Honoring Our Veterans this Memorial Day

SoldiersontheMoveOn this Memorial Day, it is fitting that we take a moment to remember those Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines, as well as, members of the Coast Guard and active reserves who paid the ultimate sacrifice so that we may all enjoy the freedoms we have today. As a veteran, I understand many of the struggles my fellow comrades in arms face as they prepare for battles yet waged and endure hardship away from friends, family and loved ones. So, on this Memorial Day, here are 10 things each of us can choose to do to honor those veterans who gave their lives so that we can be free, for those who still wear the uniform and for those who recently returned from being in harms way. May God bless them all on this Memorial Day.

1. Tell a veteran “Thank You”. For most veterans, that’s enough. All anyone really wants is to be recognized for a job Well Done.
2. Listen to their story. Whether an old WWII veteran or a Soldier returning from Iraq or Afghanistan, each veteran deserves to be heard now more than ever (i.e., PTSD).
3. Visit the wounded and infirmed at your local VA Hospital. Regardless of the troubles the VA is going through today, there’s no reason for their troubles to become your troubles. Visit your local VA hospital a give thanks to those who served.
4. Lay a flag at a Veteran’s Memorial/Cemetery. To find a local veteran’s memorial or hospital near you, visit the Veteran Administration’s website at www.va.gov and select the “Locations” menu.
5. Make a donation to a non-profit veteran’s organization, such as, the Veteran’s of Foreign Wars (VFW), the USO or the Wounded Warrior Project.
6. Volunteer at your local Veteran’s Hospital or veteran’s organization. They’ll be glad for your assistance and the veteran’s will appreciate your time served.
7. Hire a veteran. If you’re in the position to hire new employees, consider hiring a veteran. Most returning veterans only want a chance to contribute and feel useful again.
8. Pay for their meal. Paying it forward is always the kind thing to do. Why not show such generosity to a veteran at breakfast, lunch or dinner time?
9. Give ’em a beer. If paying for a meal’s too much for your pocket book, how about putting a cold one on your tab?
10. Pray for our brave servicemen and women. Many are still on-station manning a post or patrolling the oceans or the high seas. Some are still on the battlefield in harm’s way, protecting our freedom is a 24/7 job. I would ask that you keep them in your prayers.

NoManLeftBehind

That’s my blogpost for this week. Join the discussion and post your comments below. And don’t forget to tune in next week where I’ll once again share more ways you can break the debt cycle and then go…beyond.

Zebert L. Brown is the author of Break the Debt Cycle in 3 Simple Steps and a 16 year Navy veteran with specialties in administrative management, career development and public relations.  Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

Going “Beyond the Debt Cycle”

Zebert L. BrownThere are several reasons people fall into debt – a job lose, severe illness or series injury, divorce, death of a loved one, poor spending habits or plain old careless with their money.  Regardless of the reason why, the question each person asks once they find themselves in debt is “how do I get out”?

As I read over the various blogs that cover personal financial management, each mentions the following as important first steps towards resolving your debt woes:

  1. Acknowledging that you have a debt problem; and,

  2. Start a budget.

Both are prudent first steps, yet both can be very difficult steps to take.

Most people who find themselves in debt are afraid to admit they’re having difficulty managing their finances properly.  Simply put:  pride gets in the way.  At our core, we don’t want to be viewed as a failure. However, by acknowledging that you need help managing the household finances, you’re seeking the assistance you need to think through financial matters that not only impact yourself but your entire family.  As explain in chapters 1 and 2 of my book (see byline below), your family should be involved in the budgeting process so that everyone understands your household’s financial situation  and helps to keep things on track.  But what if you’re single?  Where should you turn for help?  As mentioned in a previous blogpost, “10 Tips to Improving Your Financial Literacy,” agencies such as Consumer Credit Counseling, your local community college or your bank can all be of assistance.

Acknowledging you’re having difficulty managing your household finances may be easier than drafting and maintaining a budget, however.  The reason most people don’t like living with a budget is  they believe budgets are too restrictive.  I certainly use to think that way.  It wasn’t until my wife and I realized we were starting to miss payments to our creditors and beginning to bounces checks that we realized we needed to do something different about managing our household finances.  As we sat down with our bills, recent bank statements and our cash receipts and began the first rough draft of our budget, we began to see a couple of patterns emerge.  First, we were spending way too much on dining out (for lunch mostly).  Second, we were relying on memory to ensure one of us was paying specific bills on time.  Once we were able to see how negative spending habits and a lack of focus were hurting our bottom line, we were able to draft a well-constructed budget plan that took both our input into account. We also realized that we need to forecast our spending beyond the next paycheck to tackle any unforeseen circumstances that might crop up.  By forecasting our expenditures 3-6 months out, we were able to absorb added short-term expenses without significantly impacting our long-term financial goals.  And that brings me to a broader point concerning your budget:  it’s merely a tool to help you manage your money as you see fit.  Nothing more, nothing less.

