Content provided courtesy of USAA.
The end of the year is a time to reflect — to listen to your most-played songs on Spotify, watch your Facebook year-in-review and purge the list of people you follow on Instagram — but it’s also an ideal time to set financial goals for the year ahead.
While many New Year’s goals involve money (for example, a “healthy eating” resolution can include eating out less, cooking more and spending less money overall on food), other kinds of goals are solely focused on financial readiness. These are the kinds of goals that will get you on the path to financial wellness and can lead to building wealth!
Matthew Angel, Advice Director of Personal Finance at USAA, reminds us that achieving goals starts by “breaking your goal down into its smallest components — like playing a video game. With a game, you don’t start with the hardest puzzle. You start with the easiest, celebrate your win, and then move on to the next level.”
Ready to set financial goals for the new year, but not sure where to start? In this two-part series, we’ll first help you figure out how to create financial goals that hit the sweet spot between “pie in the sky” dreaming versus the kind of task you might find on a daily checklist. In part two, we’ll explore how to set financial goals tailored to your age or stage in life.
What Makes a Good Goal?
The best goals are SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-based. It’s a simple acronym to turn what might otherwise be vague goal-setting into an actionable plan with real results.
Specific goals should be well-defined and focused so they not only address the what, but also the why. This is one of the most important ways to set financial goals that can be broken down into clear next steps. For example, “Start a college tuition account for my eldest child” is more specific than “send my kids to college,” because it’s easier to see how the first goal can trigger a clear next step (visit a financial institution to start a college savings account) than the second.
When it comes to setting specific financial goals, don’t just use your words: get visual! As Angel suggests, “Print out a picture of where you want to go or what you want to do, and put it on the refrigerator as a visual reminder of the goal you want to achieve.” Plus, a high-traffic spot like the fridge will issue a constant reminder, keeping your goal top of mind and boosting motivation to help you stick to it.
Measurable goals are trackable goals, meaning they include metrics that will indicate how you will measure progress. And tracking your progress helps you feel more in control, which is especially important when you set financial goals, which can often feel intimidating. When setting financial goals, think about how you might measure progress, like: exactly how much money are you going to set aside each week, or month, to save for a future college fund, new home, or retirement? Think about it — achieving a goal without a measurable outcome is like tracking weight loss without a scale. The numbers simply won’t add up!
Here’s an example from Matthew Angel on goal measurement: Say you’re a 24-year-old single, enlisted male with a dream of visiting Europe in the next year. Angel advises that one way to make your goal measurable is to “…attach a number and then work your way backward toward the amount you need to save. So, if your trip will cost $5,000 and you want to travel in the next calendar year — do the math! $5000 divided by 12 months equals saving about $420 per month. Want to speed things up? The more money you save each month, the sooner you get to go on your trip.”
Attainable goals are achievable. Set yourself up for success by creating motivation momentum through pinpointing small (but regular) milestones along the way toward a larger change. Modest successes can have a big impact on confidence, which can be the fuel you need to keep going, especially if your financial goals are long-term in nature. One example of an attainable goal? Eliminate or reduce one spending habit in January, then start contributing that amount to your 401k in February. Even if the amount is not huge, the impact this has on developing new behavioral habits is definitely big and may help you challenge yourself to find another spending category to cut down in March to increase contributions in April.
Another way to set financial goals that are attainable is through accountability: communicate your goal to someone else. “If you have a spouse or significant other, it’s so important that you share your goal with that person,” says Angel. “And even if you’re single, it can be helpful to tell someone. Because one, it helps you stay honest; and two, it’s someone you share financial responsibilities with, you’re going to have to work together to achieve whatever your goal might be.”
Relevant goals are based on the current conditions and realities of your life: the right here and right now. Goals that don’t take into account the factors that directly and indirectly impact your life today (like your current job, family situation and financial status) might require major lifestyle changes to even get started, which can impede your momentum and seriously derail your confidence.
