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 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

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 and, can be useful in narrowing down your options by setting price alerts, thus giving you a sense of control during the holiday mayhem.

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.

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 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 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: Commissary Coupon Policies: Fraudulent Coupon Search:

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

The most wonderful time of the year is almost here. But for some, the holiday season seems to appear as a thief would in the night – suddenly and 131231-N-QL471-200unwelcomed. There are any number of reasons why we have these feelings, some vague and others deeply rooted in our experiences. Nonetheless, when said and done, the holiday season can leave us with cold realities to face: lingering debts piled on from two seasons ago, the thought of budgeting for holiday parties, gift exchanges, family visits, travel, and elaborate meal planning—not to mention the great expectations of loved ones. It can leave any soul feeling a bit materially bankrupt this time of year. Before you give into accepting that it’s ok or unavoidable to accumulate another dollar of unplanned expenses, apply the Principles of Resilience to think strategically and act decisively. Meaningful goals can be your offensive tactics to battle any holiday excess and keep an even keel throughout the stress and excitement.

Thinking Strategically
Strategic thinking involves assessing your views and making purposeful decisions that will lead to success. Let’s consider an 80/20 approach. Think of this as a general principle directing us to put more effort, action and concentration into one critical attribute over another. Using this approach, our holiday focus should be personal relationships (80%) and spending (20%). Although the success we hope to achieve here is financial, we can also achieve peace of mind. The starting point of our holiday budget planning should be a conscious process where we identify what is truly important in the scheme of things. Usually, personal relationships and reflection/meaning are answers at the heart of this search.

This 80/20 idea is simply another way for us to understand and accept what most of us already know and believe –the focus of the holidays is family and togetherness, not extravagant spending.

Acting Decisively
A good plan requires gathering information and acting on it in a sensible manner. In addition to having the mental framework to plan for the holidays, a written analysis of your true financial picture must first be completed. Prepare a budget that clearly identifies your spending limits, debt and savings goals. Be sure to account for any extra holiday income, create a buffer for any unplanned activities, and estimate the cost of materials and postage for cards and gifts. Set realistic goals to exercise controllability, like avoiding additional credit card debt (layaway is a good option here). Step back and evaluate your budget based on the 80/20 approach to help you achieve balance and adjust as necessary.

After the budget is prepared, it should be placed in a highly visible place so that you can closely refer to it during those tempting holiday sales and promotions. Conscious holiday spending can also create an opportunity to save cash and put it toward existing debt or savings– whichever will put you in the most advantageous position. Consult your Command Financial Specialist (CFS), FFSC financial counselor or Military OneSource advisor for help creating a spending plan.

Finally, stay focused on what’s important this season, and take care of yourself! In addition to creating your holiday budget, now is a good time to review and update your Stress Navigation Plan.

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

Got Quality Time?

Meaning, one of the Five Principles of Resilience, can help us “Keep an Even Keel” when trying to balance the strain of transitions and separations on family relationships. Lt. Baron Miller, a Navy chaplain assigned to Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, offers insight on maintaining the balance between quantity and quality to make time spent with loved ones meaningful this holiday season. – note

As we approach the holidays there is one thing people commonly associate with the season: time with family and friends. People are accustomed to being with loved ones during the holidays—and that’s well and good. We should long to be with our family and friends while we share meals and cheer. However, I’ve observed an interesting phenomenon that occurs during the holidays and that is the expectation of quality time spent with those we love.

Everyone wants quality time; the problem is we want it like microwaved food—fast, easy, and effortless. But guess what? Relationships don’t work that way, nor do marriage and parenting. If you want quality time, you must log the quantity time.

If you’ve ever deployed, you probably understand this principle without even knowing it. Remember those first few precious days home? Though you love the ones you’re with, there is a transition period where you can find yourself readapting to the intimacy of those relationships. That’s because quality time requires quantity time. If we’re not logging in the hours of quantity time it’s difficult to expect quality time to just appear; it must be nurtured and that comes with quantity.

I recall sending postcards to my wife and kids on all my deployments. This may sound crazy, but I would try and send one every day. I would buy huge quantities of silly and serious postcards and spend whatever was necessary on the postage. Daily, I would write a sentence or two, that’s it, just to let them know I missed them and to keep myself fresh in their memories. A few words every day isn’t too difficult, but it went a long way when it came to reintegrating after deployment. It was during this time I realized that I spent the quantity time, even while deployed, that led to quality time when I arrived home.

