My wife and I met and married while she was an NROTC instructor at the University of Texas. At the time, I was enjoying my career as a software developer in Austin.  I knew that our marriage would likely put her career in the Navy before mine. Like any military family, we left our hometown and began moving every few years from duty station to duty station, but thankfully my existing job let me work virtually, and I continued my career largely uninterrupted.

Before we married, we decided that when we began having kids, I would shift gears, leaving my full-time job and become a full-time parent. My “job” as a parent would mean taking care of our home, kids, and finances to give my wife the flexibility her active duty job required. I had a background in business and finance, having graduated from Baylor University with a B.B.A, and the topics of personal finance, such as budgeting, taxes, investing had always fascinated me. Knowing that our time earning two incomes was limited, we wanted to make sure that our short-term (living expenses, costs of raising children) and our long-term (retirement, higher education) needs and goals would still be achievable, even on a single household income.

Over the first five years of our marriage, we successfully implemented a financial plan that taught us how to live on a budget. We eliminated all our debt, and made the proper long-term investment choices to keep us on track for retirement. The time spent towards these goals created the groundwork for our family to be financially successful while my wife pursued her career in the Navy.

In 2014, we had our first child, and I parted ways with my existing job, beginning my new career of raising children. Our next child was born in 2016, and my hands were full – but I was enjoying my time as a full-time parent. Our family was reaping the rewards of our strong financial plan. However, as I saw my children quickly growing and needing less of my time and attention, I began to wonder about my long-term career prospects and ability to return to full-time work. I knew that while the demands of being a stay-at-home dad would diminish over time, my family still needed my schedule to be accommodative as my main “job” as the parent for our children while my wife remained in the service. Coupled with the issue of frequently relocating that all military families face, I began searching for a career that would be a good fit for my skills and family situation.

Around this time, I came across a twitter post advertising the FINRA Foundation Military Spouse Fellowship. I was immediately interested in the program. It was tailor-made for military spouses, offering a formal education and accreditation program while still affording spouses the flexibility and time they needed to complete the program. It was a perfect fit for me – I could apply my interest in personal finances and my experiences as a military spouse to a career field that would always be in demand. It would also provide an avenue for me to share my family’s personal experiences in achieving financial peace with other military families. I applied for the fellowship class of 2016, and to my surprise and delight, I was accepted!

Soon enough my class materials showed up in the mail, and I began my studies. I connected with some of my fellow military spouse classmates I met “virtually” in our weekly online class, sharing notes and working together to study for our AFC® exam. Our common experiences and backgrounds as military spouses made working together towards a common goal easy and fun. After completing the class, I sat for the exam.

The materials provided by the fellowship program prepared me well, and I passed the exam on the first attempt.

After passing the exam, I shifted my focus from the classwork requirement to earning the 1000 hours of practical experience needed to earn my AFC designation. Again, the program’s design for military spouses has benefited me greatly, and over the past year, I have earned the hours required through many different and unique experiences. I have volunteered at my local Airman & Family Readiness Center, served as a VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) preparer on base, led Financial Peace University classes at my church, and volunteered as a virtual caseworker for Operation Homefront’s Critical Financial Assistance (CFA) program.  While all these opportunities have been rewarding, I have especially enjoyed my time at Operation Homefront. Operation Homefront’s CFA program works directly with service members experiencing short-term, unexpected financial hardship to give immediate financial aid while providing the long-term direction and aid needed for service members to achieve sustainability. All the while I have been able to continue to be a successful stay-at-home dad for our two boys and my wife.

While gaining the hours required to earn my AFC designation has not been easy, I know that earning my AFC will lay the groundwork for future employment opportunities that will meet my own career goals while still supporting my family’s needs. My volunteer experiences have also given me the benefit of seeing the impact positive financial decisions can make in the lives of service members. The Military Spouse Fellowship Program is an excellent way for spouses to give back to the military community while improving themselves professionally.

Guest Contributor: Joe Blakistone, AFC candidate, FINRA Foundation Military Spouse Fellow

Interested in the FINRA Foundation Military Spouse Fellowship? Learn more and apply! Applications open March 1 – April 20, 2018.

March 05, 2018

FINRA Foundation Military Spouse Fellow, Joe Blakistone, Shares His Journey

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