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By Barbara O’Neill, Ph.D., CFP®, AFC® [email protected].

Dr. Barbara O'Neill

Dr. Barbara O’Neill

During the virtual 2020 AFCPE Symposium, I attended a “military meet-up” for members who provide financial education and counseling programs for service members and their families. It was a structured discussion using Zoom with a series of questions for the entire group and small breakout groups.

It is not every day that people get to “talk shop” with others who do the same type of work they do to share information, ideas, and insights.

Below are key take-aways from the AFCPE session that may be useful to Personal Financial Managers (PFMs) who were not able to participate:

Favorite Program Topics

Three content areas were mentioned most frequently by participants:

  • Budgeting- Developing and following a spending plan (budget) helps clients put “guardrails” on their spending and is a mechanism to achieve financial goals if savings for goals is included as a fixed expense.
  • Debt Reduction– Paying off debt helps improve a person’s credit history and credit score frees up money to save and reduces stress about finances.
  • The Thrift Savings Plan (TSP)- Making elective TSP contributions builds wealth. In addition to an interest in investment growth, service members often have questions about asset allocation and TSP fund options.

Financial Topics That Many Service Members Do Not Understand

  • Important information contained on a Leave and Earnings Statement (LES)
  • How to balance a checkbook, including tracking debit card purchases and reconciling statement balances
  • The difference in cost between services on a military installation and “outside” after leaving military service
  • “Everything” and “they don’t know what they don’t know”

Military Journey Touchpoints Discussion

  • Touchpoint financial training from initial entry through transitioning out of military service reaches service members who would otherwise not visit PFM staff. Meetings clarify misperceptions and answer questions.
  • Touchpoints are “a step in the right direction” but are often reactive (vs. proactive) because touchpoint “trigger events” (e.g., marriage and birth of a child) have already happened before paperwork is received.

Indicators of PFM Success

  • Clients who leave a briefing or financial counseling session empowered after coming in confused or scared
  • Any step in the right direction that “moves the needle” for clients in a positive direction
  • “Small step successes” (e.g., saving 1% more of pay in the TSP or doubling credit card minimum payments)
  • When service members PCS and give PFM staffers their cell phone number to keep in touch
  • When service members publicly thank PFM staffers and refer others to the PFM office

Important “Wins” for PFM staff

  • When service members say they understand key concepts about a personal finance topic such as the TSP
  • When military leadership has PFM staff on “speed dial” because they respect the work that they do
  • When clients and former clients e-mail updates about their financial progress
  • When successful clients tell others about their financial success and serve as positive role models

Favorite Financial Education Resources

Among the resources mentioned were to request credit reports, Annual Limits Relating to Financial Planning, the Ibbotson/Morningstar Stocks, Bonds, Bills, and Inflation (SSBI) graph, the Money Dollar Sailor curriculum, USAA Foundation resources (if not restricted by contract), and

For additional information about AFCPE Symposium content, visit