Do Troops Really Need Financial Literacy Classes?

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Let’s make one thing clear — the question here isn’t whether or not troops need financial literacy. I think we can all agree that everyone and their mom could use additional money savvy, and that includes me.

The question is whether or not they need financial literacy classes. Everyone uses the word “training” when that talk about teaching financial literacy. But we all know that in the military “training” means “classes.” It means a bunch of service members sitting in uncomfortable chairs listening to someone talk about something. It rarely means listening to someone inspiring.

And to that I say — no.

No to more classes. No to another boring PowerPoint presentation. No to more things troops won’t pay attention to anyway. No to paying new contractors to run things troops will ignore with the same gusto they ignored the last class on we-don’t-know-what (because they couldn’t tell us — because they weren’t paying attention) that they were forced to attend.

Just no.

Why? Because studies show that taking financial literacy classes simply doesn’t help. They are a huge waste of time — and not just because military members are already forced-class saturated.

Do troops really need more financial literacy classes? No, not they don't. http://wp.me/p1d7d0-8GP

This study found that High School financial literacy classes have little to no impact (and let’s remember that many of our troops are that much older than High Schoolers). This one found that soldiers who took such classes are actually less likely to have a formal spending plan than those who did not. This Wall Street Journal blog post suggests that, perhaps, a financial literacy class gives people with very little financial knowledge just enough empowerment to take foolish risks but not enough know-how to save them for themselves.

So, no, despite a recommendation from a Congressional commission that service members be given financial literacy training, and despite initial approval from Congress that the military spend $400 million over four years providing that training, classes are a bad idea.

Here’s what is a good idea: required one-on-one financial counseling, training that actually gets paid attention to because it’s personal and attentive. Give the service member the option of bringing her spouse, sit them down at a desk, and teach them to understand (without the help of PowerPoint, pleeeease) their finances and financial options. Help them make a budget. Help them stick to a budget. Inspire them to save for retirement. Help them understand the risks and rewards of credit. Give them ideas for goals. Give them the tools to reach them.

That kind of training is, in fact, available on most bases right now.  But you have to hunt it down, you have to ask for it.

Requiring it is an excellent idea.

Yet I suspect that won’t happen.

Why? Because the Congressionally approved measure, which still must be given the final go-ahead by lawmakers and then signed by the President before it goes into effect, doesn’t mandate one-on-one help. It mandates “financial literacy training.”

And what do you want to bet that the requirement results in a room full of guys snoozing while an uninspiring person clicks through a PowerPoint?

About the Author

Amy Bushatz
Amy is the editor in chief of Military.com’s spouse and family blog SpouseBuzz.com. A journalist by trade, Amy also covers spouse and family news for Military.com where she is the managing editor of spouse and family content. An Army wife and mother of two, Amy has been featured as a subject matter expert on CNN.com, NPR, Fox News, NBC, CBS, ABC and BBC as well as in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post. Follow her on twitter @amybushatz.
  • JessicaM

    I agree with your opinions on this, backed by these studies. We went to a financial counselor here but only after I scheduled the appointment and forcably had my service member go. It worked, only because they took down his unit info and so he felt like there was no way out of it. The meeting itself was mildly helpful, as we learned to reinforce the things that we already knew but we’re slacking on, in terms of budgeting. But I did feel like I was a third wheel in the convo, as our male counselor asked only my husband the questions. If I asked a question, he replied to my husband. I’m not sure if it was just apparent that I was forcing my spouse to go, or if it looked as though I was just a bread winner (chronically ill and unemployed student here), but it was a little disappointing to receive that kind of treatment. I would have liked to have felt like we were a unit, regardless of my own personal financial literacy or situation.

    I’d like to know how to stop these mandatory literacy classes from being approved and how to suggest the improvement of the already available financial guidance meetings.

    • pmaro002

      I had a very similar experience. My husband was required to attend a financial advising session before we bought a house. I insisted on coming and arrived prepared with my own budgets, paystubs, etc. The advisor asked for my husbands LES and then began discussing budget without even asking if I had a pay stub to contribute (which I did). When i asked if he wanted to see my W2s he looked blank, took them, and then openly expressed surprise. And after all that, he still continued the meeting with my husband as if I wasnt there. He never looked over our existing budget (which I was hoping we could review and improve on together), instead insisting on plugging numbers into his pre-made computer program. in the end he generated a budget that was FAR WORSE than the one we walked in with. It was a complete waste of time, made worse by the way I was treated…

      At the same time, my husband has troops who are taking out massive car loans before understand what the difference between principal and interest is, so I do think something needs to be done. Some very small improvements to the existing system could go a really long way.

