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Fiscal freedom: Airmen and Family Readiness Center offers finance education

SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- It's startling the number of young men and women who join the Air Force and are charged with caring for and maintaining millions of dollars of assets, yet they can't balance a checkbook. 

Michelle Schroeder and Charles Ringwood, community readiness consultants with the Airman and Family Readiness Center, said the bulk of their business comes from Airmen who are poor managers of money. But, it isn't necessarily their fault. 

"I think for most of them, it's an eye opener," Ms. Schroeder said. "They don't realize how much they spend." 

The team of Schroeder and Ringwood have been tasked with helping Airmen turn their financial frivolity around and turn them into dependable dollar directors. A host of financial freedom programs and fiscal educational courses are available at the center, most of which are designed to help each customer realize what they spend, how they spend it and how they can save it if they didn't spend it. 

Everything from budgeting, saving, checkbook maintenance, basic investments, home buying, car buying, credit reports and identity theft courses or services are available. Mr. Ringwood said a course is even available to help young couples learn how to cook on a tight budget. 

"Some Airmen go out and buy a car and then come in for a spending plan," Mr. Ringwood said. "They're doing it in reverse order." 

The suggested course of action is to first come up with a spending plan, that way an Airman would know how much money is coming in, how much is going out and what is left over. Sticking with the car buying experience, Mr. Ringwood said Airmen don't realize the cost of a monthly car payment - for the most part - doesn't include the monthly cost for auto insurance, gas, maintenance, etc. 

For couples, Ms. Schroeder and Mr. Ringwood advised that both be present during any financial counseling sessions. That way, both parties are on the same page when it comes to understanding fiscal responsibility and where money is going. 

"He or she may not realize the spending habits of the spouse," Ms. Schroeder said. 

The number of appointments for financial counseling tends to fluctuate. But, they said they should see a spike in appointments following the holiday season and after income tax returns begin filtering in. 

More than likely, some Airmen will use credit cards to buy items, not realizing the 18-21 percent interest that's tacked on each month - at least not until the balance of the credit account is too large and financially unbearable. That's where a "power pay" program could help Airmen get closer to financial freedom. 

The program helps Airmen learn how to catch up on credit debt and continue paying. 

"The bottom line is they need to see progress," Ms. Schroeder said. She said a little progress on credit accounts makes the walk to the mail box a little less painful. 

The process doesn't end after Ms. Schroeder and Mr. Ringwood have supplied their fiscal facts to financial freedom. Customers are always welcome to continue picking their brains and become better stewards of their own money. 

"I've got this kid that comes up every month from Dallas," Mr. Ringwood said. "There've been clients we see every pay day. It's not a one-time fix." 

Tracking spending habits, rather single or married, is an important step toward having a positive financial future. The pair supplies a means for customers to do this. 

The first is an ATM/Debit Card pocket register for recording all uses of the too often abused alternate means for spending. 

"That's our biggest problem," Mr. Ringwood said. "Kids don't write anything down." 

With the pocket register, customers can see where every penny goes, so long as they remember to write them down. Mr. Ringwood said they don't realize how much money they spend on sodas and candy because it's never accounted for. 

Another tool at the disposal of customers is the expense record book, similar to the pocket register. But, the expense record book is a collection of any expenditure they might have, regardless of how it is paid for. 

Finally, a financial calendar is available for families or those living off base to know what bills they have and when they are due. 

Whether it's to find a fiscally firm foundation or to simply diversify investments, Mr. Ringwood and Ms. Schroeder said it is never too early or too late to come in for assistance. 

The earnings certainly outweigh the cost. 

For more information about financial programs available at the AFRC, call 676-4358.