Over the years, Angel has learned that, “If you go really fast without thinking about what you’re doing, or how you’re going to do it, often times that won’t lead to the profit or the success that you’re looking for in the long term.” In other words, it’s more important that you accept and observe the reality of your current situation to set financial goals that are relevant to when you’ll make your first step.
Time-based goals have deadlines. If your goals are too open-ended, it’s likely they can drag on indefinitely, especially if you’re prone to procrastination. Of course, it’s important to have flexibility (because life happens), but make sure when you set financial goals that you’re giving yourself a specific period of time. That way, you can break up a time range into beginning, middle and end stages so you can schedule milestones to accomplish certain tasks, check in to make sure you’re still on track, or if life throws you a serious curveball, deciding whether your goals should be revised or reworked altogether.
For example: if you are trying to save $5,000 for a vacation by December, but suddenly lose your job in March, it might be better to put that savings plan on pause in case you need those funds to go towards paying essential bills while you find another job.
Check out this example of a SMART goal to get started: "Starting in January, I will automatically deduct $500 each month into a savings account in order to build a $6,000 emergency fund balance by next January.”
The attack lasted less than two hours but the scars remain 76 years after the day that changed the world. American Legion National Commander Denise H. Rohan placed her hands in the bullet holes and shrapnel marks left by Japanese pilots upon the old Hickam barracks, which has since been converted into the headquarters for Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.
“Seeing and feeling those holes brought home the fact that this isn’t just a part of ancient history but a massive and surprise attack that was witnessed by survivors that are still with us today,” Rohan said. “We owe it to them to ensure that America remains strong and vigilant so that we will not have to fight another world war to keep the freedom that they so bravely defended.”
Rohan placed a wreath on the USS Arizona Memorial, a monument built directly above the ship’s wreckage. “Even today, you can see the oil seeping from the USS Arizona,” Rohan said. “It’s often called the tears of the Arizona. When you think of the families who lost loved ones and the crew who watched their comrades die, you can understand the sadness. But with the sadness came hope and resolve like the world had never seen before.”
One person who never lost hope after Pearl Harbor was British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, according to Pulitzer Prize winning author Steve Twomey.
“For the first time in two years of war, (Churchill) felt England would live. Pearl Harbor had given him a partner, a full reliable game-changing partner,” Twomey said during his keynote address at the National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day Commemoration in Hawaii.
The isolationist sentiment in the United States vanished immediately after the attack.
“At the time, people were anti-war. They were pacificists,” said Charles Van Valkenburgh, a California Legionnaire who attended the commemoration. “If not for an event like Pearl Harbor, I don’t know that we would have joined the war against the Axis Powers. Even today it gets me emotional.”
Van Valkenburgh’s emotions are understandable. His grandfather, Franklin Van Valkenburgh, was the captain of the USS Arizona and earned the Medal of Honor posthumously for defending his ship until the very end.
“Stay vigilant because it only takes moments for an aggressor to change the world and it’s our responsibility to ensure it never happens again,” the younger Van Valkenburg said.
In a tribute to the fallen and the few remaining Pearl Harbor survivors that were in attendance, Adm. Scott H. Swift stressed the determination and bravery that abounded among the military during the attack.
“Within the chaos that morning there was no shortage of bravery, as sailors, soldiers, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen overcame shock, uncertainty and fear in the heat of battle to find something greater within themselves: a grim determination to survive and an unwavering resolve to fight,” Swift said at the commemoration. “Unsurprisingly, in my experience, none of these heroes considers themselves as such: they all say they were just doing their job.”
Rohan, who was joined by American Legion Auxiliary National President Diane Duscheck, Auxiliary National Executive Director Mary “Dubbie” Buckler, Sons of The American Legion National Commander Danny Smith and Legionnaires from the Department of Hawaii, also visited the USS Oklahoma Memorial, the USS Utah Memorial and the National Cemetery of the Pacific during her visit to the Aloha state.
American Legion Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Division Deputy Director Gerardo Avila will testify before the House Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs on Dec. 13 at 10 a.m. The hearing, “Pre-Discharge Claims Programs: Are VA and DoD Effectively Serving Separating Military Personnel?,” will be streamed live. Watch the testimony here.
