Category Archives: Guest Posts

Can Military Families Save Money on One Income?

calculator-and-coinsMy last paycheck came in, and it was a small one. I had just quit my job but had another one lined up, so it wasn’t a big deal. But on that day, I looked at my bank account and asked myself, where did all the money go?

My bank account reminded me of a clock moving counterclockwise. I thought about all the jobs I’ve had, from part time to full time to side jobs, and thought about where all that money had gone. I even wondered the same thing during the stint where I ended up with unemployment benefits after a layoff. If I had only just put all that money away and made it to where we lived off his salary, I could have a few thousand dollars in a savings account by now. But it didn’t happen that way.

My husband and I are blessed that we can survive on his salary alone, so whenever I have had a job, I’ve taken on the grocery bill, gas for my car, my bills, entertainment, graduate school (out-of-pocket, and a pretty penny), half of the daycare expenses, and anything else that was, what I consider, a minor expense. That way, it doesn’t go under my husband’s list of expenses.

However, some of the jobs I took never paid enough for me to actually put a good chunk of money away in savings because of these same expenses. And that’s a major problem for military spouses. Granted, I am also not the best saver, but when you have a low-paying job coupled with everyday expenses, I was left with no motivation to even put a mere $20 away. And with school-aged kids now, something always comes up. So many small things get in the way of saving.

Speaking of something always coming up, I had to get new clothes for work because my size changed after I got married… and after I had kids… and after I stopped having kids. Thankfully, I always headed for the clearance racks, and that helped me save some money. I also bought clothes for my kids as they got bigger. The money we could have saved would have been spent on other necessities, first and foremost, but also entertainment things, so I don’t regret the purchases.

It’s not all a loss though. I’ve been able to put money away while I’ve been employed, and kept it safe from my spending habits, but the amount is not nearly enough. I wish I did have a few thousand dollars saved up. We do have a family emergency fund, and it’s a nice little cushion, but for my personal financial well-being, my own savings are not enough for what I’d like.

Now, getting ready for a new PCS move, I hope to find a better job that pays more so I’m motivated to save more. I also want to find where I can cut my expenses so I’m not left with the lack of financial motivation to put a little money away.

February 23-28th is Military Saves Week, where military families take charge of their own finances and savings. Don’t wait until your bank account dwindles to nothing – living paycheck to paycheck doesn’t have to be your reality. Take the pledge to save NOW.

And to make the deal even sweeter, if you send a picture of who or what you’re saving for to Social@MilitaryFamily.org, you’ll be entered to win a $100 gift card to put towards your new savings goal!

Are you a one-income family? How do you save money?

Posted by Sylvia Salas-Brown, Military Spouse and National Military Family Association Volunteer

This Little Piggy Bank Went to the Slaughter House

money-resolutionsThere once was a little, plump piggy bank who lived in a Marine Corps house. From time to time, it was fed with quarters, pennies, and lint. It was a happy piggy bank, growing heavier and heavier, until one day it met its unexpected demise, thanks to the swing of a hammer.

My husband started a Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) just a few years ago. Because we’ve had to wait a long time for a Veteran’s Administration (VA) retirement rating, we’ve had to reach in and cash it out because things haven’t worked out exactly the way we had planned with our financial stability. We’ll have to pay taxes on his TSP for cashing it out early, but we are in a bind and don’t see any way around it. I could kick Murphy’s Law right now.

We have three piglets (I mean children…don’t tell them I said that) at home to support. And as you know, life happens, and so does the unexpected. Our dog, a tiny Yorkie, was attacked while on a walk by a huge and ferocious dog, resulting in a $1500 vet bill, and over the years, our cars have needed major repairs, costing us major bucks. We could have bought “new to us” used cars for the amount we paid in repairs and I swear the last car we had was a lemon. It might have been more useful to us sitting on bricks in a hillbilly front yard. Another time, I needed an emergency root canal, and just recently my crown fell out. I know that’ll need to be fixed – I’ll put that on the list of stuff to do, worry about, and come up with the funds for. I could go on and on.

