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Oct 21, 2010
By Jennifer Hartwig (3rd Infantry Division Ft Stewart)

FORT STEWART, Ga. - When a Soldier returns from deployment, he or she has extra money that was saved during the deployment, right? You and your Soldier discussed what you would do with the added income during the deployment, right?

This is not always the case, said Beth Curran, Fort Stewart Army Community Service Financial Readiness Program Manager. She said that many things happen during a deployment, unexpected costs as well as excessive spending can deplete deployment savings account.

"Our biggest push is unrealistic expectations," Curran said. "It's extra money, but it's not millions." While a Soldier is deployed, he or she or their Family may spend excessively, either out of necessity or the desire to fill a void.

Curran said that there are three kinds of spending - entitlement, emotional and splurge spending. "For the Soldier, entitlement spending is 'I'm in a combat zone, I deserve to spend it,' or 'It's my money,'" she said. "For the spouse, it's 'I'm here alone, I should be able to reward myself.'"

Financial problems can occur when the Soldier and spouse don't talk about their purchases.

Emotional spending, said Curran, happens when a Soldier tries to "make up" for being deployed, by buying children and/or spouse gifts to try to fill the void of their absence.

"A Soldier may try to make up for being gone, especially with children," said Curran, who as a military spouse herself, is currently going through her fourth deployment with husband Tim. "Soldiers often feel guilt about their children, and buy them everything to try to make up for being gone for a year."

Emotional spending also happens on the spouses' side - trying to use shopping to fill the void left by their Soldier. Also, ordering take out or eating out every night is an expense that adds up quickly.

Splurge spending transpires when a Soldier or spouse anticipates the extra money they receive while deployed. The extra $600-1,000 a month seems like a lot to a Soldier and they plan on spending it on a big purchase, such as a new vehicle.

However, problems may occur if they forget about sudden expenses that may have arisen during the deployment, or the Soldier may not be aware of spending that is happening at home. "(The Soldier) anticipates that check when they get home, and don't take into account the spending that happened on both sides while they were gone," Curran said.

This can lead to problems in the relationship, and Curran said the only way to keep it from happening is for the Soldier and spouse to talk about their spending during the separation. Curran said a way to save during a deployment is to allocate money to your Soldier for his or her spending while overseas.

"I do everything by allotment," she said. "I highly recommend two accounts; I always encourage a Soldier to put a couple hundred dollars each month into checking account with checks and a debit card so what he or she does while deployed doesn't affect the Family budget too much." Curran also encourages paying off debt with deployment money, and also putting some in an emergency savings account in case money is needed unexpectedly.

The best thing to do is to talk about how you will spend and save your money before the deployment, but if that wasn't done, or if what was discussed goes array, ACS Financial Readiness is there to help.

"Do what works for you, but if you are stuck, come see us and we can work with you to straighten out your finances," Curran said. "Financial counselors can help you look at your finances and get a handle on them. The spending that gets us into trouble is the unnecessary purchases - money issues are the cause of a high percentage of domestic violence."

Curran encourages any Soldier or Family Member to come to ACS Financial Readiness for tips, or help with financial security.

"We can help you make a budget, and can work with the Soldier when they are deployed and once they are home," she said.

She also said that ACS Financial Readiness will not contact a Soldier's command unless there is a pay problem, if the Soldier is command-referred, or if there is a lack of support from a Soldier to their spouse.

"We won't judge your spending, we know that sometimes it just gets away from us - life happens," she said. "We want to help you get to where you want to be."

Due to extenuating circumstances, either spending or an emergency that arose, not all Soldiers return from deployment with disposable income. And if you find yourself in a jam, Army Emergency Relief is still available to Soldiers and Family Members who have recently redeployed.

Army Emergency Relief is a zero-percent loan for active servicemembers and their dependents, activated National Guard and Reserve Soldiers and their dependents, retirees and their dependents, and widow(ers) and children of Soldiers who died on active duty or after they retired. For more information on AER, please go to www.aerhq.org