Saving…Just Do It!

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Alex R. Ganster
  • 488th Intelligence Squadron commander
The financial crisis of the past few years continues as recent events at home and abroad have stymied the modest economic improvements the country had enjoyed. As a result, many Americans employed in the private sector have lost their jobs or have seen drastic reductions in their income. The impact is also visible in the public sector, where thousands of government jobs will be eliminated as government struggles to cope with the poor economy.

Sadly, Air Force personnel are also faced with force management initiatives designed to reduce the number of officers and enlisted in order to comply with congressional end strength authorizations. This reality underscores the importance of saving as a strategy to avoid financial hardships while improving quality of life, personal readiness and peace of mind.

Saving is especially important for military families. Our constant deployments and PCS moves add financial stresses to a family's budget, while making it hard for working spouses to contribute to family finances as secure and stable employment is difficult. However, those who actively save are more likely to practice healthy financial habits, living within their means and adhering to a personal budget. The bottom line is that saving can help military families face these challenges!

Given the importance of this topic, the Treasury Department commissioned a comprehensive study of American's financial capability, which included a subset focused on military personnel and their families. Reviewing the "Military Survey" I was surprised to learn that 50 percent of us do not maintain adequate "rainy day" funds - that is, enough savings to cover expenses for three months. This is particularly true for junior enlisted and officers and their spouses, as only 39 percent of them had set aside a suitable amount, as compared to 46 percent of senior NCOs and 67 percent of officers.

This is alarming since 14 percent of military respondents spend more than they make and 52 percent of enlisted personnel and 32 percent of officers don't save at all. Of those without savings, 58 percent have trouble making ends meet, with one in four overdrawing their accounts.

In addition, 82 percent of service members reported at least $10,000 in credit card or other debt, as compared to 53 percent of the civilian population. Furthermore, 9 percent more military than civilians carry a revolving credit balance and 21 percent use high cost non-bank loans such as payday loans. We must do better.

However, there is reason to be optimistic. Our levels of financial literacy are on the rise--we are on the right path. In addition, Airmen are taking advantage of the many financial management tools made available to us by the Air Force. Organizations like the Airman and Family Readiness Center, Military OneSource and others provide Airmen with valuable support. As a result, we are learning that by "paying ourselves" first, setting goals and saving, we can attain the financial security and stability required during these tough and uncertain economic times.

Make no mistake, this is a serious readiness issue. Leaders at all levels should not only steer their Airmen towards financial support resources such as those provided by Airman & Family Readiness Centers but must also lead by example. By improving our Airmen's personal financial responsibility, we improve their personal readiness and advance the Air Force mission to fly, fight, and win in air, space, and cyberspace.