I think the biggest financial heartache for us was when we received six weeks’ notice to move across country from California to North Carolina, just after the housing market crashed. We had a house that depreciated in value, and we were broke for six months until it sold. We had to get a rather large personal loan to pay the difference of the house. It took us five years of huffing, puffing, and working our tails off to pay it back. We tried applying for a government program that helps military families recuperate financial losses due to Permanent Change of Station moves, but like many others, we were denied.

Even when we thought we were saving for a rainy day, that rainy day would turn into a hurricane with gale force winds blowing our little piggy bank over, smashing it to the ground. All of our nickels and dimes scurried into somebody else’s fat, overfed piggy bank.

Our little piggy bank has gone to the slaughter house many times. So how can you avoid it? My advice is to set up a TSP account NOW, put as much money as you can into your little piggy bank every paycheck, even if it’s only a few dollars, talk to a personal banker who can give you advice. Go to a retirement seminar with your spouse and be on the same page with them about finances. Buy used and save the difference; not everything you own has to be brand new, your brain seems to understand spending when you pay with cash, but not so much when you pay with a credit or debit card.

Most importantly only buy something if your little piggy can afford it, and it will go “Wee, wee, wee! All the way home.”

February 23-28, 2015 is Military Saves Week, where military families are asked to take a pledge to save for their financial future. Best of all, it’s as simple as 1-2-click! Check it out and take the pledge for yourself or your family! As an incentive to pledge, send us a picture (Social@MilitaryFamily.org) of who or what you’re saving for, and you’ll be entered to win a $100 gift card! 

Posted by Amy Smith, Marine Corps Spouse

Welcoming My Friend “Home” After PTSD

distressed-soldierOver the last few years, one of my close friends did a tour in the Middle East with the Army. We met through a buddy that we both knew, and our friendship just seemed to click. Although we weren’t attached at the hip, there were a lot of activities we did together.

But during his deployment, we lost touch for a while. And when he returned, something seemed to have changed. He was home, but he wasn’t.

Before he left, he was a stocky, average military-looking guy; someone I could always bring by my house. My father was in the Air Force, and my friend was based in the Army camp, and although they fought under the same flag, they were constantly squabbling about all types of military related subjects.

This type of banter was quite humorous and from time to time, you’d hear a quick remark about the Air Force, and vice versa. He was one of those people who made you laugh, and always pointed out something funny, regardless if it had to do with the situation or not. After his deployment, the most noticeable and alarming change I noticed was his physical stature.

He seemed skinnier, malnourished, almost, and methodical about the choice of words he used. It was if one of my closest friends, although home, seemed removed, as if he was miles away.

Activities we would share together were distant and brisk. Someone I cared about now reminded me of someone guarded, not willing to embrace moments that were unfolding in front of us.

I wondered if he could be suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I’d never experienced PTSD firsthand, and I’m not a doctor. I come from a military family, and none of my close relatives seemed to show signs of hopelessness or any type of detachment. When I decided to find out more about PTSD indicators and triggers, it started to become clear to me. I wondered if my friend knew something was off, after all, he had even asked me once if my father ever struggled with PTSD.

I could really see the extent of his emotional state when we sat down to play video games – something we always enjoyed doing together. He seemed to be detached from what we were doing; although it was fun enjoying a game together again, he just didn’t seem the same.

As the year passed, we tried to keep in touch as much as possible. Every once in a while, we’d spend time catching up, but there was one night where the flood gates opened. He shared his war stories with me, and some of the things he told me filled me with profound sorrow. Hearing him briefly reflect on what it was like to take a man’s life, a life that was someone’s brother, father, or husband, really resonated with me. I felt a deep sadness for my friend.

I wish I could have helped him more with the struggle he was going through. It wasn’t until recently, while looking at an article I found by a clinical practitioner at the University of New England, that I started to understand some of the things that he was going through. Although the subject matter was a little different, I could finally begin to understand what PTSD does to a person.

I wanted to reach out and help him as much as I could, and I attempted to reach out on multiple occasions. Though we never really talked about his recovery, I know it was his own volition and determination to get better that inevitably saw him through these troubling times. I am proud to have a friend who defended the country I love. Today, he has determination and the support of family and friends, and is, once again, the friend I knew.

