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Military Spouses Prepare to Manage Households as Troops Head to Persian Gulf - 2003-02-19

At military bases around the country, thousands of women are saying goodbye to their husbands as they leave for the Persian Gulf, not knowing when, or if, they will return. In addition to the emotional strain, many spouses find themselves having to manage the household finances alone for the first time.

In Hinesville, Georgia, home of Fort Stewart, both the military and local churches have recognized the problem... and are teaching army wives the ABC's of making ends meet. . At Hunter Army Airfield in Georgia, members of Fort Stewart's third infantry division are boarding planes bound for the Persian Gulf.

Specialist Aniruj Alfred has said a tough goodbye to his wife Adelia and their two kids. He's left the household finances in his wife's hands. "We went through with the calendar just about all night," he said. "I'm the one who did all the bills before and it's going to be a [tough] road for her to continue what I did. It's going to be a big responsibility in the end."

What is going on at the Alfred's house is also happening at Janet Curry's. Her husband shipped out for Kuwait in November. She is handling the family finances for the first time in her 22-year marriage. She says the unexpected daily expenses are her biggest challenge.

"'Cause you can't prepare for them. We've had the plumber, we've had two cars in the shop, we've had our computer crashed. We've had the vacuum cleaner. I mean everything has had to be replaced," she explained.

While the Army can't pick up the bill for household catastrophes, it can help military spouses plan for them. So can local churches. Both offer financial management counseling. One of the ministers at the Live Oak Church of God in Hinesville, Georgia, used to be a personal banker. That's good news for army wives who have never written checks before. Marisol Morris teaches them how to balance their checkbooks, pay bills on time, and stay out of debt. During and after the 1991 Gulf War, Ms. Morris says, many families learned the cost of financial ignorance. "Because these women didn't know what to do," Ms. Morris said. "They were charging up credit cards, they were overspending, they really didn't understand, they were bouncing checks, they got to a point where it was totally out of control. And unfortunately it caused a lot of break ups of marriages."

Because money is such a personal matter, Senior Pastor Mike Cowart says financial counseling requires sensitivity.

"You don't want them to feel like, for lack of a better term, they're a dummy that they don't know how to do it," Pastor Cowart said. "You want them to understand that we know that this is just, in their life, they don't know how to do this."

While their husbands are away, wives have extra money to manage. Soldiers get hazard pay and separation pay of up to $500 a month. If they're in designated combat zones, they're exempt from federal taxes.

Janet Curry turned to the ministers at Live Oak Church for help deciding what to do with the additional cash.

"To me that is overwhelming, where do you spend that money? Do you invest it, do you pay off bills? Some women can just blow the money and have a good time, but I don't think that is what we should be doing," she said.

Ms. Curry says she's especially grateful for the financial guidance now because her daughter is leaving for college this year. Next on her financial 'to do' list: learning how to invest and protect the tuition money.