This oversight hearing will examine how the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs are managing the Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES) and VA’s pre-discharge programs for separating servicemembers.
The American Legion continues to focus on the many challenges facing today’s transitioning servicemembers. The IDES program, while not perfect, has been helpful in reducing the number of days it takes to complete the medical board process, which has drastically reduced the gap from separation date to receipt of benefits. The American Legion supports the idea of having one compensation & pension (C&P) exam and rating decision with the results being accepted by both VA and DoD.
While improvements have been made, The American Legion still has concerns. These include DoD rating individuals placed on the Temporary Disability Retirement List, and a lack of available resources by members of the National Guard and reserves undergoing the IDES process at their home station.
On Dec. 16, remembrance wreaths will be laid on the graves of America's fallen veterans throughout the country and overseas as part of National Wreaths Across America Day. The mission of the program is to "remember our fallen U.S. veterans, honor those who serve, and teach children the value of freedom."
This year, 1.2 million wreaths will be laid on veterans' gravesites in more than 1,200 locations. This includes the more than 200,000 wreaths that will be placed at Arlington National Cemetery.
American Legion posts and Legion Family members will participate in this annual wreath-laying program. Posts can share their wreath-laying stories on the Legion's web page www.legiontown.org.
For more information about Wreaths Across America, visit www.wreathsacrossamerica.org. For all social media postings, use the hashtag #WreathsAcrossAmericaDay.
Former American Legion Baseball players Jack Morris and Alan Trammell became the 73rd and 74th Legion Baseball alums elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
In the last five years, 11 American Legion Baseball alums have been inducted into Cooperstown.
The longtime Detroit Tiger teammates earned the honor on Dec. 10, through the 16-member Modern Era Committee, which held deliberations and balloting this weekend at the Winter Meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
Morris had the most wins of any pitcher in the 1980s, 216, and made five All-Star appearances in his career. He also won four World Series rings, including three straight from 1991-1993.
The right-hander played Legion Baseball for St. Paul, Minn., Christie de Parcq, competing against fellow Hall of Famers Dave Winfield and Paul Molitor.
Morris was the 1991 World Series Most Valuable Player for his hometown Minnesota Twins.
Trammell spent his entire 20-year career as a member of the Detroit Tigers, amassing 2,365 hits, 185 home runs and 1,003 RBIs.
A six-time All-Star, Trammell led the Tigers to the 1984 World Series title, earning the World Series MVP in the process. Known for his stellar defense, Trammell earned four Gold Gloves.
Trammell was named the 1989 American Legion Baseball Graduate of the Year and played Legion Baseball in his hometown of San Diego.
The two players will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on July 29, 2018, along with any additional inductees voted upon by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America in January.
For a full list of American Legion Baseball players in Cooperstown, click here.
The American Legion and several other veterans service organizations (VSOs) recently delivered more than 180,000 signed petitions to Congress that urges lawmakers to pass bipartisan legislation that will expand caregiver benefits for all disabled veterans under the Department of Veterans Affairs Comprehensive Caregiver Assistance Program. The bill, which the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs passed on Nov. 29 by a 14-1 vote, would help improve existing health care and services provided under the VA by expanding eligibility for veterans of all generations, including Vietnam-era servicemembers. It would also provide permanent, streamlined access to health care and services with a new Veterans Community Care Program.
The petitions were delivered during a press conference on Dec. 6 at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. VSO representatives spoke about the importance of ensuring equal benefits to veterans of all generations. House and Senate leaders, including sponsors of the Caring for Our Veterans Act of 2017, were also present to voice their support and celebrate the bill’s passage last week in the Senate VA committee.
“Far too many veterans and their caregivers have been denied access to VA’s comprehensive caregivers benefits for the wrong reason,” said American Legion National Legislative Deputy Director Derek Fronabarger. “The American Legion believes eligibility for veterans’ benefits should not be based on when a veteran served, but rather how they served and their physical and mental condition upon returning home.”