The importance of noticing and recognizing the signs and symptoms of PTSD is immeasurable. PTSD can be a silent killer, and our service members deserve the chance to conquer the battles in their mind, just like the battles fought during their service to our country.

Today, I can proudly say my friend is finally home.

nick-richyPosted by Nicholas R., Military dependent of an Air Force Brigadier General

It’s OVER: How MilSpouses Can Provide Financial Stability at the End of a Military Career

family-with-wounded-dadYou are a military spouse. Your soldier, sailor, or airman serves the nation anytime, anywhere, and you stand behind them with pride. When the call comes, you watch the uniformed rows march into the aircraft or ship, heading away for however long the nation requires. And you smile and show support, even though you are worried, and already desperately missing your service member.

With one in five service members now disabled because of combat, injury is always at the forefront on one’s mind. Unfortunately, the chances of injury seem higher than any of us are comfortable with. But there are ways to prepare your family financially, should the unthinkable happen. Even transition and downsizing present a quick ending to what your service member thought would be a long, prosperous career.

As a former Army NCO, who had his career halted by an unexpected medical issue, I think income is the key focus to make sure your family is prepared. If your service member returns with an injury requiring them to stay on active duty for rehab, the impact on your income won’t be significant. However, if the injury results in a medical discharge, the impact can be severe. A sudden discharge can leave service members drawing a disability check that is a fraction of what they had been receiving. Many also may struggle to find new jobs to maintain their income, while they adjust to their ‘new normal’ of life after injury.

Service members transitioning may have to wait months to receive a Veterans Administration rating, or to even receive their first retirement check. Planning ahead for these moments can guarantee your family’s financial success.

This is where military spouses can step in. Educational opportunities exist, not only for military service members, but for military spouses, too! There are many programs, like MyCAA, for example, which provide access to educational funding for military spouses. Did you know the National Military Family Association provides scholarships for spouses, along with many partnerships with colleges, and even programs that offer reduced tuition rates?

The possibility of a PCS brings up concerns for traditional classroom programs. Can you transfer credits? What if you PCS in the middle of a semester? Will your specific degree even be offered in your new location? NMFA’s scholarships can give you the opportunity to engage in a certificate, or degree program, online. With online degrees, PCS moves are no longer a concern. Wherever you go, the school goes with you.

Taking advantage of these opportunities now, rather than later, can put you in a position to be an additional income, should injury, transition, or sudden discharge ever sideline your spouse. Having the option of using a degree or certificate to obtain work while your service member is recovering, or job hunting, can relieve the stress of suddenly having to live off of a significantly reduced income. It lets your spouse focus on recovery, a new career, or adjusting to a post-uniform life, and helps ease the stress your spouse may face feeling like they are letting the family down.

You are a military spouse. You are part of a team. While your service member is away, you maintain the home front. Just as your spouse is expected to engage in military readiness, you have a role in maintaining family readiness. Take advantage of what is available for you. Plan ahead, get educated, and be prepared to take over if transition, injury, or some other unforeseen event knocks on your door.

What do you think are some other things families can do to financially prepare for emergencies?

Posted by James Hinton, Staff Sergeant, U.S. Army Veteran

The Honeymoon. Then the Breakup.

Yellow_FootprintsI am one of those people who always has a smile on my face. I like to make others laugh even if it means pulling off some dorky and embarrassing 1980’s cabbage patch dance move or blurting out a silly slapstick joke. I hate to see anyone sad or hurt, but unfortunately today I have to say that the sad person is me. My heart has been broken.

It all started when the man in the uniform, and all that it stood for, won my heart. Our love blossomed and eventually we made the commitment. Our limited budget afforded us an intimate destination ceremony at the local court which was presided over by a wonderful and monotone must-have-hated-their-job justice of the peace. The ceremony was followed by an amazing dreamlike honeymoon at a quaint little spot called Carl’s Jr (I splurged on the budget and got fries and a diet coke…I know, I shouldn’t have but it was my wedding night!). I felt a little overdressed in my fancy wedding gown which resembled a t-shirt and jeans.

