A few months ago, I had the privilege of interviewing my friend and financial blogger, Jen Hemphill. Now, I'd like to share the story of another friend of mine, Jai, who is a brand new military mom. Jai found out her son was joining the military just one year ago and now he's heading out on his first deployment. Jai sat down with me to discuss her thoughts, fears, and journey as her son embarks on his new path.
So your son is in the Navy now. How did you find out your son was joining?
He was in Lexington [KY] with his dad and he called me. Initially my response, if I'm being honest, was all these fears immediately popping into my head. You know, its obviously a wonderful opportunity to see the world and find mentors in the form of male leadership. But I thought about the many stories I had heard from friends and family, read in the news, you know?
But after a serious conversation and thinking about the idea that many male and female members of my family had joined the military, it made sense. I began to contemplate what that really meant for him and for me just as his mother. And ultimately it was a way for him to mature. A way for him to see the world. A way for him to be educated outside of a traditional secondary education platform. Because I understand that not everyone can take that dream. And so I just began to think of positive ways to encourage him as well as myself look into opportunities to research what it means to be in the military.
What made him choose the Navy over college?
Well, he tried a year of college but he really wasn't, for lack of a better term, feeling it. He was working as well, full time. And he explained to me that he just wasn't feeling like an active constituent in the college community.
And so his father one evening mentioned that he should go into the military. He thought about it, concluded that was a viable option. After talking to me I suggested that he talk with some family members who were still actively involved in the Navy. And from there, he decided that's what he wanted to do.
How has his first year been?
It's been interesting watching his journey through boot camp, which was really an eye opener for him. And being honest again, it made me nervous. I had great expectations, although realistically nothing was going to prepare me for that. But now he's gone through boot camp and graduated from training school and he's very comfortable where he is and excited about his first deployment.
Will this deployment be his first time abroad?
Yes, yes. Scary but also exciting. For a young man who may not have had the good opportunity to travel the world, this certainly provided that opportunity.
The military provides a lot of other opportunities as well, such as the GI Bill. Was that a factor in his decision to enlist?
I believe that played a real big role. We don't have a lot of money and it grows and grows the one thing, the idea of owing [student loan debt]. That can be a pretty heavy responsibility, especially when you aren't even sure what you want to do. And so, I think he thought if there is an opportunity to make money as well as go to school, that would make a huge difference.
Working for ReadyForZero, I can completely understand that fear. Student debt is very real. How else has his financial philosophy evolved since he enlisted?
He accumulated quite a bit of money before and unfortunately someone stole it out of his account. That really devastated him. But when he joined the military he started talking about savings again. He's investing in CD's and saving through his savings account. He also recognizes that they offer things like pension plans. Of all my children, I believe he's the most mindful of that. It was important for him to make sure he had something that would help him take care of himself.
Would you say that in his case, the military helped him regain that focus on his finances?
I think it's helped a little. Because you're working and creating it - a physical steady pay check. I also believe the strict discipline in the military on lifestyle helped. These habits he's forming outside of his responsibilities in the financial realm trickle down into that as well.
You mention that he's more focused on finances than your other children, but that you don't take the credit for his focus. If you had advice for other parents trying to help their kids out with finances though, what would it be?
Please make sure that you have honest conversation with them about money. Try to be as objective as possible. Because your situation may not be there. However, there are pearls of wisdom and advice to give them that they can hold onto. And if you're not informed, educate yourself. There's nothing more valuable to a child than watching a parent do the work. It's more important than talking the talk, but walking the walk. Make sure you lead by example, show that you're willing to learn from your mistakes and share them, the growth of knowledge from that.
Is there anything you wish you would have done differently?
I wish I had known a little more going in. I still feel I am learning as I am going along. I'm not meaning to push a plug, but there are real resources, like ReadyForZero, for those who may be intimidated by going into an educational program. I wish I had started looking into those things a little earlier on.
You know, there are far more options than filing bankruptcy. There's just so many ways one can do it. In this world, day and age, people are willing to work with you. Which hadn't always been the case. And so open communication and talk about the options you have. Providing clear understanding to those you owe will allow them to help you. Also, pay it back.
Have there been any resources that were especially useful to you throughout the process of your son joining the military?
Not specifically, but we're still trying to figure it out. But communicating is a big part. I'm still adjusting to the idea that when I text or call I'm not going to get an immediate answer. That adjustment has been really hard for someone who's used to being able to pop in whenever he's there.
I need to be assured that he's okay with where he is and the journey he's on. With his mental ability and the physical resources. All these things make me feel comfortable with where he is in this journey. And I know that he is prepared as anyone can be for the challenges that lie ahead.
It can't be easy to be a military mom - always carrying a combination of fear and pride, happiness that your child is accomplishing something so selfless and courageous while dealing with the fear of the unknown. Thank you to Jai and all the military moms (and dads, siblings, and spouses), who support their loved ones through this journey. I hope you enjoyed Jai's story as much as I enjoyed chatting with her!
Shannon McNay is the Community and Customer Support Manager at ReadyForZero, a website that helps people get out of debt faster on their own. Shannon focuses her writing on the ways our lives are impacted by our finances and vice versa - including finances in your relationship, finances in your career, and how to overcome the mental barriers to paying off debt. You can follow @ReadyForZero and @shannonmcnay on Twitter.