By Amy Miller, AFC®
Did you know that it is estimated that around 60% of military families do not have enough in savings to cover three months of living expenses? That’s according to a Military Family Lifestyle Survey conducted by BlueStar Families in 2020.
Worse, a Military Family Support Programming Survey conducted by the Military Family Advisory Network in 2019 shows that more than a quarter (27.4%) of military families currently serving on active duty have less than $500 in savings. That number comes in at approximately 49% for veteran families not receiving a pension.
My first thought when reading over these surveys was – WHY? What is hindering our military from saving?
Is it due to the rising cost of living in some duty stations (possibly without a Cost of Living Allowance – COLA), spouse unemployment or underemployment, and/or limitations due to disabilities? Is military pay not enough to keep up with inflation?
While all of those are significant contributing factors, the truth is that not many of us are natural savers and the majority of us don’t save for several reasons, I’ve highlighted a few below.
Without a broken refrigerator or leaky roof staring at us, we tend to not think about emergencies and what we would do in the event we needed to make a necessary large purchase until it happens.
Our Own Bias
We want what we want, right? As humans, most of us need to be social, which includes spending our extra cash to entertain ourselves (hopefully after the bills are paid). Moving that money in to savings instead of spending it on something fun could seem like a loss. As humans, we all tend to favor immediate rewards over future possibilities.
Savings is a habit. It’s hard for some to change their routine and make it a priority. Many of us are happy with the status quo – it’s much easier. We all tend to get caught up in the day to day and not truly focus on our financial health or what retirement will look like without a pension and any other savings.
Retirement seems far away and unfortunately; many military members ignore the importance of saving in hopes of retiring after 20 years and receiving lifelong pension income. However, as of 2018, prior to the launch of the new Blended Retirement System (BRS), less than 19% stayed in long enough to qualify for the Legacy (High-3) Retirement System, resulting in the majority receiving nothing. BRS is working to change that but servicemembers need to monitor their own retirement savings through the Thrift Savings Plan now.
Making a Change
Did you know that those with a savings plan are TWICE as likely to be successful at saving?
Further, stabilizing your finances and having open conversations around money contributes to happier marriages.
Children from financially stable households that have open communication about money tend to be more financially stable themselves as adults.
It’s never too late to take steps to a better financial future by saving and April is the perfect time to start.
Taking the Pledge
Military Saves Month is part of the larger, nationwide America Saves Campaign, and takes place every April with the goal of encouraging military families to focus on their financial health by saving and reducing debt. During the month, money-related topics are covered, providing guidance and clarity on personal finance, savings goals, and plans to achieve those goals.
Each week has a theme, which we will cover as well in hopes of encouraging you to take the necessary steps to achieve better financial stability. Each week outlines ways to make it easier to save.
Week 1: Saving Automatically
Week 2: Save for the Unexpected
Week 3: Save for Retirement
Week 4: Save by Reducing Debt
Week 5: Save as a Family
Up first is Saving Automatically. This is the easiest way to make savings a habit. Either directly to your account from your paycheck or via an auto-transfer from checking to savings through online banking. If you are unsure what to do or how to set it up, stop by your local branch for assistance.
It’s a small first step but a huge leap toward a better financial future.