“As the daughter of a World War II veteran who visits with veterans in my home state of Washington, I have seen firsthand the vital role that caregivers fulfill,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., a senior Senate VA committee member who is the bill’s lead sponsor. “It is impossible to overstate the value of having a family member or a loved one, by your side, while overcoming an illness or coping with an injury.
“The sacrifice that many caregivers make to provide vital day-to-day care for our wounded veterans often goes unnoticed. Taking care of our veterans means taking care of the caregivers who help make their recovery possible.”
Under VA’s current Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers, only veterans who served on or after 9/11 are eligible for enhanced support. The Caring for Our Veterans Act seeks to provide caregiver benefits to veterans injured before May 7, 1975. Veterans who were injured between 1975 and 2001 would be eligible two years after this bill is enacted.
“We made a promise to care for our brave men and women when they return home from war – that includes supporting our caregivers,” Murray said. “We cannot stop until we get this done.”
Fronabarger said the nation should not and cannot treat veterans differently based only on their service. He said that withholding caregiver benefits of those who served before 9/11 is not giving them the respect and dignity they deserve.
“It is our hope to correct a serious flaw in the original caregiver legislation by removing the discriminatory barriers that prevent some of our nation’s most deserving veterans, and their caregivers, from receiving the comprehensive assistance they have earned,” he said. “The American Legion supports any responsible legislation that expands caregiver support to all veterans.”
“Caregivers are true partners in the delivery of health care to veterans and they deserve quality support,” said Rep. Ryan Costello, R-Penn. “It is time that we expand this program to veterans of all generations.”
The Caring for Our Veterans Act is now awaiting a vote in the full Senate. If passed, the bill would provide about $4 billion for the Veterans Choice Fund and create standards for timely payment to community care providers.
“Often, caregivers put their lives on hold to provide full-time assistance to the veteran. This can take an immense toll on families, relationships, bank accounts and the health and well-being of caregivers,” said Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., SVAC’s ranking member who introduced the bill. “We cannot rest easy until our efforts to expand the VA’s caregiver support program comes to fruition. Republicans, democrats and independents must continue to work together to get this legislation across the finish line and signed into law.”
The 118th Army-Navy game came down to a last-second field goal attempt in swirling, snowy conditions Saturday in Philadelphia. Two false start penalties pushed Navy back, forcing kicker Bennett Moehring to try a 48-yard field goal with just 0:03 left.
Moehring’s attempt had just enough height to clear the cross bar, but it drifted outside the left upright by less than a foot, giving Army a 14-13 victory, its second consecutive win against Navy. It is the fourth time the two teams have played a one-point game. Army has won them all.
With the victory, Army (9-3) won the Commander-in-Chief's trophy for the first time since 1996. Earlier in the season, Army defeated Air Force 21-0.
"It means a lot," said Army co-captain and quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw, who led Army with 94 rushing yards and the game winning touchdown. "We've been working toward this since I've gotten here (at West Point). We talk about it every day, and it's the biggest accomplishment we've had so far."
"I'm so proud of this team, this guy (Bradshaw)," said Army Head Coach Jeff Monken. "What a leader, what a competitor. And this whole team, (I'm) just so proud. As a coach and as a program you want to be able to overcome the adversity that faces you. To have group of guys as resilient as ours that believe – there was never a moment they thought we weren't going to win the game. We had the drive to take the lead and got the stops we needed right there at the end. It was a great day to celebrate this team and all they've done."
After taking the lead on the first possession of the game, the Black Knights found themselves trailing 13-7 with less than 13 minutes left in the game. Starting on the Army 35, Bradshaw finally got untracked, logging runs of 12, 12 and 9 yards. With Bradshaw sharing the running duties with Andy Davidson and Darnell Woolfolk, Army continued a relentless advance that led them to a second-and-goal situation on the Navy 9.