Two weeks later, the military sent my groom on a 6 month ‘break’ to Okinawa Japan. Those breaks seemed to regenerate themselves over and over again, for a grand total of 7 deployments and a few months of training exercises out of our blissful marriage, totaling more than 4 years apart. Through the course of 17 years, we would always re-kindle our love. Spending our moments at the Marine Corps Ball was a highlight for us. We spent a lot of time bonding with other military families at the unit’s mandatory family days and made great memories between moves. And then it happened; after years of loving him he dumped me. The Marine Corps dumped me.

But the one who broke my heart wasn’t my husband. It was the Marine Corps. My husband retired a few months ago after dutifully serving this country for twenty years. He did so without question, sacrificed so much of his time, and as a result I (along with our children) have sacrificed just as much as he has. Don’t get me wrong, we have had our good times, but my heart has been broken by the one thing that I was always supportive of and behind: the military.

Not only have we just figured out that my husband’s pension payment has not come through this month, but we are still awaiting a decision from the Veteran’s Administration (VA) regarding his final rating. This really couldn’t have come at a worse time; bills need to be paid, mouths need to be fed, and we are in the process of purchasing the home we currently live in, and only have a short amount of time left to prove to the lender, and the owners, that we qualify for the loan. If we could just get the VA rating finalized, we’d be over this hurdle.

We left all of our loved ones and moved across country to be able to afford to “live”. My husband is currently a full time student utilizing his GI Bill, and works two part-time jobs. I take care of the children, and work a part-time job while looking for full-time employment. Many of our friends have also been dumped by the Marine Corps. But not many share their story. Some go months before a pension payment is made, and years before a VA rating is approved.

I want to inspire you to act now. Please do yourself a favor and start saving for a rainy day NOW. Go back to college, or start college, and get those degrees NOW. Plan for the future NOW, whether it’s your first year of marriage to the Marine Corps, or your last.

Eventually, the love will be rekindled between the Marine Corps and me, but for now, I’m eating spoonfuls of salty, tear-filled ice cream while watching my favorite chick-flick. Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do after a break up?

Has the military broken up with you and your family? How did you deal with it?

Posted by Amy Smith, Marine Corps Spouse

Survive and Thrive: Our OCONUS Adventure to Okinawa!

The-Young-Retiree-in-OkiI’ll never forget how I felt when my husband mentioned we might be moving to Okinawa, Japan for three years. “Verbal orders,” he told me. This meant the move was not set in stone, but he should know for sure any day, and we should start preparing! I felt sick to my stomach and tears burned the back of my eyes. But I couldn’t let him see me upset over something that was going to be beneficial for his career.

Then the orders fell through and I released the biggest sigh of relief!

We began talking about all of the reasons why it was awesome that we didn’t have to go. Not long after, he told me again, “Verbal orders…to a different command in Okinawa.” Talk about an ironic twist of fate. I was stressed. I was heartbroken. I was scared!

Once again, I kept the emotions hidden from him, but openly sobbed on the phone with my grandma the next day. When I married him, I made a commitment to myself, and to him, that wherever the Navy sent him, I would not only follow, but I would bloom where we were planted.

I opened up to him about my fears; there’s no sense in keeping it all in. And if you are, I would encourage you to talk to your spouse – if they’re anything like mine, they’ll know exactly how you feel, but could be putting on a strong front for you. This is a great time to encourage each other through the move!

We hit Pinterest together and I created two boards: “Travel: Okinawa” and “Travel: Asia” to get us inspired about the move. We started researching all of the amazing things we would get the chance to experience once we arrived. We started looking at the MWR and MCCS websites, and dreaming of the trips we would save our money to go on.

The-Young-Retiree-in-Oki2The minute I landed in Tokyo, I was smitten with the country and knew Okinawa was going to be an amazing adventure! When we got settled, we created a bucket list: “101 Okinawa Things in 1,001 Days.” With silly things like eat at 50 new restaurants, and stay at 6 (as yet undiscovered) resorts on the island! We’re also doing free things like collecting a jar of sea glass, and visiting various castle ruins. We even included some lofty ideas like visit Kathmandu or Bali, hike Mt. Fuji, and walk on the Great Wall of China!

