Category Archives: Military Families

My Military Family Paid off $20k in 13 Months: Here’s How!

financial-freedomThere we were, sitting on our couch, looking at our online banking while deciding what to do for dinner. My husband and I did a double take simultaneously, “We only have $37.00 to last us until next payday…which is 5 days away.”

We were scared.

We sat quietly, surrounded by all of our things; 48” flat screen, two new cars in the driveway, brand new shoes, and that wreath for the door I just HAD to have. We were chained to our things, reflecting on how we’d gotten there.

We were both just 23 when we got married, he’d been in the military for a little over three years, and I’d only been out of college for a year, and had lived with my parents only a few months earlier. I thought we were on the straight and narrow with our finances – I had a full time job with the state government that paid me about $32,000 a year, and our rent was covered, thanks to BAH. We were golden. Or so I thought.

It wasn’t until that day with only $37.00 in our joint account that I realized we needed to find a new way to manage our money. We had no savings, and had bought a brand new bedroom set with the few thousand dollars we got from wedding guests. Newlywed life was paycheck to paycheck for us, and at the time, I thought it was okay. At least we had a nice bedroom set. In reality, we were one ‘emergency’ away from having it all come crashing down. Ironically, my husband is a Command Financial Specialist, and has counseled many other Sailors with their own finances.

So, in 2012, after 3 years of marriage, and pushing countless paychecks to the brink, we took control of our money. We didn’t want to see what would happen when the ‘rainy day’ came without a decent umbrella in tow. By this time, we had PCS’d to another state, and I had gotten a new job, paying $34,000 a year.

We decided to take a popular religious-based finance class at our local church. There, we learned how to pay down our debt in the fastest way possible – from smallest to largest. We figured out how to account for every cent and give each penny a purpose. And we stopped using our debit cards for anything except gas, and to pay our bills online.

We cut back tremendously, and used cash for everyday things: groceries, dog maintenance, and the occasional lunch or dinner out. Every other dollar went towards our debt: two car payments and school loans. By following this plan, we paid off nearly $20,000 in 13 months, on top of our usual monthly bills.

Today, we still use a ‘cash budget,’ and put hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars into our emergency fund each month. ‘How-in-the-world-will-we-be-able-to-pay-for-this’ emergencies are now just little inconveniences. Like the time our dog got sick while we were on vacation, and we rushed her to the doggie emergency room. Nearly 4 hours and $475 later, we paid in cash and took our fur baby home to mend.

Many military families live paycheck to paycheck – like we did.  But this does NOT have to be your reality.

February 23-28th is Military Saves Week, when service members and their families are encouraged to take the pledge to start saving and put your family on the path to financial freedom.

As an incentive for you (yes, you!) to take the pledge and start saving, if you send us a photo of who or what you’re saving for, you’ll be entered to win a $100 gift card to help get started! Send your picture to Social@MilitaryFamily.org, and be sure to include your name, email address, and what you’re saving for!

Have you found an awesome way for your military family to save money? Share it with us in the comments!

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager

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

Hold Your Applause: A Military Spouse’s Take on ‘American Sniper’

American-Sniper-movie

As new parents, we take every opportunity we can to go see movies, and when American Sniper was released, we quickly bought our tickets ahead of time. On day of the show, we shoved snacks in my purse (shh!) and headed to the theater. I brought tissues, and cursed the fact that I didn’t wear waterproof mascara that day. I read the movie was intense and may be hard to watch at times, so at least I was prepared an emotional rollercoaster—and the movie delivered.

As a military spouse, it was hard to watch. But strangely enough, I didn’t end up using the tissues. When my husband was in Afghanistan in 2008, he called me from an MWR phone room, not on a satellite phone from a fire fight. I didn’t hear gun shots and people yelling on the other end of our phone calls. He wasn’t in danger in the same way Chris Kyle was, and I’m thankful for that.

Later, my husband told me about near-misses and close calls, but nothing compared to what Taya Kyle endured on the other end of that phone. ”How could Chris put Taya through a phone call like that?” I asked my husband, “Why call your wife when you’re being shot at?” He stoically responded “Most likely, he wasn’t thinking of it like that at all. It could have been the last time he talked to her.”

I also didn’t endure the hardship of being pregnant while my spouse was deployed, nor have I had to raise our 1-year-old with a father gone much of the time, or suffering from PTSD. My husband has been an awesome partner in her care. To the spouses forced to do much of it alone: you are my heroes.

American-Sniper-the-movieMy husband had a different take on the movie. He’s lost close friends in these wars. He’s attended far too many memorial services in his decade of Army service. One of his closest friends from ROTC was killed in her Humvee just weeks before she was slated to return home. And when I first met my husband in 2007, he was wearing the black KIA bracelet with her name on it …a name that would later become our daughter’s middle name.