Bradshaw then rolled to the left and surprised everyone with a pitch – his first of the game – to running back John Trainor, who turned and dashed up the left sideline only to be knocked out of bounds less than a yard from the end zone. On the next play, Bradshaw pushed straight ahead for the touchdown and the ensuing PAT gave Army the lead.
"It was just a quarterback sneak," Bradshaw said. "I don't think I would've gotten in (the end zone) without my fullback and offensive line. The Navy defense did a great job all day stopping us inside."
With 5:10 remaining, the game came down to Army’s defense versus Navy’s offense. "I told (the defense) 'This is the ball game. We've got to make a play and win'," Monken said. "The game was on the line we just made enough plays."
Army struggled to contain Navy quarterback Malcolm Perry, who ran for a game-high 250 yards and one touchdown on 30 carries. Under Perry's leadership, the Navy running attack advanced from its own 35 to the Army 23 as the seconds ticked down. But Evan Martin was called for a false start, sending the Midshipmen back to the Army 28 and two plays later Tyler Carmona was whistled for the same infraction, leaving Navy with a third-and-16 on the Army 31 with just three seconds left. Navy had no choice but to try for the field goal by Moehring, who had made two earlier in the game.
The season is not over for either team. Army faces San Diego State in the Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth, Texas, on Dec. 23, while Navy plays Virginia in the Military Bowl on Dec. 28 at Annapolis, Md.
On Dec. 7, The American Legion and several other veterans service organizations sent a letter to U.S. Senate leadership, urging passage of S. 2193, the Caring for Our Veterans Act of 2017. The legislation would build on current community care programs by putting an end to arbitrary standards for when veterans may receive community care and by consolidating the disparate community care programs into one program. The intention is to remove confusion over when and how veterans can access community care doctors, and ensure VA remains the coordinator of care for veterans regardless if care is delivered at VA medical facilities or through community care providers.
The letter comes on the heels of The American Legion, and other VSO representatives and members of Congress joining together Dec. 6 for a Capitol Hill press conference to urge Congress to pass a bill expanding caregiver benefits to veterans injured before 9/11. The group presented Congress with more than 180,000 petitions calling for expansion of the benefits.
The full text of the Dec. 7 letter follows.
Dear Majority Leader McConnell and Minority Leader Schumer:
On behalf of the millions of veterans we represent, and all veterans who use the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care system, we write to urge you to take whatever actions are necessary to swiftly bring to the floor and pass S. 2193, the Caring for Our Veterans Act of 2017, bipartisan legislation approved by the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs last week to improve and modernize the care America provides her veterans.
The brave men and women who have worn our nation’s uniform must have timely access to high-quality, comprehensive and veteran-centric care. The majority of our members rely on VA to provide such care, but understand that VA must turn to private sector partners when it is not able to reasonably meet the demand for care in its health system. This legislation would build on current community care programs by putting an end to arbitrary standards for when veterans may receive community care and by consolidating the disparate community care programs into one program. In doing so, this legislation would remove confusion over when and how veterans can access community care doctors, and ensure VA remains the coordinator of care for veterans regardless if care is delivered at VA medical facilities or through community care providers.
We are pleased this legislation would empower veterans and their health care providers to work together to determine when and where veterans should receive care based on access and quality measures. This approach is also very similar to VA’s Veterans Coordinated Access and Rewarding Experiences (CARE) plan, which was developed with direct input from major veterans service organizations. The bill would ensure certain community care doctors are trained to provide veteran-centric care that abides by VA’s best practices and clinical practice guidelines. Importantly, this legislation would ensure VA does not rush implementation of the new and improved community care program by funding the current Choice Program through the end of fiscal year 2018. It also consolidates future community care funding within one discretionary appropriations account to end the current dual-funding process which has led to numerous community care funding shortfalls and veterans being denied access to community care.
The legislation would also give veterans the opportunity to access walk-in clinics throughout the country to fill the gap between costly emergency room care and waiting for ambulatory care. However, it does not protect a covered veteran from paying out-of-pocket fees for service-connected illnesses and injuries. We call on Congress to make certain veterans are not charged copayments for illnesses and injuries related to their military service.