We’ve crossed seven things off our list and are working on five others! I never, in a million years, thought I would be vacationing overseas, let alone living there! I carry my bucket list in my purse, and on the weekends we look at it to see what we can cross off. Whether we book a tour through ITT to go to the world’s biggest tug of war, see battle sites around the island, or if we hop in the car and pull over when we see beautiful beaches… we get out there and enjoy our new home!

If you’re looking at overseas orders (or even orders on the other side of the country), and find it a little overwhelming and paralyzing: take a deep breath, cry it out, then hop on the internet and research all of the fun, once-in-a-lifetime things you’ll be able to do. You’ll get so much more out of your time at your new home if you live positively, make an adventure list, and get busy crossing things off!

Have you ever moved out of the United States? How did you bloom where you were planted?

elizabeth-osbornPosted by Elizabeth Osborn, a Navy Spouse, living in Okinawa with her husband, enjoys a life of leisure during their time abroad by being active in several spouse groups both through the military and in the local community. She blogs about their adventures and her experiences at The Young Retiree.

Getting Your Military Family Organized: 10 Tips to Use Right Now!

organized-boxesWhether you’re undertaking a Permanent Change of Station (PCS) to California or Korea, or you’re staying put for a few years, it can be tough to organize your home — and keep it organized. Here are 10 tips that’ll help you get your household shipshape in 2015.

1. Write it down.

Professional organizers say if you’re truly committed to getting organized, start by jotting down the areas in your home that need to be tackled. Focus on areas of your home, not rooms. For instance, you might concentrate first on a cluttered drawer in your kitchen. “If you have several messy rooms, you may need to break it up into small, manageable pieces,” says professional organizer, Janet Bernstein.

2. Schedule organizing sessions.

To keep up with organizing tasks, set aside time on your calendar to accomplish them. This adds an element of accountability. “If you only carve out two hours for organizing time each week, that adds up to eight hours a month, which adds up to 96 hours for the year,” Bernstein said. “Keep that in mind, and you’ll have the motivation to keep up your organizing throughout the year.”

3. Learn how to say goodbye.

If you don’t love it, need it or use it, then let it go. Repeat this to yourself frequently if you have a difficult time parting with possessions.

4. Swap your stuff.

Professional organizer Jamie Novak recommends that if you’ve got toys, clothes, kitchen gadgets or other items you no longer need, you should host a swap with other military families who might want your stuff, and vice versa.

5. Turn clutter into cash.

Companies like Amazon.com, Best Buy and Gazelle.com will let you trade in used items such as tablets, books and video games in exchange for cash or account credit. For more tips on turning clutter into cash, visit The Sparefoot Blog.

6. Use what you’ve already got.

Rather than tossing certain items in the recycling bin, you can turn them into organizing tools. For instance, Novak said, leftover egg cartons make great drawer organizers, and storing extension cords in old paper-towel rolls can keep them untangled.

7. Set up a lost-and-found area.

To reduce household clutter, designate a lost-and-found container or drawer. Whenever something is left out like a cord for an electronic device or a doll’s shoe, you can toss it in the lost-and-found and the person who lost it will know where to look.

8. Create a household binder.

Use a three-ring binder filled with tabbed dividers, page protectors, and pocket folders, along with a slot for a pen, to stash important paperwork, Novak suggested. This could include documents like your apartment rental contract, or your insurance policies.

9. Purchase a label maker.

Sticking labels on containers to indicate what’s inside them makes it easier to keep track of your stuff. That way, you’re not wasting time trying to figure out where your kids’ hand-me-downs are.

10. Buy versatile furniture.

“Because military families move so much, they need furniture that does double duty,” professional organizer Leslie Jacobs said. “How about a coffee table with storage so you can store video games and the like?”

What tips do you have for getting organized this year? Tell us in the comments!

Posted by John Egan, Editor in Chief at SpareFoot, an Austin, Texas-based startup that helps people find and book self-storage units. To find military discounts for self-storage, visit MilitaryStorage.com. For more information about military-related storage, moves and home organization, visit blog.militarystorage.com.