Shay Tull-Cook knows firsthand how much help vets need with managing their personal finances. Growing up as the child of an Army serviceman and now as a military spouse, inspired her to help veterans and active service members manage their money more effectively.
“I’ve never been away from the military,â€ says Shay, now 34.
The Maryland resident has dedicated much of her career to providing military financial education. In May 2007, Shay was accepted to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) Foundation Military Spouse Fellowship Program, which provided support that enabled her to attain the Accredited Financial Counselor designation. It allows her to provide financial counseling to active-duty soldiers, veterans, and their family members.
Shay and her husband, Nathaniel, can personally relate to the challenges faced by new veterans. Nathaniel served in the Air Force for eight years (he is now medically retired from the military as of 2007), so the family had to follow a strict budget after his retirement, especially since they no longer received the military’s cost-of-living allowance for housing.
“Before Nathaniel completed his last assignment with the military in Turkey, we paid off all outstanding debt so that we were set up for civilian life,â€ says Shay.
Nathaniel later took on a civilian job with the Navy in 2007. Shay believes the key to a successful civilian life is discipline.
“We make saving a priority, and we don’t carry a lot of credit card debt. Two things I emphasize to my clients is to save and keep debt low,â€ says Shay, who has more than 12 months of emergency savings.
Shay’s crusade to educate military members about finance includes providing financial counseling and education at the Walter Reed Financial Readiness program, as well as working with Wounded Warriors, a program that provides, among other services, financial counseling and education to veterans who were hurt in battle.
“One of my specialties is providing credit-report counseling,â€ says Shay.
Most recently, as a program manager in the United States Coast Guard Office of Work-Life, Shay oversees five programs, including the personal financial management and deployment readiness programs. Shay says the greatest need among new veterans is guidance in the areas of budgeting as well as credit and debt management.
While financial education programs fill a great need, Shay stresses the importance of preparing for civilian life well before separation from the military.
“After that, there aren’t as many resources available,â€ she says.