As the movie ended, there were photos of Chris Kyle, his family, his brothers in arms, and his memorial service. My husband told me this was the hardest part of the movie for him to watch. The theater was completely silent as people filed out. We left the theater once the actual credits began to roll, still in complete silence, wrapping up our trash as quietly as possible.

That silence is what has stayed with me. I’ve seen movies where the audience applauded at the end, so I wondered how moviegoers would show respect for this story at the end of this film. Applause just didn’t feel right. A moment of silence out of respect for Chris Kyle was so much more impactful. And, if #AmericanSniper tweets are any representation, it seems that’s the way it’s been throughout much of the country.

Though the story was incredibly tragic, ultimately, it’s serving a purpose: educating our country about the dangers of PTSD. Though we were all silent as we exited the theater that day, we must not remain silent on this important issue. If you know someone you think may be suffering from PTSD, please support them in finding help. Say something and possibly save a life.

Have you seen American Sniper? How did the movie make you feel? Tell us what you thought of this amazing film in the comments below!

Melissa-JudyPosted by Melissa Judy, Social Media and Brand Manager

Cupcakes to 10K: The Fitness Struggle is Real

fitness-and-cupcakesMy husband is in the Army, and because he’s not in a job that requires him to do regular PT, he does CrossFit to stay in shape. He ran the Army 10 Miler last year with barely any training, and he prepares things like salmon and quinoa for dinner pretty regularly. It’s safe to say, he’s definitely fit.

I’ve always hated working out. Cake and I are best friends for life. The office I work in has a giant bowl of candy (usually chocolate) refilled often, and conveniently located near my desk. Office celebrations typically involve doughnuts and cake. Have I mentioned I love cake? And last year, I had my first child. So yeah, I’d say I’m a little fluffier than I’d like to be, but I’m still trying to set a good example for my daughter, who currently loves peas and blueberries; two foods I really don’t eat.

This year I’ll (attempt to) run my first 10K race. I’m doing it with sorority sisters who don’t live close to me, so to stay motivated, we text each other about our training. I’ve only ran 5K races before, so I’m definitely nervous the loser bus will pick me up before the finish line, and I won’t get to take a selfie with that shiny medal. I can see it now: I’ll be in my Cinderella costume, complete with tutu, guzzling water at each and every station, in an effort to NOT die. I really hate running.

Each year, I tell myself this is the year I’m going to work out all the time and eat kale …which is gross no matter how much you do to it. But somehow I manage to convince myself I’m not that unhealthy, even though I’m constantly sucking in my stomach and avoiding any clingy clothing. Recently, a woman behind the counter at a local deli actually asked me if I was pregnant. “No,” I said, “I just love cake.”

So is this the year, finally? I still don’t know, it’s too early to tell. With each run I take, I feel my lungs stretch a little more, and it’s slowly becoming easier. The sparkling water I drink, instead of my beloved Coke, tricks my brain into thinking I’m drinking soda, and most veggies are good if you dip them in hummus.

Ultimately, it’s a battle I wage with myself each day. No one else but me. Even though my husband sees this slightly ‘fluffy’ body and whistles with pride, it’s me who must be happy with the woman in the mirror. No amount of bulky sweaters and draping fabric will make me feel healthy. Feeling healthy will take work and discipline, both of which take more time than putting on camouflaging clothes.

Work and discipline are values my husband holds dear, and I know he’ll be an excellent person to lean on when I want to get a cupcake AND macarons.

Did you make a New Year’s resolution to get healthy? How did you stay motivated? Leave me a comment with your tips!

Melissa-JudyPosted by Melissa Judy, Social Media and Brand Manager

‘Tis the Season of Giving: Help Give Military Families Hope

While this holiday season is just a few weeks long, for military families, the giving is year round. They give up time with their loved one, special moments with their children, and spend holidays away from their own families. And some are struggling.

The transition home has not been equally kind to all our military families. And when things are not going well, the holidays can accentuate the difficulties.

But you and I can give them hope this holiday season. Through our unique and powerful Operation Purple® programs we can give them what they hope for.

They hope to make up lost time with their children.

goodbye

 They hope for an even stronger relationship with their spouse.

spouse-hugging

They hope for peace on Earth, so others will not face the sacrifices they have.

family-together

Military families have done so much for us, please help us give them new hope for their own future.

Can Military Connected Women Have It All?

As a working mom, it was an honor and a privilege to moderate a conversation between 4 amazing women at this year’s Leadership Lunch.

The topic: does a work-life balance exist for women in the military community? But really, the conversation applied to women—and even men with families.

Lieutenant General Flora Darpino, the first female Judge Advocate General of the U.S. Army is married to a retired Army colonel. They raised two daughters together. For LTG Darpino, it’s not about work-life balance. It’s about life.

