A Financial Education Event

Do You Know Someone in The Military?

We will be giving free, autographed copies of Heroes at Home to anyone whose question is read on ABC News Now’s GOOD MONEY show on Friday, December 11th

The deadline for your questions is: Thursday, noon PST, December 10

Topic: Military Money

  • Do you know someone in the military or are you a military family?
  • Do you have a question about how to manage your money in the military?
  • Maybe you are having trouble budgeting?
  • What are some of your specific money problems?
  • What are some of your financial stresses in the military?
  • Or you might want to help the military and don’t know how?

Ask Ellie any military money related question and if your question is read on the air, you could win a copy of Heroes at Home: Help and Hope for Military Families. This is a book that has 100,000 copies in print and is helping servicemembers and their families all around the world!

Remember the ABCs of past prize winning questions:

  • Accuracy– Questions that accurately fit the show’s theme for the day are most relevant. This week’s theme is “Military Money.”
  • Brevity – If it takes two minutes to ask the question, then it won’t be selected. A question that can fit into a 10 to 15 second soundbite is ideal.
  • Clarity – The world of TV news revolves around questions asked in a way that is easily understood by viewers. Please email your questions to: assistant@elliekay.com or posted on Ellie’s blog right here!

We look forward to hearing from YOU as you join Ellie on ABC News!

Submit all questions right here on Ellie’s blog http://www.elliekay.com/ and/or send a copy of the question to: assistant@elliekay.com

Thank you for supporting our military!

Red, White and Scammed – Tell Your Military Friends to Beware!

This week on ABC NEWS and KLOVE, I’ve been discussing how
thousands of service members engaged in fighting America’s battles overseas are now encountering a foe here at home. Enlisted men and women are easy marks for sleazy car dealers, insurance scammers predatory lenders, and identity thieves. So pervasive are the rip-offs and so troubling is the debt incurred by military personnel that US Department of Defense officials recently labeled the situation a threat to national security.

We have a long tradition of military service in our family. My grandfather was a bombardier who died in WWII, my father is a retired chief master sergeant in the Air Force, my husband, Bob, flew Air Force fighters for 25 years, our son, Philip, is a senior at the Naval Academy and will to cross commission into Marine Corp Aviation, our next son is headed toward the Air Force Academy next year and the youngest son wants to go to Westpoint and be in the Army. In fact, the photo you see is Bob, pinning on the Philip’s Airborne wings–the very wings Bob earned 30 years ago when he was a cadet at the Air Force Academy!

Q. The DOD has labeled the fraud situation among the military as a threat to national security. How does getting scammed impact lives overseas?

ELLIE: It’s all about distraction. When military members are distracted, whether it’s worry over identity theft or trying to wondering if their spouse is able to deal with messy finances at home—then that’s when accidents happen. Distraction leads to worry which leads to accidents. And when accidents happen, then there is loss of life. So if we want to help save lives overseas, then we can all do our part to protect our military members by exposing rip offs and scams whenever possible.

Q. What kind of paycheck does a typical recruit make & what are some of the questionable ways that local businesses try to get a piece of that paycheck?

ELLIE: They earn about $1800 per month & these paychecks can be carved to bits by bad deals. For example, a computer store outside of Great Lakes Naval Training Center in Illinois employs attractive women to troll for new sailors. Once they get them inside the store, they are pressured into buying a very basic laptop for more than $4000, which is three times as much as the computer is worth. Then they finance the deal and the computer ends up costing even more with the store also making money on financing.

Q. What are some other common ways that the military is ripped off and people should be aware of?

ELLIE: There was recently a multistate investigation launched into life insurance scams that were being perpetrated against military members just before they took off to the Middle East. These scamsters sold soldiers extremely overpriced or misrepresented policies, taking advantage of the emotional situation of leaving families to go into harm’s way. This investigation ended with the companies offering more than $70 million dollars in refunds to thousands of service members. When it comes to life insurance, military members are offered SGLI or Servicemembers Group Life Insurance, which is a legitimate source for low premiums, so there’s really no need to secure other private insurance!

Q. Tell us about the “Red Cross” scam that is getting a lot of attention among military families?

ELLIE: This is fairly despicable, as it prays on the emotions of family members. A con artist claiming to be with the Red Cross will call a parent of a servicemember or their spouse, telling them their loved one has been injured and they need their social security number to authorize help for them. In some cases, they ask for an initial cash payment. Military members need to clear any report of injury through the chain of command or by contacting the base family community services.

Q. It seems that our military is very young, what is the average age of a service member and do they receive any kind of personal finance education as part of their training?

ELLIE: Yes, they are young, in fact, the average age range of military members is between 22 and 28 years old. Of the groups I routinely speak to around the world, I’d say that the average 22 year old has an even younger wife and a baby as well—so it’s a lot of responsibility for someone so young. The good news is that since 2004, service members learn about personal finance as part of their early training. When I go to give my “Heroes at Home” message I teach about finances and also encourage them to use the resources they have available to them on base. Army Community Services, Airman and Family Readiness Centers, Fleet and Family Support Centers—all of these have personal finance counselors there who are ready and willing to give free financial counseling to service members and their families. It’s what I call my $300 tip, because a couple hours with the caliber of financial professional at any of these centers is equivalent to paying $300 to a CFP or CPA.

