By Amanda Mitchell, AFC® Candidate
The “I Love Me” book is something that most soldiers are familiar with. I cannot speak for what they are called in different branches, but I am positive they have them. The “I Love Me” book is a binder of important papers a service member accumulates over the years. It has orders to duty stations, awards, professional evaluations, PT cards, and any other item deemed essential to their career. Having a family “I Love Me” book, or MILDOCS, is critical during PCS’s or times when you have to move quickly. You might be thinking, “I have a filing cabinet. I am organized. Why do I need a separate binder?” I thought the same thing. However, the importance of having family documents in one place that you can easily carry with you didn’t hit home for me until we were facing a PCS to Germany. Usually, I would just throw our tiny filing cabinet in the back of our car when we moved someplace new. I could not do that this time. After completing my family “I Love Me” book, I wondered why I waited so long. Need shot records for child #3? Here it is! Need report cards from child #1’s last school. RIGHT HERE! Randomly need your marriage license? You got it! For me, it reduced my PCS related stress by a LOT. I felt more prepared, which gave me a lot more confidence in situations where there is uncertainty. I take it, or separate sections I will need, to every single military-related appointment where I may need documents. You never know what will be required for any given task at any given military installation. Having the book with you will save you from having to go home and find what you need. Total game changer.
How to Make Your Own MILDOCS
Step 1: get yourself a three-ring binder and a lot of page protectors. The size will depend on how many family members you have. For a family of four, only one in school, I used a 1.5” binder, but it was tight. I recommend at least a 2-3” binder. *PRO-TIP* Get some dividers as well so you can label each section and flip to it quickly.
Step 2: Do you like checklists? Of course, you do! Let me introduce you to MILDOCS. MILDOCS is a handy site with all of the checklists you need to make sure your family binder has everything you need.
- Personal Financials
- Personal Property
- Medical & Dental Records
- Legal Documents
- School Records
- Pet Records
Print out all the ones that apply to you and get ready to change your life.
Step 3: Assembly. Place each checklist in a page protector at the front of each section. These will act as a handy little “chapter page.” Next, go through each checklist and add your documents to the page protectors.
Step 4: Sit back and revel in the glory of your organized life. You will never show up to another appointment unprepared again. In-processing your next duty station will be a breeze with this book on hand. *PRO-TIP* Add a pocket for a flash drive for any documents that you may have digitally.
How to Handle Your MILDOCS
This binder will have all the important details of your life in it. It needs to be kept safe. To ensure the safety of your sensitive information, do the following:
- Store in a fireproof, waterproof box or safe
- Let someone you trust with your personal affairs know where it can be found in case of an emergency.
- NEVER ship it in household goods
- If you know you will only need information from one section, take it out and only take that section with you to keep other information safe.
- When you travel, protect it. Always keep your binder on you. Never put it in your checked baggage. It may be a bit cumbersome, but you never know when your luggage could be lost.
- Keep your passwords and usernames for financials separately.
What if you lose your MILDOCS?
Should you accidentally lose your family binder, immediately contact your financial institutions. Change any passwords you may have written down in the binder. Consider “freezing” the credit of each individual, including children, whose information was contained within the book.
Creating your MILDOCS will take a bit of time but, the return on your time investment is incredible. Organization and preparation are the keys to success as a military family. Creating your family binder will give you a leg up and give you the confidence you need to tackle whatever the military throws at you.
Please see the series of “PCS Like a Boss” blog posts for more information about each section. See all the MILDOCS pages: www.mildocs.org.
A special thank you goes out to all the organizations, military family and financial experts who helped make MILDOCS what it is today.