Aiming For Financial Readiness

Maj. Frank Davis of Stockbridge, Georgia, knows what it’s like to sit in an airplane and see a missile soar by. He spent a year, from July 2003 to July 2004, in the Middle East, serving mostly in Kuwait with sporadic duty in Iraq.

Although the logistics staff officer is well aware of how much precision counts on the battlefield, he’s just learning how much tactical maneuvering is required to get his family’s finances together. There’s also a sense of urgency: Davis, 35, is scheduled to return to Iraq any time between February and April for six months or possibly a year.

“Everything is considered combat. It’s dangerous there,” says Davis, a bomb squad pro who disposes of explosives and figures out the logistics for getting troops their ammunition. “You never know what will happen. It’s hard to know who’s a good guy and who isn’t. You’re driving on the road and a vehicle pulls up–you don’t know their intent.”

The constant exposure to life threatening danger has changed Davis’ priorities. “I have a new appreciation for life and for my family,” he says.

The No. 1 priority for Davis is making sure his wife, Priscilla, 33, and daughters Jordyn, 9, and Xaria, 3, are taken care of should he not return home. The couple especially wants to ensure that their daughters have enough money to pay for college.

Reaching those goals will be a challenge. Davis is the sole breadwinner, earning roughly $84,000 a year. Priscilla is a stay-at-home mother who plans to attend Georgia Medical Institute, to study as a pharmacy technician, later this year. She will work part time and hopes to add $900 to $1,000 monthly to the family coffers. Perhaps the biggest obstacle is the couple’s debt. They owe $80,000 in car loans, credit card debt, and a personal loan. Though they have saved more than $5,000 for their children’s education and nearly $15,000 for retirement, they realize that’s not going to get the job done.

Clearly, the family’s debt load has hampered their ability to save. Davis lost a lot of financial ground during his divorce from his first wife; much of the $20,000 in credit card debt he carries is from his previous marriage, which includes bills from an extravagant wedding.

In recent years, the couple, who’ve been married five years, have nearly weaned themselves from credit cards, using them sparingly. Part of Davis’ $30,000 personal loan was used to pay off some of Priscilla’s car loan debt, her student loan, and home furnishings.

Davis says he isn’t feeling anxious about returning to Iraq, but he knows he’ll be in danger when he ships out again. He has a will in place, and there is a $250,000 life insurance policy on him and a $200,000 policy on Priscilla. Davis is only six years away from retiring with 20 years of service in the military, so he just wants to make it back home from Iraq, make it to retirement, and then launch his own security business.

When he returned to his