Active-duty service members, veterans, and their loved ones have difficulties specific to their lifestyles. There are considerations that many civilians don’t have to make. Among the challenges, finances top the list. Through the hard work and dedication of one veteran, things are getting easier for some military members. Dr. Ann James, AFC®, founder of Financial Freedom Battle Buddies, makes it her mission to empower other brave women off the field. She helps them make smart money decisions that set them up for long-term financial security and a less stressful life.
How challenge leads to change
James didn’t want to burden her mother with the financial implications of college. So, she followed in her brother’s footsteps and enlisted in the Air Force. She left for basic training at age 18 and was stationed in Italy. James married, became a mother, and then found herself as a single mom. Soon after, her daughter was diagnosed with Autism. James knew something had to change. And with mounting financial responsibilities, she continued her careers, earning commission as a financial officer. She toured in Iraq and retired in 2011 as a Captain. Her 21-year military careers contains a broad range of experiences.
She wanted to use her skills and passion for helping others. James put her Montgomery GI Bill to work and received a Doctorate in Education in 2017. “While I was in the military,” James says, “I loved 2 things: teaching and all things money. So, I figured, why not try to start a business that combines the two — and that’s what I did. When I transitioned out [of the Air Force], I wanted to change the narrative and show how veterans can have a successful transition if they planned early enough and got their financial houses in order.”
Why it matters
We all struggle financially. What makes the needs of women, specifically those in the military, so unique and urgent? James explains:
“While the exposure may be increasing, I feel that the needs of women who are serving or have served in the military are often overlooked. The need is even greater when you’re raising a child who requires extra care. As a single parent, living off one income is hard enough, but throw in the extra responsibility and associated costs of raising a child with special needs into the mix and things can get overwhelming and spiral of out control quickly.”
The support that Financial Freedom Battle Buddies provides is both actionable and accessible. James hopes that the accountability sought through the program builds a legacy of financial empowerment instead of debt. James has “walked the walk” making her the ideal candidate to “talk the talk.” She’s paid off over $24,000 of her own consumer debt, as well as $300,000 in mortgage debt. She now owns two homes free and clear.
Her life experience and education makes her a great role model for veterans. She has accreditation from the Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education (AFCPE) and takes part in ongoing education and certification programs. This adds a personal touch to her consulting while keeping on top of industry changes and new opportunities for her clients.
Seek to understand your unique financial needs
There is quite a bit of financial chatter and advice online today. It’s sometimes hard for anyone – especially veterans – to cut through the noise to get to the heart of what matters. James challenges people to move beyond basic financial solutions ( i.e. creating a budget) and go towards the “why” behind improving their finances.
“What are the true reasons behind your willingness to now make a change? Are you sick and tired of being broke? As a parent of a special needs child, do you not ever want your child to have to depend on the government to take care of them when you’re no longer on this earth? The answers to these types of deep questions will help you stay the course when times get difficult.”
This, she says, will eventually lead to sustainable financial transformation.
Inspiration for other entrepreneurs
With Financial Freedom Battle Buddies, James isn’t just hopeful about the finances of other veterans– she understands the opportunities that arise for those wanting to start a business, too. What advice does she have for veterans looking to follow in her footsteps?
“I know it’s scary, but take that leap of faith and just do it. I can guarantee that by serving in the military, you have done things that are more dangerous than starting a business.”
She also emphasizes that it’s not necessary to reinvent the wheel, and that it is OK to find someone doing something you’d like to do, then personalize that service or offering to make it your own. James reminds us that it’s vital to seek out help when needed. “As my mom always says, ‘a closed mouth doesn’t get fed.'”
James recognizes how the military makes significant financial investments in training service members and she challenges potential business owners to consider it as an opportunity to make a profit and help others simultaneously. “Why not turn it around and use it for the benefit of not only ourselves, but as a way of continuing to be of service to our country?” she asks.
Owning a business comes with its own inevitable problems. It’s important that those pursuing their dream understand that everyone goes through doubt. James echoes those concerns and admits it takes a balance of grit and humility. “I had fears and still do till this day,” she shares. “However, I rely on my faith that whatever God has for me is for me. I also seek mentoring from those that have been doing this longer than me. Being an entrepreneur is a totally different mindset shift for me, so I have to rely on the help and support of others that came before me.”