Ellie Kay
America’s Family Financial Expert (R)

Red, White and Scammed – Part II- Answering Your Questions

Here’s a blast from the past–when our children were little & white tights were in!

This is part two of a series that is an effort to help military families. I’ve been on ABC News and KLOVE these past two weeks, answering your questions.

Here’s a transcript for those of you who asked–Be sure to pass this link along to your military friends!

Q. Ellie, you came to our Army base to speak last November and I think that your message really helped me get through my husband’s deployment. Thank you for the work you are doing with military families. I did have a question about ordering items online. You showed us how to pay 40% less by using some websites, but how do I know if the website is legitimate?

Steph from Rothenburg, Germany
Submitted via online contact form
ELLIE: Steph, thanks for writing and thank you for what you do as a military family member, I admire you so much and know it’s a hard job! To avoid getting scammed online, make sure that you never respond to an email inquiry, but you find the site yourself on your own search. Then, go to BBB.org to make sure they aren’t listed and also check out the FTC.gov, plus the Internet Crime Complaint Center at IC3.gov, to investigate complaints against the company.

Q. I’m 19 and have been a soldier for 18 months. There are quite a few of my friends who regularly go to the payday loan business that is right outside our base. I keep telling them that they are losing a lot of money by getting a pay advance, but they say the interest rates are low and it’s no big deal. What do you think?

“Private Benjamin” from Ft Bragg
Submitted via Facebook
ELLIE: Private Benjamin, thx for your service and you’re the smart one. Tell your friends that some of these payday loan companies are charging as much as 500% interest. Even though the Defense Authorization Act of 2007 put a cap of 36% on interest loans to military members, many of these companies skirt the law by added exorbitant fees and calling the loans “revolving lines of credit” instead of payday loans in order to bypass the law.

Q. My husband’s hazardous duty pay was backlogged by red tape and didn’t arrive early enough for us to pay our bills. How am I supposed to pay things like our car loans while he is in the Middle East if I shouldn’t go a payday loan center?

Justine Long, Fort Drum, NY
Submitted via Facebook
ELLIE: In situations like yours, there are resources as near as your Army Community Services center where they can offer free financial advice. In extenuating circumstances, such as yours, you might even qualify for special programs offered by the Army’s charity, Army Emergency Relief or the AER. By going to these legitimate resources, you can avoid getting ripped off.

Q. Our community here in Alamogordo, NM is very supportive of the military and so is Las Cruces, which is a little further down the road. Many businesses carry banners that say, “we support our military.” Even so, a friend of ours bought a car from one of these places and it turns out that the dealership didn’t own the title and then went out of business. Now our friend has an $12,000 loan to pay and no car to show for it! How can we avoid being “taken” and who can we trust?

Heidi Rothenburg, Holloman Air Force Base
Submitted via blog

ELLIE: Heidi, I’m so sorry to hear of that situation, especially from a business that advertises its support of the military. Unfortunately, auto vendors are a huge source of complaints. In most cases, the salesperson will offer you “easy credit” but you pay jacked up prices, hidden fees and interest rates of 15% to 20%. Military financial counselors have files full of horror stories. Bad dealers have taken cars in trade, promising to pay them off and then they go out of business, leaving service members with two payments. Go to BBB certified dealers and if the deal sounds too good to be true, just walk away, because it usually is. Or go to your base’s ACS, Airman & Family Readiness Center or Fleet and Family Support Center for local financial counseling.

Q. My daughter just got commissioned with the Marine Corps and I’m concerned about the possibility of someone taking advantage of her financially. Are military members bigger targets for fraud than civilians?

Sue Simpson, Stillwater, OK
ELLIE: Military members have guaranteed paychecks and won’t ever get laid off. This makes them good credit risks. But it also makes them targets. Some people see the military as cash cows and they want to get their cut. One of the greatest evidence of this fact is that outside of any large military installation, you’ll see businesses that offer payday loans, pawn shops, and check cashers. These are the kinds of businesses that prey on unsuspecting military.
Stephanie, Phoenix, AZ
Submitted via email
Thank you to those who serve!
Ellie Kay
America’s Family Financial Expert (R)

On ABC NEWS – Heroes at Home Corner – Military Financial Issues

I’m going to fly in one of those jets one of these days! My work with military money matters makes me concerned with recent bad news for military members and their families.

I was on ABC News this week talking about this survey. And here’s the short version of what we discussed:

The Investor Education Foundation of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority developed a military survey in consultation with the Treasury Department and the President’s Advisory Council on Financial Literacy. Their findings were alarming in that there is a significant increase in consumer debt among military members with more than one in four reporting a credit card debt load of more than $10,000.

Q. Ellie, you work extensively with military members in addressing their financial concerns, how bad is the problem?

A. The information that came out of this new survey is pretty sobering. The study focused on the financial capability of military personnel and found that while some in the armed forces are handling their finances fine, an alarming percentage aren’t doing so well. Debt is only one of the concerns that came out of the report, but it made it to the top of the list because the average military member has more consumer debt than the average American civilian.

