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Family Matters Blog: Start Small, Think Big to Start Saving

By Elaine Wilson
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 23, 2011 – Robert L. Gordon III is the deputy assistant secretary of defense for military community and family policy. In this guest blog, Mr. Gordon spotlights Military Saves Week and encourages military families to focus on ways to reduce debt and plan for a secure future. - Elaine Wilson

Robert L. Gordon, III,

Military Community and Family Policy

I often hear from the financial counselor and planner, “It’s not what you make, it’s what you keep.” Learning to save money is one of the most important things all of us can do. It allows us to weather financial emergencies, enjoy a vacation without going into debt, help our children get a college education and secure an enjoyable retirement.

That’s why we’re observing Military Saves Week from Feb. 20 to 27. It’s a time for the entire military community to focus on ways to reduce debt and plan for a secure future. You work hard for your money. Now, make it work for you.

The experts tell us that a good first step at building financial security is to look at the little things we spend money on each day. For example, “Do I have a latte-a-day habit?” or “What am I paying in ATM fees?” They understand that even little changes can save thousands of dollars every year.

It’s easy to lose sight of how much we spend each day. Try this. Save all of your receipts for about two months. Look over them, and you’ll get a realistic view of where your money goes. People are often surprised at how much they spend on things like take-out, bottled water or trips to the movies. When we find small changes in daily spending habits, we’ve taken the first steps toward financial security.

That’s why the theme for Military Saves Week is “Start small, Think big.”  Those small changes really add up. How small? Can you save $40 a week?  That’s roughly $2,000 a year. Even without investing, it’s a sizable nest egg –$40,000 after 20 years, $60,000 at 30 years and $80,000 after 40 years.  

Let compound interest work for you by opening an account with the Thrift Savings Plan, or TSP. This retirement fund automatically sets aside money from your paycheck. You can set aside as little as one percent.  You won’t miss it. That’s what we mean by starting small and thinking big.

Have you made changes to your spending habits? What did you change? How did it affect your life? What sort of advice do you have for creating a spending plan? We’ve set up a discussion board, and hope you’ll post your advice and opinions about saving and spending plans.

If you’re not yet using a spending plan, you are not alone! Join the discussion for some advice and encouragement. There’s no one perfect plan, and every family is different. Find a strategy that works for you, then come back to the discussion and tell us about it!

Consider also taking advantage of personal financial management services. Installations offer counselors who are credentialed financial experts.  Their services are free for all service members and families. Not close to a military installation? Work with the counselors over the phone and the Internet. Use MilitaryINSTALLATIONS to locate the financial management services nearest you.

Another great way to get started is to take the Saver Pledge. It’s a promise you make to yourself to save money, reduce debt and build personal financial security. When you take the pledge, you’ll receive newsletters and other information and advice to help you save.   

All over America, people are proving that financial security is within reach. Meeting financial goals takes consistent action over time, but it is possible. It may be a cliché, but it’s true – every journey begins with the first step. During Military Saves Week, I encourage you to visit MilitarySaves.org to get started. You deserve to make the most out of every dollar you earn.

Bloggers' note: Be sure to check out Mr. Gordon's further discussion on Facebook, and read my AFPS article "Military Saves Week Spotlights Importance of Saving."  Be sure to send your savings ideas for Family Matters to me at elaine.wilson@dma.mil, and check out the Family Matters website.-  Elaine Wilson

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