      • Plantator

        Hmm… interesting. I learned about principal and interest in the 6thgrade (12 yrs old) and learned the most about it from my father. He even had me participate with the household finances by teaching me how to fill out the checks which he reviewed and then signed.

  • the first mel

    I agree that required classes would be a waste of time and money. People begin to develop their attitudes about money when they are kids. They learn from the adults in their lives and their experiences stemming from the financial status of their caregivers. Also, personality characteristics play a role in how money is managed, ie. impulsive buying vs comparison shopping. Poor money management is not going to be fixed with a generic class. It needs to addressed on a personal level where specific issues can be determined and suggestions for improvement are tailored to the person. I am a volunteer caseworker at the Navy Marine Corps Relief Society and we are on the check in sheet for Marines who are new to the base. We do tell them we are available to do budget counseling, especially before they get married, buy a car, or move out in town. On this base there is also a free debt management counselor and we frequently refer Marines to her when they have substantial debt in their budgets. I have done budgets for those who were told to come in and even though they weren’t happy about it, most thank me for information they were unaware of or for giving them suggestions on how to resolve their specific issues. If anything, the Marines here should be encouraged to utilize what is already available to them instead of sitting through another class they don’t care about.

    • Plantator

      What I find boggling is that in my own family we were raised by parents that were very financially responsible and this is what they taught. Yet I am the financially responsible one and my younger brother seems to have tossed all that he saw and learned and is to this day at the opposite end of the scale when it comes to financial management. And what makes it even worse is that he married someone that is just a financially irresponsible as he has been all his life. Even as kids, we both worked at the same place and made the same amount of money yet he continually nickel & dimed his money away. Whereas I would save and then buy something really nice, i.e. a telescope on one occasion and a canoe on another. Yet he was jealous of me when I bought these things, and had money in my pocket while he was always broke.
      WE both had the same training from home he just chose not to use what he’d learned.

  • CRZ

    Hello, I agree with the consept of one on one. It is imperative that our money works for us and not us for the money.
    In most military relationship, one is usually responsible for the financial burden of managing it. Burn out will surely take place especially when the other party has no idea what is going on with it and when the “we have no money” words come into play.
    Setting goals, boundaries and time management are essential with money matters.
    No matter who is gone all the time, they still need to be a part of the financial entity in their relationship and understand limits and priorities.

  • Guest

    I completely agree with the assertion that one-on-one counseling is superior. However, financial counseling should not be required AT ALL. When a person joins the military, they are officially an adult and presumed capable of making their own decisions. They are signing on for a JOB. It is not the job of our government–and tax dollars–to hold the hands of people who can’t keep a budget or make sound decisions. If people can’t keep finances in order and that creates a situation that impacts their service, they need to be discharged. That’s just the real world.

    • 4M

      While I’m all for personal responsibility, financial issues can cause workplace performance issues and can be a security risk. Why discharge an otherwise productive and necessary team member?

      I was in a field where we got huge bonuses, $110,000 plus a stripe for adding two years to your contract, plus an extra $150/month special pay, but the guys were all still broke. And I was too until one day when my boss sat all of us down and talked finance instead of dry technical training for our daily dose of PowerPoint.

      It wasn’t some civilian who could give a darn about us, or some washed up and broken E6 who was giving us advice that he was clueless about, but our boss who had a portfolio and a plan. It took me from having a few hundred in my checking account and a massively expensive car, to a nest egg well over a years basic salary and an econo-box.

      To the OP, the one on one budgeting by a contractor at the NMCRS and the like is great, but I honestly think the most effective initial training is going to be from senior members in that career field who have credibility. It’s how we do all the other critical training, this should be no different.

      • Plantator

        This sound wonderful. But just make sure this is done OFF DUTY AND NOT AT THE TAX PAYERS EXPENSE!!!