Q. Why is debt more of an issue for service members than for civilians?

A. There are a number of reasons that account for this higher debt burden. For one thing, the survey found that military personnel and spouses are generally heavier users of credit cards than are civilians. And we all know that the more you use them, the more likely you are to be more heavily indebted to credit card issuers. In online polling of 700 current members of the U.S. armed services and 100 spouses of current members, more than one in four respondents reported having more than $10,000 in credit card debt. Ten percent of respondents said they were carrying $20,000 or more in such debt. The percentage of those who made minimum credit card payments, took out cash advances and paid fees was highest among families of enlisted personnel and junior noncommissioned officers.

Q. I can certainly appreciate the concern over this increased debt load, but what are some of the reasons that military families have more debt besides the fact that they use their cards more? After all, they do get a regular paycheck, military housing and health care.

A. Even though active duty troops can count on a regular paycheck from Uncle Sam, many military families face the same pressures affecting other Americans during this downturn: Spouses are having difficulty finding work, and mounting debts and foreclosures are forcing them out of rental homes. For those who are stationed overseas those factors are multiplied even more because in some countries spouses are not allowed to work on the economy. Also, when your loved one is deployed in harm’s way, there’s a greater tendency to overspend on comfort items for yourself and your children, for childcare and for eating out because you’re too tired or too depressed to cook. So military families are feeling the effects of our economy…and doubly hard in some cases.

Q. Most Americans I’ve talked to are concerned about their own finances in a post recession economy, but there seems to be a greater concern when military members have money problems. What are the long term implications regarding a lack of financial stability among service members?

A. Yes, you’re right, all of us are concerned about our money and how the economy is going, but our individual money problems usually don’t impact national security. But when you have those serving in the armed forces bogged down with the same issues, it is elevated to that disturbing level of impacting national security. It’s important that military personnel not be weighed down with money issues. Their financial stability is directly linked to their military readiness, according to studies by the Defense Department and the Government Accountability Office. Service members with severe financial problems can lose their security clearances, and bad money management also can result in sanctions, impair career advancement or lead to a discharge.

Q. We’ve talked about consumer debt, but what are some of the other problems that tend to plague military families that may not necessarily impact civilian families?

A. More than one-third of the military respondents said they had trouble keeping up with monthly expenses and bills. Many service members have gotten payday or auto title loans and these kinds of loans deteriorate their assets. Members of the military use payday loans three times as often as civilians, a separate Defense Department study found. With a payday loan, you borrow against a future paycheck. On an annualized basis, I’ve seen the interest rate on such loans range from 400 percent to more than 1,000 percent. Although there are many similarities in how they handle their money compared with the civilian population, military families have unique issues such as frequent deployments. Being in the military may be a secure job, but for many the paycheck is small. It’s not hard to end up with ‘more month than money,’ especially if you are young and have little experience of managing finances. And the military does have special challenges with frequent moves that always end up costing money.

Q. What is the Department of Defense doing in light of the recent financial crisis among military members?

A. The DOD has had financial counselors as part of each branch’s family support centers, but one or two people servicing the population of an entire base isn’t enough. Consequently, they have also created a financial readiness campaign because of the number of military personnel in debt and because so many were losing their security clearances. The Investor Education Foundation is also helping, conducting financial education forums here and abroad and awarding fellowships to military spouses to help them become accredited financial counselors so that they can help their peers. A soldier who is worried about finances is not a soldier who can focus 100 percent on his or her job. I think that when we put our national security in the hands of our fighting forces, then it’s in all our interests that they be able to do their jobs without being sidetracked by financial problems.

Lest you be discouraged by this recent survey–there is hope! Next blog, I’ll answer questions from our men and women in the military (and their families), so stay tuned.

And to all those who serve in our armed forces, we thank you!

Ellie Kay

America’s Family Financial Expert (R)

ABC NEWS – Q&A From Military Members & Families

Here’s a “Hero Shot” of hubby Bob and his F-4 Phantom, that he flew up until last year when a jet incident caused him to break his back. Thankfully, he is fully functional, but his injuries will not allow him to fly an ejection seat aircraft. The good news: he’s gainfully employed flying “regular” airplanes and also the Global Hawk UAV (think the high tech airplane on Transformers).

We had a lot of questions when he had that accident and I speak with a lot of military members and their families who have questions about their lives and finances as well. Some of these fine people were on ABC News with me recently for a Q&A. Here’s the recap for you to share with others you know who are in our armed forces. The questions that made it on ABC NEWS won a free copy of their choice of my books! But here are the answers to many more questions.

Q. Is SGLI enough insurance for families or do you need an additional supplemental insurance? From Melody O’Sullivan

ELLIE: SGLI is relatively cheap, term group life insurance that is offered to members of the military on active duty, in the ready reservists, members of the National Guard, members of the Commissioned Corps of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Public Health Service, cadets and midshipmen of the four service academies, and members of the Reserve Officer Training Corps. The insurance is also offered to spouses as well.
Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance coverage is available in $50,000 increments up to the maximum of $400,000 for members of the military. The price for this insurance is very cheap, so it’s certainly a good value. But is it enough? If you are a young family with only one or two children, then it could be enough. But if you are a more senior servicemember with a lot of family members depending on you, then you might want to buy some term supplemental insurance. Remember that once you leave the military, SGLI is no longer available to you. So if you know you are going to separate in the next couple of years, then it would be a good idea to get a modest supplemental life insurance policy in place.

