By MAUREEN ROSE
Gold Standard Acting Editor
One young Soldier and his family had a great time this Christmas. The presents were piled high, each gift was wrapped elaborately and everything his son asked for was tucked under the tree. The Soldier’s chest swelled with pride because he was able to provide such a generous Christmas, much better than many Christmases he remembered from his childhood.
But now, the wrapping paper is long gone, the evergreen tree has been un-decorated, the bulbs put away, and the damage to credit cards revealed as the bills begin to roll in.
He’s wishing he hadn’t been quite so expansive this year; maybe junior didn’t need all those toys and his wife’s gift certificate to a designer spa was probably over the top.
What a mess!
He knows there is more month than money left from his paycheck.
His best plan of action now? A trip to Army Community Service.
Shannon Wilson, the financial readiness program manager, said ACS is the primary agency for helping Soldiers who have gotten in too deep in budgetary waters. While there are a few other non-profits that may help with stop-gap measures, Wilson said ACS is more proactive and emphasizes teaching Soldiers how to prevent a recurrence of the above scenarios or others.
“We usually see an increase in requests for counseling assistance after Christmas,” she said.
Every month, ACS financial readiness offers classes on various subjects, from investing and retirement planning to purchasing a home, protecting credit, resolving credit disputes. The class schedule is published monthly in “Opportunity Knox.” However, the basic “Understanding Budgeting and Bank Management” class is offered once a quarter.
“Many Soldiers never reconcile their bank statements,” Wilson said. “They just accept that the balances they see on statements or on ATM withdrawals represent the actual availability of funds and proceed to spend as if that were the case.”
Of course, Wilson added, that balance doesn’t reflect outstanding checks or charges that may not show up for a few days.
“As much as they hate the “B” word, many Soldiers need to learn better money management, and the first step is learning to live with a budget,” she said. “This month is really the time to start planning for next Christmas, but not many of them plan that far in advance.”
Planning might come easier for Soldiers with the right financial training, which is the goal of ACS financial readiness. In addition to monthly classes, ACS has three financial counselors available to provide individualized counseling to Soldiers and Families, so there’s no need to wait until trouble is brewing.
“Once you’re in a pickle, we can’t get you out (of legally binding contracts),” Wilson said, “so we encourage people to prevent the problem. Sometimes, you just need to talk things through and we can help with that process.”
While a loan from Army Emergency Relief may be the right course of action in some cases, ACS’s senior money manager said her staff would love to be involved before things reach that stage.
It’s always a good idea, she said, to check with the Better Business Bureau before buying or renting homes or securing services for car repair, home remodeling or any number of things where a significant investment will be required. In addition, the installation’s Legal Assistance is prepared to review any contract before Soldiers sign, to ensure their rights are protected.
“Are you planning to buy a home? Let’s talk first,” she said. “We’d even like to talk with you before you buy a car.”
So many mistakes occur when Soldiers are in a hurry to find a place to live or buy a new car. By talking things over first, many problems can be avoided and perhaps cooler heads will prevail.
To see a financial counselor, Soldiers can make an appointment by calling (502) 624-5989 or stop by ACS Bldg. 1477, 411 Eisenhower.