“For me, work and life don’t have to be two separate things. I don’t look at it as two different buckets on a tight rope that I am trying to balance. I just have to figure out what is going to be in the bucket that I am going to carry.”

Leadership--Luncheon-2

Lakesha Cole, 2014 Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year®, is an entrepreneur. She’s founder and CEO of “She Swank Too,” a boutique for women and girls.  She stays balanced by bringing her kids to work with her, going along with the theme that life and work aren’t necessarily separate.

“My daughter lets me know that I am spending too much time at the computer. My daughter went so far as hiding my computer charger. Set those boundaries and stick to them.”

Leadership-Luncheon-4

Reda Hicks, 2014 Armed Forces Insurance Army Spouse of the Year®, has been a “remote” spouse for the past 6 years. She’s a practicing attorney in Houston, Texas where she lives with her son while her husband is stationed at Ft. Riley, Kansas.

“Women are their own worst critics. Is something that I am going to do when he is 3-years-old going to mess him up for the rest of his life? A lot of us are Type A, and we need to sometimes let some of that control go. I don’t have a formula for how it’s all supposed to work, but you just have to take it day-to-day.”

Leadership--Luncheon-6

Claudia Meyers, wrote, directed and produced Fort Bliss, a movie about an Army medic who comes back from deployment and struggles to resume her role of “mom” to her young son.

“It was the ultimate working mom scenario. Just like civilian mothers, it’s finding that balance between career and family. It’s one of the elements that goes into decision making – she is trying to make the best decision she can in an imperfect situation. When can you really be present and what compromises do you have to make.”

So, does a work-life balance exist for women in the military community? I learned that the answer depends on what balance means to each individual.

Now excuse me while I go reevaluate what’s in my bucket.

Besa-PinchottiPosted by Besa Pinchotti, Communications Director

A Full Home and a Full Heart, Thanks to 3 Midshipmen

macy-comes-home-087It’s just before Thanksgiving and our house is abuzz with excitement. You can feel it; the anticipation of days off from school, delicious food, and decorating for the upcoming Christmas holiday. You know–it’s that cozy, warm, fullness in your heart feeling. The holidays. Friends, family, and magical moments with the people you love.

But every now and again, for us military families, you get hit with an intense moment of loneliness. I felt it the other day when I was walking through the parking lot on the way home from running some errands. The wind blew and made the air chilly for Southern California… and I felt it. The need for my family. For the traditions from home. And for those friends who’ve known me since I was young. I feel it at least once every year during the holiday season and this year is no different.

Our assignments with the Air Force have all been full with new experiences and adventures, and amazing people who I am so grateful to know. I have loved all of our assignments, but the one I hold on extra tight to is our time in Annapolis, Maryland when my husband (remember, he’s Air Force) was a professor of Engineering at The United States Naval Academy.

This assignment was special for many reasons, but what made it extra special was our experience as a Sponsor Family for several young Midshipmen from The Naval Academy. We signed up to be a sponsor family within days of arriving in Annapolis, and I was so eager for the experience. Little did I know, these three particular young men would end up meaning so much to all of us.

Weekend after weekend, we would drive to the Academy promptly at 12 noon, and our 3 Plebes (freshman) would pile into the minivan, crisp in their uniforms, sitting among the car seats. Duffle bags of laundry in hand, we would drive home, and for the next 12 hours (they had to be back no later than 12 midnight) our home was their home. They would sleep, eat (oh, they ate so much), play with the kids, help around the house, do their laundry, study, and watch A LOT of TV.

These boys became like my sons–my kids’ older brothers. They were at our house the day we brought our 3rd child, Macy, home from the hospital. I will never forget taking pictures of these boys holding 2 day old Macy. They were at our house just days after my own father unexpectedly passed away. We always did our best to be there for them; break ups with girlfriends, failed tests, and when one of them also unexpectedly lost his father. Three years of ups and downs.

I loved having them around the most during the holidays, when the semester was winding down for them, and the buzz of going home to family and friends occupied their thoughts. That feeling of loneliness, longing for family and old friends, wasn’t as strong. My home was full, and my heart, fuller.

Cooking and decorating was more enjoyable knowing it was going to be enjoyed by, not only by us, but our “Mids,” as well. Those three young men, although they had no idea, were giving our family an extra purpose, an extra drive to make our house feel warm and welcome. They made our time in Annapolis meaningful. Although we opened our home and time to them, they gave us so much more.

Being a sponsor family is an experience I will always look back on with a grateful heart. Sadly, we weren’t in Annapolis for their entire four years at the Academy because the Air Force moved us to Los Angeles at the end of their junior year. Text messages and emails show up often, with updates from life in the Navy and Marine Corps.

I hope they will always know how special they were to our family, how often they cross our hearts, and even though they are no longer students, we are always here for them. And nothing will change that.

Jenny-ZollarsPosted by Jenny Zollars, Air Force Spouse