      • Plantator

        Capable of making their own decisions??? SINCE WHEN?? This requires a person be “responsible”. Most (not all) I’ve seen in the military were there because they were running away from responsibilities they chose not to deal with. So they go in the military where they are told: what to wear, when to wear it, how to groom themselves, when to get up, when to go to bed, when to eat, and where they are to be assigned (choices are given ONLY IF THOSE CHOICES MEET THE NEEDS OF THE MILITARY).

      • Plantador

        I thought you guys were in the military to “SERVE YOUR COUNTRY”. With a bonus of ( and I quote you) of $110,000 plus a stripe plus special pay of an additional $150 a month. This sounds more like a mercenary to me not someone who is there to “serve”. This sounded more like se;f-service to me commonly called narcissism.

        • 4M

          Mercenary? No.

          It was the military’s attempt to keep us in uniform for a few more years, and was still less than market for a state side job working half the hours. It’s on the high end for bonuses, but when you do a job few can do, in an undermanned and overworked field, money flows. I didn’t take the deal, but even if I did it wouldn’t have diminished my service, it was a physically and mentally demanding careerfield.

    • the first mel

      While I agree it is not the governments responsibility to hold their hands, I do think leaders within the command should try to help someone who is drowning. In a perfect world, all parents would teach their kids financial responsibility but we know that doesn’t happen. There are free services offered to our military that can be utilized to provide needed help. The military environment is not the same as a civilian work environment. A lot of time and effort is put towards getting the best out of every person who serves. The military community is the only community I know of that becomes involved in a person’s personal life when job performance is negatively impacted. The military isn’t just grooming fighters but people who exemplify the core values of their service branch.

      • Plantator

        You speak of care values?? What kind of values is it when you go to sign out there is a box of prophylactics, then when you get to the front gate to laves base there is a case of prophylactics (just in case you forgot them earlier). Then if you do get a STD the tax payers cover the medical treatment of the troops and then even covers the medical treatment of the civilian girl or guy from which the STD was caught (also graciously paid for by the tax payers). Everything I’ve seen in the military is drink and become a drunk,…. then the tax payers will cover the cost of your rehab… I knew of someone that did this 3 TIMES!!!! ALL AT THE TAX PAYERS EXPENSE. To be quite honest I was ashamed and disgusted with the actions of my fellow military personnel. I saw this in all the branches too. ( We worked close will all of the security personnel (Intelligence types) of all the branches of the military.
        I will not say all military personnel conduct themselves in such a manner but I will say the OVERWHELMING MAJORITY DO!! Oh I forgot to mention the MANDATORY STD training classes (given during on duty time of course) that were to educate the military personnel of the dangers of STD. In this training (so called) they showed us some of the most grotesque pictures of the genital of males and females that were infected with every STD you can think of. And after all of that training the troops caught everything except the common cold. If you’ve ever been overseas near military installations you will be shocked of the number of half-americans you’ll see that are children of the educated, drunken,sexually promiscuous AMERICAN MILITARY personnel. In all of the branches these types of actions are encouraged and if you don’t well you’re not one of the in group. I saw these types of actions by married personnel just as much as the single personnel. All of the education in the world i(be it financial or STD training) is not the answer.

  • Joe_Wulf

    +1 for MANDATORY one-on-one financial counseling and training!

  • RKP

    YES times 1,000. You take a new young person into the Military who might have had a local job making $6.00 an hour and now you pay them over a thousand a month and if you don’t provide them with some kind of money management about 99% will make a total mess of their budget it they even have one. Take a look at young sports players, most are broke within a few years and nothing to show for the Millions they make.

    • Plantator

      Unfortunately even if they made more as a civilian they will more than likely do the same exact thing. Money management is EXACTLY THE SAME regardless of the amount you make. I say this because when I went from the ARMY in 1978 to my job at RCA as a civilian. ( my pay increased over %500) I handled my money EXACTLY THE SAME WAY I DID WHEN I MADE LESS!! If you don’t have the funds in hand… you DO NOT BUY IT!!

      • 4M

        Even if you have funds in hand you don’t have the green light to buy (ever hear the expression paycheck-to-paycheck? That’s a result of spending what’s in hand).