Use your budget to help keep track of your earnings, expenditures and long-term financial goals.  I want to emphasize that last part.  I think it’s important for people to understand that your budget shouldn’t be a static document.  I should change as the circumstances of your life changes.  Furthermore, just because you may have to cut back and live within your means (or below them) in order to get your finances on track doesn’t mean you have to always go without.  You can – and should – incorporate leisure time activities into your budget plan. Such activities could be as inexpensive as planning a special family meal once a week or renting your favorite movies including everyone’s favorite snacks.  My point is, such leisure time activities don’t have to be extravagant.  Just plan ahead and be creative again taking input from your family.  Unfortunately, many consumers believe that “keeping up with the Jones’” – image – is more important than living debt-free.  To some, debt is just another part of life.  But I would argue that living debt-free is a better way of life because you’re in control.  Instead of being dictated to as to how to spend your money, you get to call the shots.  And wouldn’t you rather be in control of your financial future than having someone else control it for you?

Another aspect of your budget plan should be personal investments.  While most financial counselors suggest waiting until you’ve gotten your debts under control, I would suggest that you start by putting as much money as you can into an interest-barring savings account  and build up your savings over time when you can afford to save more.  The point here is to pay yourself first!  After all, you work hard for your money.  Shouldn’t you receive the benefit of its use besides just paying bills?

If you’re struggling with debt, take the first steps towards getting out of debt today by acknowledging your debt woes, seeking assistance and drafting well-constructed budget plan.  Try to forecasts your expenditures for the long-term, and don’t forget to include personal investments and leisure time activities into your budget plan.  Your family, your sanity and your financial future will thank you for it.

That’s my blogpost for this week.  Join the discussion and post your comments below.  And don’t forget to tune in next week where I’ll once again share more ways you can break the debt cycle and then go…beyond.

Zebert L. Brown is the author of Break the Debt Cycle in 3 Simple Steps and a 16 year Navy veteran with specialties in administrative management, career development and public relations.  Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

10 Tips to Improving Your Financial Literacy

 LeeHeadShot4 In last week’s blogpost, I outlined the importance of becoming more financial literate.  This week I provide ten important tips you can use to improve your financial literacy skills and start your children off on the right track to becoming more fiscally responsible.

For Adults:

1. Take a financial management course. You can contact your bank or local community college to see if they offer such a course, or you can contact the American Consumer Credit Counselors for a free credit counseling session.

2. Learn common financial terms. Asset, depreciation, liquidation, equity are all basic terms you’ll come across in nearly every financial situation, but if you don’t know what these words mean or how they apply to your financial situation, you can’t make financial decisions that are right for you and your economic situation.

3. Read the small print! I can’t emphasize this enough. No matter how much pressure you get from slick talking salesmen, you should always take your time to read over ALL documents pertaining to your personal finances before you sign them. After all, you work hard for your money and no one’s going to look after your best interest except you.  Give yourself at least 24 hours to review any document before you sign on the dotted line to make doubly sure you’re making the right decision.

4. Diversify your finances. The saying “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” is true. Assuming you can afford to spread the wealth around, you should try to put your money in investment vehicles that stand to earn you money other than a simple savings account or a 401k plan with your employers. An IRA, stocks, bonds, mutual fund or exchange trade funds (ETF) are all investment vehicles that can provide a decent return on investment over the long haul.

5. Ask questions. If there’s something you don’t understand about a potential financial situation that could obligate you to a long-term financial commitment, ask questions – as many as it takes for you to fully understand the situation at hand. And if you don’t feel as if you’re getting the right answers from one person, ask to speak with the manager.

For Children:

1. Talk to them about money. Believe it or not, children learn how to manage money from watching their parents. Of course, if you’re not “penny wise” odds are your child may very well pick up some poor spending habits from you. The sooner your child learns the value of money, the sooner he/she begin to take a personal interest in his/her ersonal economy.

2. Give them an allowance. Most parent may not believe in giving their child an allowance, but an allowance gives them a  sense of ownership for “a job well done”. Moreover, they quickly learn that “money doesn’t grow on trees or comes from the ATM” each time they run out of their money.

3. Take them shopping with you. Let your child pay for groceries (small purchases, of course) and show them how to bargain shop. This way not only do they learn that you’re not an inexhaustible source of money, they also learn how to look for the best deals right along with you.

4. Give your child a piggy-bank. There’s nothing like the sound of a bunch of coins clanking in a glass jar or that pink plastic pig. Your child will have a sense of pride for all the money he/she saves up to purchase that special item on their wise list. As an alternative to a piggy-bank, you could also start a savings account for your child and let them make the deposits.  This way they learn about bankng, saving and investing early in life.

5. Play board games that involve money. Monopoly, Life, Payday. These traditional board games are not only fun to play, they also teaches your child about the world of finance. Every kid loves being the banker. Let them learn about financial management by playing with play money so that once they experience the real thing they can apply what they’ve learned in real life.

That’s my blogpost for this week.  Join the discussion and post your comments below.  And don’t forget to tune in next week where I’ll once again share more ways you can break the debt cycle and then go…beyond.

Zebert L. Brown is the author of Break the Debt Cycle in 3 Simple Steps and a 16 year Navy veteran with specialties in administrative management, career development and public relations.  Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.