I am concerned with the number of destitute veterans who are in need of assistance. I’m not concerned that the veterans are asking for help. There are some really fantastic organizations whose main focus is assisting their brothers and sisters, like John Keith’s OIF Veteran Community. What concerns me is that so many of these vets are already receiving full disability and are in need of food and housing. I know that this can happen to anyone – I know personally that financial ruin can befall anyone. Some lessons are hard-learned, so here are some things I learned along the way that might help you, the vet, to a more prosperous life: assess the situation, draw up a battle plan, take the high ground, and accept that there will be collateral damage.
Assessing the situation
1. Gather information
a. For a solid month, keep every receipt, every check received, copies of your bills and keep notes on every cent of cash you spend.
b. Set aside two hours of undisturb-able time on a table, desk or at a computer. Fix a nice strong – cup of coffee (this may SEEM like the time for booze, but it is not). Have a calculator, pens, a notebook, and Ziploc bags at hand. If you have a family which does not understand “Don’t bother me, I’m busy!” make a sign and when Junior starts pestering you, don’t speak, just hold up the sign. (You’re going to want to be disturbed and drawn away from this task. Don’t be seduced away from it.)
c. Set up your records. On a sheet of paper or computer spread sheet, set up one page for incoming money and one for out-going money. Go through every bill, scrap of paper, receipt, and cancelled check and put all the information on this record. Group similar things together:
groceries – eating out or in
car – gas, expenditures and loans
house -- insurance, rent, mortgage, real estate tax, repairs, lawn/pool services, cleaning supplies and/or services, laundry, utilities
communication with the outside world – cable, satellite, phones, movie rentals, entertainment, postage, email, computers, hobbies
self-expression – clothes, shoes, hair, nails, gym memberships, make-up, shampoo, conditioner, soaps, cigarettes, booze, other substances
credit cards and small loans – write down the total amount due and the annual percentage interest for each one of these
incoming monies – identify the source and the approximate number of years this will continue coming in.
d. Add them up. ( no booze!!) Put a + by the incoming and a – by the outgoing columns. On a third page, add all the – and subtract that total from the + total. Put a + or a – next to that amount.
e. Put all the extra papers inside the Ziploc bags and put them inside the notebook. Put your sign inside the front cover of the notebook. Close the notebook. Go and do something pleasant and mind-lessly fun.
Draw up a battle plan
1. Know your enemy -- With a red pen (red pens are so empowering!) number your expenditures (groceries, car, house, communications, self-expression, loans) from 1 to 6, 1 being the biggest amount of money going out.
2. Know your allies -- With a blue pen (blue ink is much calmer and professional in appearance), number the areas which are most important to you, from 1 to 6, 1 being the most important thing for you to have in your life.
3. Choose all the red/blue number pairs that are small red and large blue (1,6) (3,4), etc. Circle those with green. (Green means go). This is where you will begin your attack.
Taking the high ground
Look at your green circles. Immediately put checks next to the items in the green circles you can do without for one year. (I didn’t say stop paying the bills, I said stop paying for certain things that you have already admitted are not important to you and you are paying a lot for).
Due to word count constraints, I must divide this article into two parts. Next week, Veterans Winning the War Against Finances will launch as the featured article, but you can read it ahead now by clicking on the link below.