Q. As a “Key Spouse” how do we encourage other spouses to take advantage of all the benefits the military has to offer? From Starr Vuchetich

ELLIE: Thank you, Starr, for your volunteer work with other spouses, you are to be commended as should ALL our Key Spouses! There’s an old saying that “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” Your job, as a key spouse, is a difficult one. You know the benefit of taking advantage of the services and perks available to military families, but others have to decide for themselves. The best thing you can do is to lead those spouses by example and express the benefits you are personally receiving from taking advantage of, such as free childcare for volunteering, free financial counseling, free oil changes (or whatever program your base offers), as well as the many benefits listed at sites such as www.militaryonesource.com or www.ourmilitary.mil

Q. How did you arrange childcare during deployments with very little money and how did you maintain sanity with so many small children on a tight budget?
From Jana Baez

ELLIE: I do remember what an incredible challenge it was when all my kids were so young and my husband was gone for weeks (or months) on end. But the first thing I did was plug into all the “free babysitting” I could get. Go to the Family Support Center and see if they offer free childcare for those who volunteer. I also got on site childcare provided when I attended Army Family Team Building classes, so sometimes you can get a break and learn something, too. Don’t forget the community outside of the base gates, either. There are a number of churches, community centers and MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) groups that try to support military families during deployments by offering free “Mother’s Day Out” programs or onsite classes where childcare is provided. Last, but not least, form a babysitting co-op, where you get tickets for every child you babysit for every hour. You can “redeem” your tickets with other co-op members and it serves as a way to escape for a while as well as a playgroup when you are watching other children.

Q. How does one begin a business without acquiring debt?
From Chana Montgomery

ELLIE: In the case of a military family, you need to start a business that is completely portable and can move with you. It’s important to select a homebased business that requires little initial investment and will still yield an income to keep you in the black. Do your research and talk to a mentor at SCORE.org where you can get free business counseling in your desired field. If you follow your passion, you’ll be far more likely to succeed. Just email assistant@elliekay.com and ask for the “Homemade Business” file, we’ll send it to you for free as it contains all the information you need to be successful in your endeavor.

Q. When you have extra income flowing in, is it better to work on paying off debts or continue paying normal payments and stash the money into savings?
From Emily Haffner

ELLIE: The answer is “both” if you pay even $5 to $10 more on your credit card minimums, you’ll improve your FICO score and begin to pay down that debt. But you also need a safety net in savings just in case your car breaks down and your husband is downrange and not home to fix it. The optimum savings goal is to have 12 months worth of living expenses. But even if you just save up to 3 months (and keep adding to it little by little) you’ll be better prepared for rainy days.

Q. I have three children and I wanted to know if I should apply the new 9-11 GI Bill to the first child (not knowing how long it will be around) or should I split it up among the children.
Stephanie Berg

ELLIE: Because the Post 911 GI bill is relatively new, and because we don’t know how Congress will vote to continue this practice, it may be best to take the money while you can. It’s still important to have your child go to the most affordable school possible, get scholarships and other means of payment. But go ahead and use as much of that GI Bill money as you can to pay what you can on your oldest child’s college. In the meantime, the money you would have put toward his/her college (from your own 529 plan or other savings vehicle) put into another college fund for your other two children.

By funding more on the other two children’s accounts, your money will continue to grow as the market continues to rebound. But in the meantime, you will also be able to take advantage of the current bill. Do not give your first child his/her saved “college money.” Instead, put whatever you have saved toward the other two. You can tell your oldest that his/her college money is coming in the form of the POST 9ll GI bill. Because you don’t want the youngest two to be stuck with student loan debt that the oldest child did not have to accrue.

Q. With limited funds, what should be the priorities for the best use of financial planning? Should I invest in the TSP (Thrift Savings Plan), IRA, life insurance or mutual funds? Major Anthony Smith

ELLIE: Once you’ve paid off your credit cards and funded a 12 month savings account, then you are ready to take your investments to the next level. It will depend on your family size, retirement needs and current income. I do not recommend life insurance as a good investment tool, even though agents may point you toward that route since the commissions are significant. Better to max out your TSP benefit since those funds will still be available to you if you do not make the military your career for a twenty year retirement requirement. It’s also a good idea to get a ROTH IRA or regular IRA. Go to your Airman and Family Readiness center and ask for an appointment with a financial counselor. It’s free advice and the expert there can look at your entire financial picture to help you come up with the best method of investing. Or try the military friendly company, USAA, they help to fund a lot of military events and can offer good advice on mutual funds.

Q. Being that you moved many times during your military career and have many children, how did you present it to the children when you had to PCS (Permanent Change of Station)? From Kristie Fromer

ELLIE: This is the hard part of military life, Kristie, and thank you for your willingness to go through this. One of the advantages of having so many kids is that they were sure to have built in playmates wherever they went! When we told our kids they would have to leave their friends, we allowed them the freedom to grieve and be sad over leaving. But we were also positive about where we were going. We printed out materials about the new base and all the places we could visit and where we would go camping along the way. By focusing on the positive, while allowing them the freedom to express their feelings, we had healthy, adjusted kids and a well bonded family.

