RAF ALCONBURY — Americans, whether they are living in Florida or stationed in the United Kingdom, like to spend money. The trouble is, many spend more than they earn and back themselves into what Pat Miller calls “credit card hell.”

The community readiness consultant at this rural American installation understands the tendencies of the airmen she aims to help. That’s why she’s selective in the way she frames her services.

“I don’t like the word ‘budget’; it’s too much like the word ‘diet’ and nobody wants to be on a diet,” she said. “I like ‘spending plan.’ Spending plan allows you to spend — just not everything.”

Miller, who has been helping airmen manage their finances for more than a decade, recently received an award from the American Financial Counseling and Planning Education organization for a system she devised to train fellow readiness consultants to help airmen keep control of their hard-earned money.

The system was converted into a computer program that soon will be rolled out to all community readiness consultants across U.S. Air Forces in Europe.

She said the toughest aspect of her job is building trust with her clients, who often are reluctant to discuss what they consider to be private financial matters with a relative stranger.

Commiserating with airmen about their financial predicaments is often the best way to earn their trust.

“I have been to credit card hell,” she said. “I know what it’s like to be married to an E4 and to have no money and need milk two days before payday. I’ve walked down that road.”

Once airmen and their families open up and heed her advice, good things usually happen.

“A lot of what we do is reality checks,” she said. “I ask people to write down all the money they spend. It’s not real until you write it down.”

Invariably, clients return to her office astounded by their hitherto-unknown spending habits.

“They are always amazed,” she said. “They say ‘I had no idea I was spending that much.’”

Once people have a handle on what they spend, Miller dispenses her straightforward advice.

First, she said, it’s important that airmen are saving at least 10 percent of their income. You should always have an emergency fund of at least $500, she advises.

Second, dump the credit cards.

“Once you establish credit, you should pay off the cards and get rid of them,” she said.

And always avoid private label credit cards from specific stores, she said. They often charge an average of 18 percent interest.

Plus, be sure to check your credit report at least once a year.

“We encourage people to get a free credit report and clean it up,” she said. “I haven’t found one credit report yet that didn’t have at least one error.”

But she’s not out to bash all credit cards.

“Credit cards are not necessarily evil if they are handled properly,” she said.

Still, her biggest joy is helping folks rid themselves of debt.

“There is an enormous power to becoming debt-free,” she said. “You can begin to save for the future and live without fear of debt hanging over you.”

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