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.

Stress Eating

Guest blog provided by Dr. Mark Long and Sally Vickers, Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center (NMCPHC), Health Promotion and Wellness (HPW) Department

he_iconHow often do you eat when you’re not hungry? For instance, do you ever eat (or overeat) to reward yourself? How about when you’re frustrated, tired, stressed, anxious, bored, or in need of comfort? We often eat to fill a need other than hunger. However, doing so can lead to overeating and making poor food choices. Of course, having an ice cream to celebrate a birthday or achievement is fine from time to time, but if you find yourself making poor food choices or overeating on a regular basis, practicing mindful eating may help you improve your eating habits and help you enjoy eating right.

What is Mindful Eating?

Mindfulness is the state of being attentive to and aware of what is taking place in the present moment.[1] Before eating, think about what’s really driving your hunger. Is it a need for food or a need for something else entirely? Simply put, being mindful is experiencing and being fully aware of what your body is telling you in the present moment.

Before your first bite, ask yourself:

  • Am I physically hungry?
  • How hungry am I?

The trick is to eat before you get too hungry and to stop (or not begin) eating when you’re not hungry. You should also try to savor and enjoy what you eat by tasting it fully, rather than mindlessly filling a void.

Being mindful is an art. When your mind wanders (and it will), gently remind yourself to eat with intention and take in the whole experience moment by moment.[2] Eating mindfully will enable you to truly taste your food, eat only until your hunger is satisfied, and allow you to fully enjoy your food experience. Practice often and delight in the simplicity of eating! To help get you started, the Health Promotion and Wellness Department’s Relax Relax Toolkit offers a mindfulness section with an audio presentation on Mindful Eating.

[1] Brown K., Ryan R. The Benefits of Being Present: Mindfulness and Its Role in Psychological Well-being. http://selfdeterminationtheory.org/SDT/documents/2003_BrownRyan.pdf.  Published September 2002.
[2] 4Kabat-Zinn, J. Full Catastrophe Living: Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain, and illness. pp 27-29. New York, New York: Dell Publishing; 1990.

A Closer Look at Resilience

Though it may seem as though the broad application of “resilience” relegates the term to a mere buzzword, the opposite is true. Resilience is defined—and built—by a multitude of influential factors coming together to increase one’s “capacity to withstand, recover, grow and adapt in the face of stressors and changing demands.” Moreover, there are overarching areas that can help us build, sustain and reinforce resilience whether we’re exposed to adversity or are enjoying calm waters. Our minds, bodies, social experiences and spiritual connections are all vital to our resilience. Here’s a closer look:

Mind: Our minds are the centers of our emotional and cognitive capacity to prepare for or respond to challenges. If you’ve ever heard the phrase “your outlook determines your outcome,” that speaks to the exceptional abilities our minds have to frame situations, think through them, and adapt positively. If you have a hard time “finding the silver lining,” check out these tips to help you “Reframe your ‘thinking traps’ for peak performance.”

Body: Stress and our responses to it are linked to a multitude of chronic physical health problems. The good news is that by taking care of your body, you can improve both mental and physical wellness. Healthy behaviors, including physical activity, balanced nutrition and adequate sleep build our resilience from the inside out. Get the facts on “Minding Your Health” here.

Social: The connections we share with others are important to our overall well-being, contributing to positive problem-solving skills even when we don’t feel stressed out. Connections with our peers, community and environment are protective factors that have been proven to help lower susceptibility to the negative effects of stress. Additionally, by helping others through their challenges, we gain a renewed sense of purpose and strengthen our own resilience. Here’s a great example of this mutual benefit.

Spiritual: Whether you practice a particular faith or religion, or find meaningful connections in other ways, your spirituality serves as the lens from which you see and interact with the world around you. It provides a trusted set of values and ethics, helping you find meaning in life’s challenges and triumphs. Check out this article from Naval Center for Combat and Operational Stress Control for more on spirituality and resilience.

Resilience doesn’t just evolve from prior hardships.In fact, it can be built proactively by using everyday wellness to strengthen coping skills. Don’t wait until you’re facing a challenge to take a closer look at how you can make small improvements in these four areas to be ready and thrive.