On a recent Wednesday after work, in the basement of the U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern chapel on Daenner Kaserne, Master Sgt. Michael McCabe joined dozens of people to learn steps to manage money.
From a wall-mounted flat-screen television, Dave Ramsey, a faith-based financial expert and motivational speaker, shared ideas on how to dump debt — one lesson of his 12-week Financial Peace University, a DVD course geared toward military families. The lesson began with a potluck supper and ended with attendees making a physical commitment — snipping their credit cards into shreds.
One by one, people came forward. Sounds of scissors clipping plastic were heard amid cheers and applause.
“It’s a huge weight lifted,” McCabe said, dropping plastic shards from the card he recently used to buy a new television.
In Kaiserslautern, Ramsey’s program is moderated by Chaplain (Maj.) Everett Franklin, the garrison’s family life chaplain, who’s attended Ramsey’s seminars and believes in the program’s message.
“We recognize in Kaiserslautern there’s a need for people to work on their personal finances. Our mission is to help the families to learn and grow,” Franklin said. “This course teaches you the basics and helps train you to incorporate positive behaviors that will help you get on track financially.”
In late 2011, 15 military families took part. Now, more than 20 families attend. And, there’s a waiting list for future Ramsey courses, Franklin said.
Meanwhile, Soldiers and family members can also access a variety of free financial readiness classes offered through the garrison’s Army Community Service program. During Military Saves week, which began Feb. 19, ACS held events and seminars to promote financial readiness.
McCabe, a New Jersey native who hopes to retire within a few years, shed most of his debt before coming to Kaiserslautern, where he’s served with the 266th Financial Management Center — an irony he recognizes with a lighthearted smile.
“I work in finance. It’s funny that I’m here in this class,” McCabe said. “But, I’m trying to better the future for my family.”
With six family members, McCabe has to live off post where he stretches his housing allowance to cover rent and utilities, he said. They needed a better car, which meant a six-year loan. When his TV broke, he thought credit was the solution.
Already, McCabe paid down some debts and set a plan for the rest. He hopes to remain debt free, retire and open his own business — an animal kennel near a military base. Meanwhile, he’s spreading the word to junior Soldiers. Plus, he shares finance tips from the class with his children.
“Your kids get to come — they teach the children at their level, so they’re learning at the same time,” McCabe said.
Down the hall, ACS staff use videos, books and games to explain to children about wages, spending and debts, said Denise Fesel, ACS’s financial readiness program manager. Children use play money at a store and learn how to budget their income.
“We’re training the kids on money. They don’t know because they think they are playing,” Fesel said, “but then they are talking to their parents about money.”
On the drive home, McCabe and his son Caleb, 12, a fifth-grader at Kaiserslautern Elementary School, swapped stories about what they learned.
“We’re talking about different savings accounts, how some give you more interest,” Caleb said. “I think it’s cool to save money and see what happens.”