Additionally, this legislation includes important provisions to strengthen the VA health care system and expand its ability to provide direct care to our nation’s veterans, while preserving VA foundational services not accommodated in the private sector. It would expand and improve VA’s graduate medical education, loan repayment and residency programs to ensure VA is able to recruit and retain high-quality health care professionals. It also includes much-needed supplemental appropriations to expand and improve VA’s capital infrastructure and authorizes VA health care professionals to practice telemedicine across state lines to ensure veterans, particularly those in rural settings, have convenient access to virtual health care.
Finally, we strongly support Title III of the legislation which would extend VA’s comprehensive caregiver benefits to veterans of all eras. The legislation would finally correct a serious inequity between veterans who served before September 11, 2001 and their post-9/11 comrades, who believe the caregivers of pre-9/11 veterans must have access to comprehensive caregiver services that are fully funded and properly managed. As this legislation moves through the Senate and into conference discussions with the House, we urge you to ensure this critical caregiver equity provision remains part of the final legislation.
We ask that you work together to secure Senate passage of the Caring for Our Veterans Act of 2017 before the end of the year so the House and Senate Committees on Veterans’ Affairs are given enough time to reach a final agreement before funding for the Choice Program is depleted again. Failure to do so would deprive veterans access to the high-quality care they have earned and deserve. We look forward to working with you and all members of the Senate to ensure swift passage of this important, bipartisan and comprehensive legislation.
The U.S. Supreme Court recently refused to consider a legal challenge to a Nebraska law restricting funeral protests – a law that a former American Legion Rider is credited for helping get passed.
Nebraska State Sen. Bob Krist has publicly praised Bob “Corndog” Swanson, who died last May in a motorcycle accident, for his role in getting the bill through the state legislature. Krist was the chief sponsor of the 2011 bill, which expanded the buffer zone between funerals and protesters from 300 to 500 feet. The original legislation, passed in 2006, was done in reaction to the Westboro Baptist Church protesting the funerals of fallen military personnel.
Swanson – a member and past commander of Omaha Post 1, as well as a Patriot Guard Rider – worked on the original piece of legislation in 2006 with Sen. Mike Friend that established a 300-foot buffer between the protestors and those attending the funeral.
The protests continued, however, which Krist said was “unacceptable to (Swanson).” Krist and Swanson looked at the legislation, did constitutional research and then began crafting a bill to increase the buffer.
“Bob came to testify with several other (Patriot Guard) Riders … at the committee hearing,” Krist said. “He helped orchestrate that kind of testimony, giving real-life experiences and how discourteous and how much (Westboro Baptist) efforts had disrupted very sacred times for most families. I couldn’t have asked for a better partner in that whole thing. He was a big part of both the first bill in Nebraska and then the upgraded distances that we did later on.”
In addition to his efforts with the funeral protest bill, Swanson also worked with Krist to get signs honoring all five branches of the military placed at every rest stop along Interstate 80 in Nebraska. The signs read "Nebraska honors our troops. Thank you for your service”; the design for the signs came from Swanson, who also raised money for the project.
“(Swanson) just felt it very important to recognize the people that served in the armed forces,” Krist said. “He was just, to me, an amazing individual who believed so much in this country and the people who served in defense of the country."
Swanson also had the idea to place an empty chair at Werner Park, the baseball home of the Omaha Storm Chasers, that honors U.S. prisoners of wars and missing in action.
And Swanson also was the force behind the development of the Legion Riders in Nebraska, helping organize 39 chapters across the state. A street along Post 1 in Omaha is named for Swanson.
John ‘Hammer’ Hanzlik, road captain for Omaha Post 1, first met Swanson during a gas stop. Swanson shared the Riders’ mission, and Hanzlik ended up going on a ride to Sioux City for a veterans memorial dedication the next day.
“That trip is how I ended up road captain for the ALR at Post 1,” Hanzlik said. “Bob was the man to ask about anything veteran or Legion. (There’s) so much respect we all have for him.”