Q. If your auto is less than two years old, is it a good time to refinance? We retire in 2011 and will be buying a house wherever my husband starts his second career. Is this wise to do before buying a house? From Lisa McClain

ELLIE: Refinancing a car will cause a hit to your FICO score, but it can be a good idea in order to get you a lower interest rate. I offer two words of caution: 1) refi at least six months before you get a home loan in order to give your credit time to recover and 2) refi with payments that will end at the same time your original loan would have ended (otherwise, you’re just paying interest over a longer period of time.) For example, if you have 3 years left on your car loan. Then refi the loan for 3 years (instead of 4 or 5).

Thank you for your service, military members and your families. Remember three things:

  • America loves you
  • We support you
  • And together we’ll be all right!

Ellie Kay
America’s Military Family Expert (TM)

Letters From Home

Dr. Dobson said that a good parent will eventually work themselves out of a job & we are quickly approaching that “jobless” state! We launched child #6 (out of 7) in the Kay Clan as Bob, Philip and I dropped of Jonathan at the United States Air Force Academy. It’s in lovely Colorado Springs and Philip, our newly minted 2 Lt in the Marine Corps was on hand for the honor of seeing his hairless little brother off.

The president of the AOG (Association of Graduates) gave us a briefing, saw Philip in the audience and asked, “What are the best 4 years of a Naval Academy graduate’s life?” We were thinking it was probably his four years at USNA, but the correct answer (according to the Air Force Academy graduate) was actually “Third grade.”

During BCT (Basic Cadet Traning), it’s similar to other military training scenarios in that there is NO communication other than the written letter. No phone calls, texts, email or facebook. This “cold turkey” withdrawal is tough on the military member as well as the family, but it is also similar to some deployments into the war zone or other “classified” areas. If you have a loved one who is in this kind of situation, no matter what kind of communication you are allowed, it’s important to remember the following things:

  • Happy

  • Jonathan (and Bob when he was deployed) were intent on their training and in a very difficult environment. My letters to my son don’t include bad news or griping or complaints. I’ve written about funny things that our grandson says or good news about my work. There will be plenty of time to catch him up on the not-so-good stuff later, but right now, he needs to be focused and just get through. Keeping the letters lighthearted really helps him.
  • Home-y
  • No, I don’t mean that kind of homey. I mean that news about home, even though it may sound mundane is good. For example, our little puppy, Belle, was tethered in the living room (because of potty training) and I left the room for 10 minutes only to find that she had COMPLETELY chewed through the magazine rack—scattering loads of paper, cardboard and a huge MESS in the living room. When Bob was deployed, I told him about the kids nap schedules, play dates, trips to the store, etc. Bringing a bit of home to a military member also brings a sense of normalcy to his or her life. It communicates that the things we take for granted are sometimes the most precious parts of life.

  • Help
  • We let Jonathan know that we are here to help. He needed us to mail him his volleyball shoes because he was asked to help work out the intercollegiate girls Division I Volleyball team. (What a lucky guy). He knows we’re here to next day air those shoes. He can’t receive any other packages right now, but he knows that our church, friends and family are all praying for him. This is the biggest kind of help of all!
  • Hope
  • Philip gave his baby brother a few words of advice on how to get through BCT. He said, “take it a meal at a time.” I know that advice is helping him in the middle of all the chaos. Bob (a class of 1978 graduate) told his son, “If you are good enough to get into the Academy, you are good enough to get through.” In our letters, we express our confidence that he’s going to do fine. We don’t communicate contingencies such as “Even if you don’t make it…” He knows that we are here for him. He needs to know we THINK he’ll make it through.
  • Humor
  • The heroes (those who serve honorably and put service before self) need to keep a sense of humor. That’s why we send funny pictures of puppy Belle’s latest antics…like how she always grabs Anna’s leash (our 4 year old mini schnauzer) and pulls her around the yard. But those “heroes at home” also need to keep a sense of humor. At the Air Force Academy, the AOG has this wonderful service called “web guy” where a small group of photographers take thousands of pictures of our basic cadets. We sign up for this opt in service and see Jonathan communicating to us through pictures. He knows we’ll spend HOURS scouring the site, so he’ll smile at the camera whenever he won’t get in trouble for doing so. It’s his way of saying, “I’m OK, Mama and Papa.”

I just read Jonathan’s third letter home today. He was talking about waking up at 4:30 AM, getting “hallway PT” where he’s yelled at for 2 hours. Then miles of running, marching, formation, rucking (marching with a pack), or sandbag (30 lbs) PT. He tells us about “drowning” where you start to fall asleep while you are marching. Getting a letter from CO to CA may not be as fast form of communication such as texting, emailing, phone calls and facebook. But it is a heap better than what the generations from times past went through. Telegrams or letters were the primary source of communication about their loved ones. When a letter came from a servicemember, the whole family would come home from work or school and read it together.

As Bob and I devoured every word, I suddenly remembered a packet of keepsakes I received from my Great Grandma Laudeman’s legacy. Her only son died in World War II after surviving the Bataan Death March, only to have dysentary at a prisoner of war camp. There was a letter in the pile that was smuggled out and was not in an envelope or stamped. It was marked “his last letter home.” He said, “I suppose you have been looking for a letter from me for quite some time. Well, maybe you will get this. I am entirely all right and there isn’t a thing for you to worry about. I am eating so much rice that my waistline is getting like Dad’s. I can’t write on both sides of the paper, so I will have to close. Love you, Dick.” The letter arrived two months after his death.

We value and treasure letters home. We thank those military men and women, as well as their families for their full measure of devotion.

Ellie Kay

America’s Family Financial Expert (R)

USAA Patriot Day


The first time I heard of USAA was when my minivan had a close encounter with a garage door. It was a sad day. We were moving with five kids 7 and under and Bob went onto the base to fill out the outprocessing paperwork. My plan was to go to a friend’s house and do laundry since all our household goods were en route to the new destination. These friends knew I hated the laundrymat with five kiddos, so they offered theirs. She gave me the code for her garage door (they were at work). I was so distracted with the kids and the move, that I “forgot” Bob had put the travel pod on top of the van.  I entered the code, got in the van and drove into the garage. The pod tore off the door and glass came raining down on the van. Bad day.

     But apparently, USAA is used to distracted, military moms of many, because they took care of the van, the garage door, and my injured pride in one fell swoop. The adjustor was kind instead of being appalled–I got the feeling he had seen worse. Even if he hadn’t, he was out to make me feel better. We were back on the road by the next day and I wouldn’t revisit USAA until two years later, when I had yet another close encounter with a garage door. This time it involved a partially opened door that is not visible in the rear view mirror of a Suburban when there are five screaming kids in tow–especially when one’s hubby is on alert to fly in harm’s way in his F-117A Stealth fighter.

     I had the privilege of visiting USAA headquarters when they brought out a bevy of bloggers to San Antonio. Home of the alamo and 5 million square feet of USAA office buildings. There’s a reason this company is some 16,000 employees strong–they have a lot of work to do to provide the best service possible to its members. From cutting edge innovation in mobile banking to prescient wealth planning, they know how to help everyone from a distracted mother of many to a military member in the red zone.  It’s what they do best.

     One of the most significant ways USAA showed the bloggers their core values of service, loyalty, honesty and integrity was to invite us to their “Patriot Day Event.” This event honored first responders, family members of victims and military members in a powerful and patriotic presentation that featured Colonel Mark Tilman, USAF (Ret), who was the Air Force One pilot on 9/11. He gave us a play-by-play of that life-changing day from a birds eye view. Then the bagpipes marched and played, “Amazing Grace.”  The audience cried, we laughed at the jabs he made about Texans… but we all remembered. We will not forget.

     After the Colonel addressed the 16,000, we had the honor of having him come into our blogger group and address 30 of us. One of the behind-the-scenes stories he told was about President Bush, after the war had begun and soldiers began coming home wounded. The President requested that wounded warriors be allowed in the receiving line for Air Force One. A line that was normally reserved for senators, congressmen, generals and other dignitaries. At one event, a young Marine, who had lost both legs , was in a wheelchair at the end of the line. In full dress uniform, he bravely began to hold a salute with a damaged right hand as soon as the jet landed. The Presidential aides radioed the on ground personnel to inform the “W” that this young man had trouble holding a salute. From his vantage point in Air Force One, Col Tilman saw the aide whisper to the President and watched the Commander-In-Chief push him off. Another radio call immediately came through, “The President says he know how to welcome home a Marine.”

      Then, the most powerful man in the world, walked past the dignitaries, to the wounded warrior. He got down on his knees in front of the wheelchair, and wrapped his arms around him. The President waived over the family, who was behind the security barrier, and they all hugged each other with tears of tribute to the proud Marine.

     No, we will not forget.

Thank you USAA for this experience…and oh, yeah, thank you for the garage doors.

Ellie Kay

America’s Family Financial Expert (R)

How do YOU Spell Stress Relief?

I had five children in the first seven years of marriage and moved 11 times in 13 years! During that time frame, my fighter pilot husband was gone as much as he was home, I home-schooled the kids because it was the only continuity they had, and I didn’t have the support or proximity of any extended family members. It was a situation set up for a first class trip to the funny farm! 

    Some folks turn to addictive behaviors to cope with stress, like shopping therapy (and the credit card debt that goes with it) or overeating (OK, so I’ve been known to wallow my sorrows in chocolate and coffee on occasion).  But I decided to volunteer at the base Family Services Center. They paid for 6 hours a week of childcare for those five kiddies and I gave back to the military community in a productive way instead of drowning in the “poor me” syndrome.  I also worked out by walking the kids at the park or running early in the morning before my husband left for work. We were on a tighty-tight budget at that time, so these stress relievers were within our spending plan because they were FREE.

 How do YOU reduce stress without breaking your budget?  My son, Jonathan, is a freshman (doolie) at the United States Air Force Academy, and it’s an incredibly rough first year at that fine institution. They get broken down and built back up as a military team. But they also find brilliant ways to reduce stress. One of the biggest weekends in a “doolie’s” life is 100’s night. This is when the seniors (firsties) have 100 days until graduation. They find out their bases, and they all go out for 3 days to celebrate. It’s tradition for freshman to “decorate” their room. The more you destroy it with a theme, the more respect you show to that senior. For Cadet Owen’s room, Jonathan & friends used 300 pounds of rice, and random stuff including marble strips from the Terrazzo (the main walk area at the Academy) for a Zen garden. Jonathan, et al, also created a tennis court in another room complete with artificial turf, foul lines and a net. There was a “pond” with water and 15 goldfish (for the class of 2015). The photo shows a VW bug that was purchased from salvage and reassembled in a senior’s room. Another senior staff member had his room dry walled shut—the hallway was one straight wall, instead of an alcove going into his room. He had to destroy the new “wall” to get in!

A lot of de-stressing military stories are told in my new, 3rd edition of Heroes at Home, some are so very creative! Here’s one of my favorites:

Tom Neven, a former Marine, is currently an author and freelance writer. He tells the story of when he was stationed in Okinawa at Camp Hansen with the First Battalion, Fourth Marines. Someone broke into the provost marshal’s office, where they had an audiotape player that broadcast the national anthem and “Marines’ Hymn” at 0800 every morning. The “criminal” substituted a Led Zeppelin tape. At 0800 the next morning, as each unit was waiting to raise the morning colors, a raucous “Whole Lotta Love” blasted across the base instead!

 What do you do to de-stress? Today, I still walk, volunteer, spend time with friends and I also love getting spa treatments and I never pay full price. In fact, I subscribe to the local deal site, Local Living  to get an $85 massage for $33 or a $45 pedicure for $18. So be sure to check with your local group buying site to save money. 

 Share with me how YOU spell stress relief!

Ellie Kay



Helping our Heroes at Home

Heroes Helping Heroes at Home

When I married my husband, I got a “three for one” deal. Not only did I marry “The World’s Greatest Fighter Pilot” but I also inherited two step-daughters in the process.  Then he said we could “join the military full time and see the world.” But what he really showed me was five more children in the first seven years of marriage, for a total of seven children to financially support. Then we took the show on the road and moved eleven times in thirteen years.

One of the critical ways I found help for myself and my children was through our community.  There are many opportunities for friends and neighbors to come alongside our military to bring the critical assistance they need during times of deployments and separations. Here are a couple of ways to be a hero to our heroes and their families.

Operation:  Compassionate Kids

It’s also important to encourage military kids. Consider approaching your child’s classroom teacher, Scout troop or after school club about the idea of sponsoring a different military member each month. In English, the children can write letters; in Art class, they can draw pictures; and in Scout Troop, they can put together care packages. Children can learn the value of caring in community with others and it can teach lessons in altruism by creating an “others” orientation that will last a lifetime. Be sure to get instructions for shipment before sending care packages so that all regulations are followed.  Some of the care packages might include:

  • Toiletry Pack – Sample size shaving cream, disposable razors, wet wipes, deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrush, floss q-tips, shampoo, lotion, bug repellent, foot powder, & socks.
  • Food Pack – Pre-sweetened drink mix, slim jims or jerky, granola bars, power bars, bag of candy (non-chocolate), gum, canned soup, canned fruit, fruit snacks, cool scar, nuts & trail mix.
  • Smart Pack – Books of all kinds, crossword puzzles, stationary, stamps, phone cards, online gift certificates and fact books.

  Help Our Troops

 There are a number of organizations where you and your children can serve military members.

  • USAA -With competitive home, life and auto insurance rates, as well as convenient online banking and investment services, USAA proudly serves millions of military members and their families and is also a sponsor of the “Heroes at Home” conferences, providing free copies of the book for attendees.
  • TreatTheTroops.org The “cookie lady” Jeanette Cram, can help you organize your own “cookie bakes” for the troops overseas. “We are always looking for ‘crumbs,’ or people who bake for us,” says Jeanette, “we have them all over the country.” Or, you can make a tax-deductible donation to help with postage. The have shipped almost 3 million cookies since 1990!
  • OperationShoeBox.comTheir “Troops and Teachers” program pairs up troops and teachers as a way of allowing school children to learn geography and reach out to volunteer troops overseas.
  • OperationGratitude.com – This group has local assembly days where you and your family can arrive at a central location and help put together care packages.
  • YellowRibbon.milThrough the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program, National Guard and Reserve Component members and their loved ones have access to conferences, resources, referrals, and services to minimize stress on families during all phases of deployment.
  • MilitaryOneSource.com — This is a one stop shopping for military families to find the help they need. Everything from military vacation clubs where they can find inexpensive rooms, to information on how to get their college education to how to find free financial counselors who can help them with a budget.

 Separation Stress Busters for Kids 

If you know children of the military who are facing separation from a parent, here are some ways to help them.

  • Minimize Media – It’s ok to turn off the news or limit your child’s exposure to media that could cause your child to be concerned about their parent.
  • Watch the Watch – Before they deploy, get a matching watch with an alarm for the parent and the child. Then decide on a time each day when the watch alarm will go off for both the child and the parent, such as 7:00 AM for the child or 8:00 PM before they go to bed.  It’s a way to know that you are both thinking of each other at the same time.
  • Teach the Teacher – Let your child know that a military member in your home has deployed so that the teacher and administration can be aware of the stress that may manifest itself in the classroom. Work with the teachers to mitigate the emotion or “acting out” that sometimes accompanies long separations.
  • Skyping Stories – Have the military member record a video session of themselves on Skype or Oovoo reading their child’s favorite book. Then you can play it back each night and not miss out on bedtime stories.
  • DaddyDolls.com These are dolls that are made from a photo of the deployed member for the child. They can hold and hug these, let them sit at the table for birthday parties, talk to them and love them.
  • Regular Routines – As much as possible, keep the schedule as normal as possible in order to create security in your family’s routine. It’s especially important to enforce family rules and stick to regular bedtimes so that your child can have the safety net of boundaries that do not change even though mom or dad is gone.
  • Stinkin’ Thinkin’ – If an infant can pick up on a negative attitude from mom, then  how much more can a tween or teen detect it. Keep a positive attitude in front of your child and speak words of encouragement about dad’s safety. When you vent to a friend or family member, make sure your child cannot hear you.
  • Kids Support Groups – Family Support Groups often have special events for kids, even if you feel to depressed or tired to take your child to these happenings, make sure they get plugged in. You can find help finding one here. This is a place where other children understand what they are experiencing and they can find comfort and courage in camaraderie.  
Thank you, to those who serve and those who are the Heroes at Home
Ellie Kay
America’s Military Family Expert (TM) 

Ellie Kay at MCRD – San Diego Booksigning + Military Families – Should You Rent or Buy? –

First of all – I’m going to be signing “Heroes at Home” at MCRD (Marine Corp Recruiting Depot) in San Diego at the MCS from 2:00 to 4:00 on January 31, 2013. So please come by and say hello and I’ll be happy to answer any military family finance questions you may have!

We lived in eleven different military houses in the first thirteen years of marriage. We weren’t exactly thinking about the American dream of owning our own home, we were just satisfied if the carpet came with the house and we could get enough bedrooms to have the kids only sleep two to a room! But, eventually, we slowed down our military moves long enough to buy a home and it was worth the wait.

Whether you are a reservist, guard or active duty, you may be in a position to ask a very common question in today’s economy—is now a good time to invest in a home or should you rent? Here are some ideas to help you determine the housing climate for your situation.

Sunny Skies for a $5,000 Grant for YOU

The “Dream Makers” program from the PenFed Foundation offers grants up for $5,000 to first time homebuyers of modest means who work in the service of our country’s defense. So go to this site to see if you qualify to be one of those who make home ownership a dream come true!

Dark Clouds Dissipating

Is the housing market finally starting to recover? Larry Shover, author of Trading Options in Turbulent Markets and a regular expert on Fox News says, “The sheer fact that median rental yields are more than 1.5% higher than the average 30-yr fixed rate mortgage should help support property prices.” People are starting to invest in housing again, whether they are buying it for a family home or as investment property to rent. So now can be a very good time to buy if you plan on keep the home at least three years or if you live in an area where you have the potential to rent out the home when you PCS.

Christine Francis, military spouse of a retired Marine and a current realtor in the Camp Pendleton area says, “ Now is definitely the time to buy because the interest rates are at an all time low. Sometimes military families can get into a home for only a $500 deposit. My agency has been able to get that $500 back by using a VA loan and financing the total amount. When the sellers are paying closing costs, many of my military clients are getting into their new homes for zero down.”

The Perfect Storm : Unemployment and Underemployment

The primary problem that could potentially ruin your sunny days is unemployment, which is expected to remain well above 8% for the rest of the year. If you are active military and plan on staying in the military, then this would not have a great impact unless you depend on the spousal employment to meet the mortgage obligation. However, if you are a Guard or Reserve family or if you are active and plan to separate and find a new job near the house you just purchased, then unemployment is something to take into consideration. The same is true for underemployment: if you don’t get the salary you need to meet your monthly payments. If either of these conditions are on your horizon, then it becomes a riskier endeavor to take the plunge in the housing market.

Clearing Skies –Interest rates and VA Loans

According to VA data, there are 23.8 million U.S. Veterans and less than 10 percent of them—2.1 million—have VA loans. “A VA loan is very attractive to most mortgage brokers,” says a representative from USAA home mortgages specializing in U.S. Department of VA loans. He adds, “VA loans have looser underwriting standards than conventional and even Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loans. With a VA loan, veterans can get 100 percent financing without private mortgage insurance (PMI) and lower interest rates.” Plus, you can get up to $3100 when you buy and sell your home through MoversAdvantage with USAA.

Christine Francis says her clients have been getting 3.75% interest rates on VA loans. The other advantage is that sellers are allowed to cover all closing costs, prepaid items and discounts. This lets borrowers essentially walk into their new home with no down payment, no closing costs and a 30 year fixed rate with no mortgage insurance.

Sunny Days – Housing Inventories

    In many parts of the country, home prices are so far below their peak that millions of homeowners owe more on their homes than they’re worth. This means that prices are continuing to drop, and may have even bottomed out according to Moody’s Economy.com. Consequently, it continues to be a buyer’s market in terms of value. Christine Francis says, “Without a crystal ball, it’s hard to tell [where house prices are trending], but I do believe that we are at the bottom of housing prices and the only place we can go is up.”

Plus, with values expected to rise even more toward the end of 2013, the home you buy low, is likely to increase in value almost as soon as you close the deal.

See you at the book signing!

Ellie Kay

America’s Family Financial Expert (R)


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