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Battaglias offer frugal example to troops

Feb. 27, 2013 - 01:32PM   |   Last Updated: Feb. 27, 2013 - 01:32PM  |  
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Lisa Battaglia still makes lunches for her husband to carry to work each day.

Not only is it healthier for Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Bryan Battaglia, it saves money. And the sergeant major long ago taught himself how to cut his own hair, she said.

At a recent roundtable promoting Military Saves Week, the senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and his wife said they have long been in the habit of saving money. And they want to encourage other troops to get into that habit.

Battaglia said when he was first coming up through the ranks, his senior NCOs helped him improve his financial well-being. They sat down with him each month to go over his leave and earnings statement, and talked about the money coming into the household and where it was going, about good financial practices. He never felt it was an invasion of privacy, he said.

"That's an effective leadership practice," he said — one that has been shelved over the years. "We need to continue efforts to bring things like that back. It's vital for our leaders at all levels to counsel their troops on the importance of being financially smart."

They should advise young troops when they're preparing to buy a car, get married, and have a child, for example, he said.

In helping steer him toward the right financial behaviors, his senior NCOs "taught me to pay myself first," Battaglia said, ingraining in him the importance of saving. As a young Marine, there was no Thrift Savings Plan for him, so he and his wife bought savings bonds — which they have used to build "quite a nest egg," Lisa Battaglia said.

Those senior NCOs also steered him away from bad financial moves — like getting loans from loan sharks outside the gate to make it to the next payday, he said.

In 27 years of marriage and 16 moves, the Battaglias have had to fork over money for family emergencies and for major purchases like every other military family. But over the years, Lisa said, "we budgeted and shaped our lifestyle to live off one income."

A big message for troops, the Battaglias said, is to live within your means. "Avoid the ‘nice to have' until it makes sense and you can afford it," he said.

"It's okay to have second-hand furniture," he said, noting that some furniture crafted from cinder blocks and slats of wood worked fine for them starting out.

He recalls buying a used Toyota Corolla about 15 years ago when Lisa wanted a Mustang. "I felt that decision through the years," he said. "Happily, she now owns a Ford Mustang."

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