Money can’t buy you happiness, but when the sums don’t add up it can make you miserable. From tackling debt to planning for life after the Army, talking about your finances can reap rewards. Jill Misson reports…
SITTING down for a brew with a friend, you don’t want a boring chat about bills and you may be ashamed to admit you need another loan.
However, there are people to have that conversation with in confidence. Calls to SSAFA’s Forcesline have increased by 11 per cent in 2018 and debt is one of the main reasons for the surge in demand. Manager Bill Grant said: “A sense of pride and fear of the repercussions can often inhibit people from sharing their concerns which is why our policy of independent, confidential advice is so important and we operate without judgement.”
AFF’s Money Specialist Laura Lewin agreed: “It takes huge courage for people to ask for help and it’s often the spouse or sometimes the parent who will come to me because their soldier doesn’t want to approach the chain of command.”
While AFF staff are not trained to offer financial advice, they can listen and point you in the right direction, as can your unit welfare officer.
Colonel Mike Sykes OBE, lead for personal finance, encouraged soldiers to come forward. “Debt can be embarrassing and sometimes they don’t want to be seen as a failure or to discuss the underlying causes for the problem,” he said. “However, additional stresses and distractions can impact on an individual’s performance and there is a Service interest in protecting operational capability.”
Getting wise to Forces finances
Soldiers are given financial education as Colonel Sykes outlined: “There is initial guidance and some basic direction in Phase One and Two training, which is followed up in units by the provision of G1 study days and visits by SIIAP-recognised agencies.”
The Armed Forces Covenant is encouraging the providers of financial services and products to be more aware of how to support their military customers.
In addition, the recent launch of credit unions for the military community offers an alternative to banks and payday lenders, with savings and loan repayments taken directly from a soldier’s salary.
Army veteran Andy White is project manager of the Barclays Armed Forces Transition, Employment & Resettlement programme.
He said: “Due to their unique circumstances, soldiers do not always have the time or tools available to deal with their everyday finances.
“We run bespoke money skills sessions covering topics including savings and investments, mortgages, pensions and debt.”
Some spouses can benefit from attending seminars in their workplaces, as Mark Hewitson from Wealth at Work explained.
“We believe individuals are put off from making decisions about financial planning because of a lack of understanding and confidence,” he said.
“It’s best to take into account all of your joint circumstances, whether that is savings and pensions or mortgages, credit cards and loans, to agree a best course of action together.”
Advisers at Forces Family Finance all come from military households, so can relate to their customers.
Director Nadine Monks said: “Often clients are unsure of their next posting or career move and how this will impact on income and outgoings; some have a small window to get things sorted before having to go away and some couples find it difficult to be in the same place to discuss important decisions.”
Army&You asked families how their unpredictable lifestyle had an impact on their ability to budget and save.
Wendy’s husband was posted from central London to Windsor and stopped receiving London weighting. She said: “We were worse off because we had paid a lot less for our SFA, our house insurance increased and we had the extra costs of running a car.”
With three children at boarding school, Anna struggled to balance the books. She said: “School fees keep increasing with endless extras not covered by CEA.
“We want continuity for their education, but it feels like a trap as we have to remain mobile so my career has suffered and I can’t contribute much.”
Overseas postings can prove costly. Sarah said: “Moving abroad is more expensive than moves within the UK.”
Having now moved into her own home, Sarah warned others to prepare for the financial burden: “In quarters we paid reduced rates and contribution in lieu of council tax, but now we pay full whack and we have to pay for repairs.”
Julie lost her job just after buying a house with her soldier, who was deployed in Afghanistan. She recalled: “It was devastating, but people told me to keep upbeat in blueys and on the phone, so I kept it quiet and used my savings to pay the mortgage.
“In the end I told him and he was able to divert some of his pay to me. It really highlighted the need to speak up if things aren’t right.”
Financial planning is essential for every Army family and information is available on the MoneyForce website which offers an interactive budget planner, credit card calculator and home buying tool.
Senior adviser Katy Lewi said: “There are tips on how to save, what to do in a crisis and how to manage your money before, during and after you leave.
“Whether you’re looking at ways to maximise income or considering debt options, the sooner you approach us, the sooner we can help and remove some of that pressure.”