meaningful complaints, check out the manufacturer’s warranty and use research-based organizations, like Consumer Reports, to help support your decision.

The Hunt for Deals
Retailers are proud to display their deals and respective disclaimers in store and online, but the real deal is in the fine print. Don’t skip over the ultra-low price display only to be later surprised that a deal is only available to a select group of shoppers, locations, hours, or even online only. Be sure to ask upfront whether or not you can combine other coupons to complete the sale, too, as many products being offered at Black Friday prices disallow additional discounts. You can also make a list of the deals you find, naming stores where your product is available, prices, location, store hours, etc. Some websites and mobile apps, such as RetailMeNot.com and BlackFriday.com, can be useful in narrowing down your options by setting price alerts, thus giving you a sense of control during the holiday mayhem.

Pricing
Let’s face it, “We will match any competitor price” or “Lowest Price Guarantee” are music to most shopper’s ears! To take advantage of these offers, you will need to be sure that the advertised products are identical (be aware of stripped down versions), and know if there is a price matching limit (e.g. up to $100 per item). Holiday advertisements are key in knowing what’s available where, for how much and if there is an opportunity to pay a well-deserving price. Again, read the fine print.

Layaway
Using a layaway plan (online or traditional) can be an ideal option if you decide against using credit and paying upfront in full for your purchases. In this arrangement, you simply find your items and request that the store hold them until your payment is rendered in full. Be mindful that to do this, most assess a non-refundable fee and each retailer will have a written policy governing this practice (which you should read in full to avoid any surprises). Minimum purchases, cost to initiate a layaway plan, cancellation fees, pick up dates, and return and refund policies are some key items to know beforehand.

Couponing
Couponing is now a national craze and a favorite pastime for many, but rule number one is to read the fine print! In that small text, you can determine any brand exclusions; whether the coupon can be used over an entire day, multiple days or is void after one transaction; or if you are limited in quantity purchased. Also, be aware of the expiration of the coupon, as some retailers will have coupons specific to early bird sales and others dedicated to an entire day or series of days. Next, and equally important, know the store’s coupon policy. Coupon doubling, combining, price matching, register rewards programs and overages are some ways to save more money using coupons. Print out (or bookmark on your electronic devices) the coupon policies for the stores in which you plan to shop. This will come to your aid if you are challenged by your use of coupons to secure deeper discounts. It is not uncommon for store employees, especially those retained only for the holiday season, to be unaware of some details in their company policies. Legitimate manufacturer coupons can be found through mail delivery (e.g. SmartSource, Redplum), or on sites like www.coupons.com. Store-specific coupons can usually be found on the store website or in its sale circular.

All the best on your Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping adventures!

Navy Exchange Coupon Policy: http://www.mynavyexchange.com/nex/customer-service/store-policies Commissary Coupon Policies: https://www.commissaries.com/documents/contact_deca/faqs/coupon_use.cfm Fraudulent Coupon Search: http://www.couponinformationcenter.com/psa-list.php