“Our philosophy was plan for that 'what if,' now. Don’t wait for it to happen.”
Jennifer and Nathan Nelson were already ahead of most Americans. Within five years of getting married, they established a solid financial foundation.
She was in the early stages of a distribution sales career, and Nathan was gaining rank and notoriety as an intelligence officer in the U.S. Air Force.
“Our philosophy was plan for that ’what if,’ now. Don’t wait for it to happen,” Jennifer said.
For the Nelsons, “what if” happened in 2013. While Jennifer was pregnant with their first child, Nathan was critically injured in a rocket attack while serving his third tour in Afghanistan. He spent the next two years recuperating in the hospital. During that time, Jennifer gave birth to their daughter and oversaw the family’s move to Tampa, Florida, where Nathan was undergoing rehabilitation. She resigned from her job, sold their home in Washington and became a full-time caregiver to Nathan.
“Many people we know live hand-to-mouth and when there’s a critical injury, they don’t know how to survive and thrive through it.”
Their careful planning was critical to their ability to survive financially. Prior to Nathan’s injury, they paid off $20,000 in student loans in five years, built up six months of emergency savings to cover rent, utilities and food in case of the unexpected, and paid cash for their car. They chose their dream neighborhood in which to live, but practically bought a fixer-upper with a reasonable price they could gradually make their own.
But even for a couple like the Nelsons, who had emergency savings and had paid down their debt, navigating through such a challenging period presented a strain. Many families without a plan struggle daily with financial decisions and the stress that often comes with them.
As the nation recognizes Military Saves Week this week, the Nelsons offer an example of how military caregivers can find the financial help they need to plan.
As a fellow with the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, Jennifer and 2,500 other military caregivers have access to financial planning tools such as Prudential’s Financial Wellness Portal, which has helped the Nelsons and others make smart decisions about how to budget and allocate their finances.
“I love the connectivity of the platform. You can attach a lot of your accounts to it,” Jennifer said. “I can see how much I’m spending and how much is left over every month, and it maps out a four-month trend. It’s a great educational tool.”
That planning has come in handy when the couple has had to cover the unexpected. For example, Nathan’s wheelchair tires need to be replaced about once a month. While they are covered by government insurance, one day there was a glitch in the delivery system and the order was delayed. This required Jennifer to lay out a lot of money up front. But for others who do not have the emergency savings or access to budgeting and planning tools like the Financial Wellness Portal to help get them there, that same situation is much more challenging.
“Many people we know live hand-to-mouth and when there’s a critical injury, they don’t know how to survive and thrive through it,” Jennifer said. “Everyone’s finances are unique. But there’s a discipline that goes along with it and taking ownership of where you are puts you on a different playing field.”
Now the Nelsons are both back to work. Jennifer is now an award-winning real estate agent, which allows her to use her sales skills and gives her the flexibility to be a caregiver and a mom. And Nathan works for an elected official.