  • Lashawn

    I believe that these class can be very beneficial. It is the attitude of people when they are forced to attend a training or anything. What I have learned through my military experience in all aspects, it is the attitude. Money is one of the hardest things to manage. Most of the time it is the instant gratification that gets us in to money troubles. Money and dealing with money is an emotional thing. Spend or not to spend is emotional. Save or not to save is emotional. Most of all of what we do concerning money is emotion. These classes give some very value information about spending and saving. Some one mention that our attitude about money has been developed while we were kids and based on our parents and living environment. This can be true as well, but at the same time we have to stop making excuse and do the right thing if we want to be financially secure. Stop living in the here and now and think about the future. I get it that some people are trying to survive, so we will not address that, but evening in surviving you can save.

    • Plantator

      In other words… if you don’t have the money in hand for it DO NOT BUY IT!!

  • KenLand

    I say give the classes then give them appointments for one on ones.

    • Plantator

      I say yes to this too IF and only if this is done in their off-duty time at their own expense. DO NOT USE MY TAX DOLLARS TO COVDER THEIR IGNORANCE!!!

  • JJMurray

    YES! The answer is simple. In the past we gave direct training to the folks in our shops or our divisions or departments and we STILL wound up with young enlisted folks in debt way over their capability to deal with. That sort of problem hurts everyone in the unit and obviously it is a problem throughout the Services. These young folks need some financial education and basic knowledge of how things like check books, debit cards, and loans work.
    In ONE command I was in the Training Department got everyone who reported to the command for the first 3 months of their tour. In that time we made sure they got the schools they were supposed to get, the training specific to the unit, and we included courses in handling money. I remember VERY few cases of young enlisted folks getting into this kind of debt problem in that command.

    • Patntator

      In the unit I was a part of it was dealt with in this manner: ANY and EVERY purchase that was $500.00 or more we had to go before our CO. This was done because we were a Military Intelligence unit and and handled TSSCI classified info so precautions were taken so that NO ONE would be allowed to get into a potentially financially compromising situation. If you were compromised in such a manner then your clearance was pulled and without a clearance you could not do your job and thus you were reclassified and transferred to a unit that didn’t need a clearance. To my knowledge no one ever violated these policies.

  • gpm

    I can’t believe you would say NO!!!! We know that the finance training should begin in the home environment at an early age. Unfortunately this in not always the case. Financial literacy should rely be required in the public schools and in DODDS schools These classes are needed for all individuals entering service. We have baby boot camp, we need married couple financial boot camp with one on one assistance. Sick of hearing military families in debt living above their means taking our loans by predatory loan sharks. Latest one -Title loans. Spouses need literacy and the empowerment to make the right financial decisions when their loved one is deployed. Amazing to hear people that do not have an emergency fund. By the way did you sit on these classes? How did you come to make this judgment? Congress could change the retirement system for incoming new troops according to the military times. This could really shake up retirement system as we know it now. New recruits NEED to have financial skills to make the right decision at the beginning of their careers. Hate to hear of military individuals near retirement age that did not plan and now are in a panic.

    • Plantator

      I also say NO!!! DO NOT USE MY TAX DOLLARS TO PAY FOR THEIR IGNORANCE. I would say yes to them taking the classes if and only if they PAY FOR THE CLASSES THEMSELVES. And don’t give the typical statement of the poor under paid troops. WhenI was in we made just a small fraction of the pay that troops receive now, Yes I know that the cost of living is higher now. The increases in pay far exceed the rise in the cost of living.

      • gpm

        Good that your father taught you to write a check. Let’s agree to disagree. Spouses AND military members benefit with financial education taught by the military and I have taken advantage of every program available to me and my spouse. I want my military member to concentrate of what he has to do in his mission For Uncle Sam.

        • Plantator

          Agreeing to disagree is MEANINGLESS and does not resolve the problem. I will say YES a lot of service members need financial training. I will go so far as to say make it mandatory. But,… they do it on their own time and they pay for it themselves. I say this as a former service member who was required to go to mandatory training classes even though I had no financial problems ever. I never bounced a check routinely balanced my checkbook and always had money in my savings. Make the training mandatory on a one on one basis that the service member pays for themselves. You appreciate that which you’ve paid for,and put forth effort to get your money’s worth. Whereas if it’s just doled out to you the person more than likely could care less. Just look at the welfare system. I will again emphasize.. DO NOT USE MY TAX DOLLARS TO PAY FOR SOMEONE ELSES’ IGNORANCE. I feel sorry for the service member(s) who are in financial binds (that they have chosen to create for themselves). I tried on multiple occasions to sit down with individuals on a one on one basis to help them get their finances under control ( and I was going to do this FREE). In 4 years only one accepted my offer. The rest wold not even discuss thew fact that they had a problem. This is why I say MANDATORY AT THEIR OWN EXPENSE ON THEIR OWN TIME NOT WHILE ON DUTY.

