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Olivia Pierce, manager of the financial readiness program with Army Community Service, advocates a written spend plan or budget that gives every single dollar a job.

“It is only human nature for us to contemplate and think and ponder before we finally move toward something,” Pierce said at the Team Redstone Financial Symposium on March 9 at The Overlook. But not putting a budget in writing is “not going to do you any good.”

Pierce, a self-described “recovering over-spender,” said she relies on an old-fashioned pencil-and-paper spend plan and a digital tracking tool on her phone to make sure she doesn’t overspend.

“When we are building our spend plan, you are basically giving every dollar a job,” she said during the first session on spend planning. “You are hiring your money to work for you before that money even hits your bank account.”

For a spend plan to be successful, Pierce recommended revisiting and adjusting it as needed. Once it’s developed, “that doesn’t mean it stops there, it starts there. You’ve got to keep it going.”

Pierce said that a spend plan – like a succulent plant – must be nurtured.

“Like a budget, succulents can withstand some of the most extreme conditions until you neglect them,” she said. Succulents need more than a spray of water, but a good dredging of water about every two weeks.

“Same thing with your finances,” she said. “Just take a look at it once a month at least.

“Now what happens if we are not watering our plant properly? It dies. It starts talking to you before it dies, though. It starts browning and then you’re just lazy and you still do nothing about it.

“It’s the same with our finances,” Pierce said. “You get these signs that there’s something going on, I need to do something different with my money.”

Instead of procrastinating, though, “we have to start being more mindful about where we’re putting our money but, more so, how we’re spending our money because before you know it, that budget is blown.”

“We have a lot of folks here at Redstone Arsenal who are high income earners who have a negative net worth” by as much as a half-million dollars. “They’re raking it in but they’re buying, they’re spending beyond their means. They don’t have an earning problem, they have a spending problem.”

A licensed professional counselor, Pierce worked in the mental health system for 15 years with couples, individuals, even prisoners, and dealing with finances is “one of the top two stressors in our lives,” she said. Just like in therapy sessions, “I like to talk about solutions to the problem. Rather than focusing on the problem and magnifying the problem, let’s magnify the solutions.”

Those solutions: shedding light on the true numbers to know exactly where money is going, increasing financial knowledge through books and seminars, sharing information with family members to ensure everyone is “on the same page,” making behavioral changes, spending mindfully, and creating space for every expense instead of overcrowding spending categories, like lumping groceries and restaurant spending together.

Pierce said that financial knowledge brings accountability, motivation and encouragement.

“That’s why I keep reading financial books,” she said. “I keep reading over and over again ‘The Millionaire Next Door’ because it keeps me tethered. I want to retire at 50; seven more years and I’m there.”

Pierce suggested finding “extra pots of money.” A few examples are:

Adjusting tax withholdings. “Whether you’re wanting to pay down debt, whether you’re wanting to increase your savings, talk with a tax professional about how much you can adjust your taxes so that you don’t have to pay at the end of the year but also so that you don’t get this huge sum of money at the end of the year that you’re just going to spend.”

Altering variable expenses, those items that you have control over every month, like eating out and buying streaming services.

Pulling money from savings, instead of retirement, to get cash or to pay off a debt. “Leave all of your retirement money alone,” she said. “Don’t touch it. It’s there to earn that beautiful compound interest over time. Think of a TSP (Thrift Savings Plan) as your retirement layaway plan.” Pulling money from retirement to pay off a debt means “you’ve taken a short-term debt, made it a long-term debt and you’ve also taken that beautiful compound interest. It is a lose-lose situation.”

Unleash tax advantages, through a Thrift Savings Plan, a retirement savings and investment plan for federal employees and members of the uniformed services, and Flexible Savings Account.

Pierce also led sessions on lowering debt and building credit, getting prepared for retirement and financial empowerment, and Emily Baggett, an attorney in Redstone’s legal department, led a session on estate planning.

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