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MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Deanna Dlugiewicz, a community readiness technician at Misawa, can quickly tell you what the current gloomy economic climate means to the worldwide military community: "Finance is on everyone’s mind."

Dlugiewicz is coordinating this year’s Military Saves program for the base, part of the Defense Department’s stated effort to "persuade, motivate, and encourage military families to save money every month." While most bases held their Military Saves programs last week, Misawa opted to delay a week because of a previously scheduled exercise.

Although she’s focusing on Misawa’s program, running Monday through Friday, her message is universal militarywide.

"We say financial readiness equals mission readiness," she said. "If military members are not financially ready, the mission will not be possible."

Officials suggest that people seek financial assistance on their bases, and not just during Military Saves week. At Misawa, and other Air Force bases, that means going to the Airman and Family Readiness Center. Dlugiewicz’s own advice to those seeking to get rid of debt and build savings? Stop using credit cards and develop a spending plan.

She recommends starting slow: "What can we do with this paycheck?" she’ll ask.

At an overseas location like Misawa, where accompanied families arrive on three-year tours, it’s easy to put off beginning a spending plan, she said.

When people tell her they’ll start it later, she replies that "tomorrow never comes," because when it does, "it’s today." In other words, start paying off debt and start saving now.

She also reminds them that they will not always have the overseas cost-of-living allowance that fattens paychecks in high-cost areas like Japan.

She’s found a powerful online ally at https://powerpay.org/. It’s one of the tools she uses daily, but is free to anyone who visits the Web site. Users input all of their debt, including balances and interest rates, and the program shows them the best path for paying it off.

Dlugiewicz said she’s found it would take most people she counsels 15 years to pay their debts, because they’re paying the minimum each month.

When PowerPay shows them a plan for getting out of debt in three years, she said, there’s a lot of excitement.

"They’re like, ‘Yeah, I want to do that,’ " she said. And that means they’re more "excited about committing to a spending plan."

She also stresses that troops should take advantage of the DOD Savings Deposit Program, which allows those deployed to hazardous duty zones to deposit up to $10,000 in a savings account that earns a 10 percent annual interest rate, compounded quarterly. More information is available at http://www.dfas.mil/army2/investmentoptions/savingsdepositprogramsdp.html.

It’s a huge benefit, Dlugiewicz said, especially when compared to the 3.5 percent to 5 percent interest rates troops would find at commercial banks.

The Savings Deposit Program shouldn’t be confused with the military’s Thrift Savings Program, which she also recommends.

She also urges people to take advantage of other 401(k)-type opportunities. Troops’ spouses who take local base employment should enroll in a 401(k) if it’s available, she said, even if they don’t intend a full career with the employer.

"A lot of people don’t know you can take it with you," she said of the funds deposited into those accounts. She explained that the money can be rolled over into another account.

Financial responsibility should be a part of daily life, she said, including even something as simple as putting coupons to work at the commissary.

People should ask themselves "how can we save overall?" she said. "Reduce a little bit here and there so we can save even more."

Military Saves, launched in 2007, was created by nonprofit sponsor Consumer Federation of America and the Defense Department. For more information visit www.militarysaves.org.

Military Saves schedule of events

Airman and Family Readiness Center officials at Misawa Air Base have partnered with the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, USA Federal Credit Union, the Defense Commissary Agency and Community Bank to celebrate this year’s Military Saves week. Events include:

Monday — 10 a.m. kickoff program in the AAFES BX foyer with 35th Fighter Wing commander Col. David Stilwell

Tuesday — “Savings Basic Day” briefing by Community Bank at 10 a.m. in the AFRC; “Homebuyer Education Class” at 6 p.m. in the Mokuteki community center.

Wednesday — “Protect Yourself Against Identity Theft” briefing by Air Force Office of Special Investigations at 10 a.m. in the AFRC; “Savings Accounts for Youth” briefing by Community Bank at 3:30 p.m. in the Youth Center; “Foreclosure Avoidance” briefing from 4 to 6:30 p.m. in the Mokuteki.

Thursday — “Basic Investing” briefing by USA Federal Credit Union at 10 a.m. in the AFRC.

All week — A daily raffle will be held during the American Forces Network’s morning show, and a “Super Saver” contest will be held to see who can save the most money with coupons at the commissary. To enter the drawing, fill out a “Save Pledge” card and put it in one of the drop boxes around the base.

— T.D. Flack

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