        • Plantator

          Why should MY TAX DOLLARS go to pay for something these troops should have learned from their parents? Unfortunately this still seems to be the norm, military personnel don’t know simple mathematics When I was a private in the Army stationed at Ft. Devon MA (1974) I remember when mandatory training classes were give by our XO on “How to properly fill out a check”. This class was given because so many of the troops were improperly filling out checks and giving check to bot the PX and commissary that were incomplete or even not signed. What shocked me even more was the fact that the average troops in our unit had 2 years of college. How on earth does someone with a 2 year college degree not know how to fill out a check??? My father taught me this when I was 12. He showed me how to fill out the checks for all the household bills. I just don’t get it that people as so ignorant ( meaning they just don’t know how).

          The key is…… don’t spend what you don’t have, and it you don’t have the CASH for it, YOU DO NOT NEED IT!! Too many go HOG WILD with credit. This is true in the civilian world too. If I recall correctly the average household in the USA has 14 credit cards most of which are maxed out. It would be interesting to see the stats on this for military service members and their spouses.

          • oldernavyretiree

            If it’s mandated by Congress, Plantator, you don’t get a say. Just get over it already.

          • gpm

            Sorry to hear how angry you are on this subject. If an individual comes from a broken home then any financial education provided by Uncle Sam could be a blessing. Also thank you for allowing me to use YOUR tax dollars to benefit my financial literacy.

  • Wayne Perry

    The classes I attended at Ft Riley given by ACS were fun and a great learning experience. But the classes were taught by spouses. So if spouses ran the Army…….

    But really, yes these classes are needed. But they need to be straight talk in smaller groups the majority of the time, not the battalion commanders monthly brief to everyone.

    Perhaps if we put a sign up in the commissary seeking volunteers some of the retirees would volunteer to come in and tell some stories about how they made it. Or find some JR E families who are creative in talking about how they are successful in their own rights.

  • Buck

    There should be a mandatory financial management course for every military member. There are so many folks out there with little or no management ability when it comes to finance. They join the service and bring their poor decision making abilities with them. They then become a headache for their command or more specifically their immediate boss.
    Having to hand hold adults that couldn’t see that paying twenty two percent interest on a fifteen hundred dollar computer for five years is a bad move.

    • Plantator

      Financial management should have been learned at home from parents and or in school before a student ever graduates from High school. People want everything NOW. the philosophy of saving for anything is almost completely a thing of the past.

  • Daniel

    I read and all I can say is plan for your future and retirement . Listen to the wife’s they know best because we are so tied up with our duties. Remember an ARMY wife is the hardest job in the army. Respect them and cherish them.
    MSG RAMIREZ
    U.S. ARMY (ret)

  • Plantator

    Why should MY TAX DOLLARS go to pay for something these troops should have learned from their parents? Unfortunately this still seems to be the norm, military personnel don’t know simple mathematics When I was a private in the Army stationed at Ft. Devon MA (1974) I remember when mandatory training classes were give by our XO on “How to properly fill out a check”. This class was given because so many of the troops were improperly filling out checks and giving check to bot the PX and commissary that were incomplete or even not signed. What shocked me even more was the fact that the average troops in our unit had 2 years of college. How on earth does someone with a 2 year college degree not know how to fill out a check??? My father taught me this when I was 12. He showed me how to fill out the checks for all the household bills. I just don’t get it that people as so ignorant ( meaning they just don’t know how).

  • Plantator

    The key is…… don’t spend what you don’t have, and it you don’t have the CASH for it, YOU DO NOT NEED IT!! Too many go HOG WILD with credit. This is true in the civilian world to. If I recall correctly the average household in the USA has 14 credit cards most of which are maxed out.

  • Roseann

    The $400 million should be used to train Financial Counselors that would then be contracted to personally and directly ‘train’ couples or individuals by using interactive techniques to help with budgeting, planning and actual counseling for issues on financial disputes by an actual credentialled counselor!