Maybe you aren’t currently deployed, but in homeport, and life is moving at a normal pace. The danger of letting quantity time slip away is still present. We can get comfortable in routines and forget the ways we once showed those we love how much we value and appreciate them. We can forget that it is in the simple, ordinary and even mundane rhythms of quantity time spent with each other that ripen situations for quality time.

If you want the joy of intimacy that comes with quality time this holiday season, whether in your friendships, your marriage, or with your kids, first put in the quantity time.

Our Chosen Family

By retired Navy Lt. j.g. Laura Root, a Navy Wounded Warrior – Safe Harbor enrollee who was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy in 2011.

Root PhotoIn May 2013, I returned to D.C. feeling elated about the gold medal in shooting I earned at the recent Warrior Games. I walked through the front door of a friend’s house and stopped short at the tell-tale expression of disaster on her face. The night before, a beloved friend, mentor and Marine died by suicide.

Despite his silent suffering from the invisible wounds of PTSD after multiple combat tours, everywhere he went people were drawn to his charisma and positive attitude. Anytime someone complained, he simply said: “That’s terrible! It’s just like the day I found out MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) weren’t organic!”

Following the loss of our friend, we were asked: “If you had a choice to receive a wonderful gift, but you knew it would only last for too short a time, would you still accept it?” We all nodded in our grief, but the feeling that we should have done more still tugs at us a year later. I can’t help but wonder if my mentor and friend would still be here if he had the opportunities that I did from adaptive sports.

Sports and interactions with the military family are incredibly powerful healing tools for wounded, ill and injured active duty and retired veterans. Focusing minute-to-minute on a shooting range, track or cycling course trains our minds to focus on what we can do, what lies ahead, and what we can still achieve. Interacting with other veterans reminds us that we are not alone. And, ultimately, we realize: shot-by-shot or step-by-step, I can put my life back together and thrive in the face of adversity.

We will never return to being the same people we were before wounds, injury or illness, but we become someone new, adapted and more resilient. Because of adaptive sports programs, there are fewer people like my dear friend – veterans who struggle in silence. To me, being a Warrior Games competitor helps you recover faster, both physically and emotionally, by connecting you to a network of support, which can be a protective factor against suicide. The athletes begin looking towards the future – together – and, with time, they triumph over obstacles that once seemed insurmountable.

Every person at Warrior Games is one more veteran with a better quality of life, with a brighter future and a healthier outlook. It is sometimes said that our adaptive sports community is our “chosen family,” and that is a wonderful gift. It’s where we remember what our lives can become even after we face our worst-case scenarios. It’s where we always find the people we love most and our reasons to carry on.

To learn more about the adaptive sports program at Navy Wounded Warrior – Safe Harbor, visit:

If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 911. If you or someone you know is in crisis, help is just a call or click away. Call the Military Crisis Line at 1-800-273-TALK (option 1) or visit

For more information on the Navy’s ongoing efforts to prevent suicide and support Every Sailor, Every Day, visit

Building Resilience in the Face of Injury or Illness

140928-N-OT964-While the day-to-day life in the Navy can be stressful, navigating those stressors combined with the challenges of wounds, illness or injury can make even the most resilient Sailor or family member feel overwhelmed. Adapting to a new normal takes patience and determination, and it can also be an opportunity to perhaps inspire other wounded, ill and injured shipmates to thrive in the face of adversity.

One tool to help Wounded Warriors and their families build and maintain resilience is to create a Stress Navigation Plan. This plan is intended to be private, and it outlines your personal list of positive strategies and support resources. Go to to download a template, then once completed, keep it in a safe place so you can reference it when you are feeling down.

A second way to support your resilience is to enroll in Navy Wounded Warrior – Safe Harbor. This program provides non-medical resources and support to guide active duty and retired Sailors and their families through recovery, rehabilitation and reintegration. One such program, adaptive athletic reconditioning, trained and guided 39 wounded, ill and injured Sailors to compete in the fifth annual Warrior Games in Colorado and the inaugural Invictus Games in London.

Above all, remember that asking for help, whether for physical or emotional issues, is a sign of strength. We don’t always have control over what life throws at us, but we can learn how to identify stress reactions and take measures to deal with them. There are multiple resources supporting wounded, ill and injured service members and families, including: