Fort McCoy News Jan. 8, 2016

ACS offers help to re-evaluate personal finances

Public Affairs Staff

At the start of every new year, many people make resolutions to change their lives. Personal Readiness Financial Specialist Blonza Graves with Fort McCoy Army Community Service (ACS) said the new year also is a good time to re-evaluate personal finances.

"The first of the year is not only a good time to do a re-evaluation of your finances, it's also a good time to look at whether or not you achieved your goals from the previous year," said Graves, who also serves as an Army Emergency Relief officer at ACS. "You need to look at things that might have changed and look at things like taxation. You also can start planning for that next Christmas and look at those things you will be doing throughout the year."

Graves, a retired Soldier, joined the ACS team in December, coming from U.S. Army Garrison Baumholder in Germany, where he served as a financial-management counselor. He said people should look at three areas during financial assessments — budgets, savings, and retirement plans.

Personal Readiness Financial Specialist Blonza Graves (right) with Fort
McCoy Army Community Service (ACS) holds a meeting with Jamie Cram,
also with ACS, while working in building 2111. Graves began work with ACS
in December.

"The first thing I (advise people) to do is to establish a budget — a realistic budget," Graves said. "It's not one of these dream budgets; it's a realistic budget where they factor in how life is right now."

Once someone establishes a good, working budget and understands that budget, then more can be done.

"Once you discipline yourself within that budget, you will find out, eventually, that many of the (monetary) issues that you have will likely slowly go away," Graves said. "Finances affect every aspect of your life, and it's good for people to realize that.

"I also stress to people to attain a financial change of attitude," he said. "We in America have been taught that image stands for more than substance in terms of finances — to buy now and pay later. What I try to emphasize is a reversal of that. I try to teach people to live within their means and to save their money so that later on in life, you can actually buy the things that you want."

The establishment of an effective savings-and-retirement plans also starts with the budget, Graves said.

Savings are a part of the budget, including how much can be saved per month, Graves said. "Then it's a matter of disciplining yourself to stick to your savings plan."

Traditionally, it's been taught that people should save at least six months of expenses. Graves said he promotes the idea of getting an entire year's expenses saved up.

"I say this based on the financial situation in our country right now and the job market," Graves said. "We know you can't do this sort of thing overnight. We can look at how long it would take you to have that amount of money saved up, however much it might be."

For retirement plans, Graves said he works with customers — especially military members and government civilian employees — to find ways to improve their retirement preparations.

"I tell people at the beginning of the year, the middle of the year, and the end of the year to have a plan for retirement and to understand the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP)," Graves said. "And, based on what their budget shows, we'll look at what they can put into their TSP and other retirement savings."

If someone is concerned about getting started in improving their finances, Graves said he can help.

"Just come and see me, and we'll get things started," Graves said. "The first thing we are going to do is have a conversation. We are going to look at the person's (financial) goals. If they don't have goals, we can come up with some goals. We will also want to know what their plans are for the future, and we are going to look at what this person is trying to achieve."

And to help customers develop budget goals, Graves said those goals should be SMART — specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound.

"Then, from there, we will start with a budget and continue building a financial plan," he said.

As part of a financial reassessment, people also should look at how they use credit, Graves said.

"Having credit is about paying on time and over time," Graves said. "It also depends on the amount of credit that you have. If you have five credit cards with a $1,000 limit, and each of them are over the limit, then you have a problem. … If you have a credit card, and they give you a minimum payment of say $20 a month, we always say to add $50 to that."

Being smart about your finances is a year-round effort, Graves said. "I'll tell you something my grandmother once told me. She said, 'When you start out in life, take care of your needs. After a period of time when you are doing the right thing, your wants will come.' So if you do everything right, taking care of your needs and budgeting, you'll eventually be able to buy whatever you want to."

In addition to personal financial readiness, the ACS Financial Readiness Program can assist with other financial topics, such as banking and credit union services, record keeping, debt liquidation, consumer rights and obligations, insurance, and identity-theft prevention. The program supports military members, Department of Defense civilian employees and Families.

For more information or to set up an appointment, call Graves at 608-388-3540.