Talking Money Basics with Military Families

I took a special trip to the Fort Bragg Army base to talk about taking care of your personal finance while serving your country. I came back with some great memories—and a new video to share.

A couple weeks ago, I had the honor of speaking to military families at Fort Bragg in North Carolina in conjunction with the Corvias Foundation and Fort Bragg’s Financial Readiness Program. There’s no doubt that service members and their families make tremendous sacrifices and deserve our support. (In fact, I included an expanded chapter called “Making the Most of Military Benefits” in the most recent edition of Get a Financial Life.) So when they asked me to talk about Make Your Kid a Money Genius (Even If You’re Not), it was a no-brainer. I was in.

I did a Q&A with the fantastic Jackie Thomas, a Public Affairs Specialist at Fort Bragg. What made the event even more special was that my dad came along. He served in the Army back in the 1950s at Fort Wadsworth in New York. While there, he set up a groundbreaking program to help soldiers earn their GEDs. (He even earned “Soldier of the Month” honors.) Military service shaped his adult life and, eventually, our family too. The leadership skills he learned informed his career as an educator. For one thing, he got his Ph.D. with the help of the GI Bill. My parents bought their first house with a low-rate VA mortgage. And I received a VA scholarship to defray the cost of college. (For a list of tips for college-bound military families, see here.)

At Fort Bragg, my partner in personal finance was Lynn Olavarria, head of the Financial Readiness Program, a one-stop shop for advice and seminars on everything from building a credit score to buying a first house to saving for retirement. She and her team do tremendous work making sure that service members and their families can navigate the unique challenges that come with military life, and that they take advantage of special benefits (like the military’s new matching retirement plan, set to go into effect in January 2018).

Their work is especially important because research shows that military pay and benefits is the number one lifestyle concern among service members, military spouses, and veterans. The same survey found that 38% of active duty members have more credit card debt than the average American. Talking with attendees, I also heard about just how hard it is for military spouses to maintain stable careers when they’re moving every four or five years, as is typical for military families. (A Pew study backs this up.)

As we left, our guide, the incomparable Gary “Ski” Kalinofsky, a 30-year Airborne man (Fort Bragg is home to the legendary 82nd Airborne Division) who now works with Corvias, told me that when he joined the Army in 1974, money matters like savings and debt were not even mentioned. But now, he sees younger service members taking advantage of the base’s Financial Readiness Program so they can get the most out of their military benefits and deal with money issues only military families face. I’m so proud to have gotten an opportunity play my small part.