Category Archives: Resources + Information

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

Does Pinterest Help or Hurt When Trying to Get Healthy?

yogaI consider the whole month of January to be “Resolution Season.” I didn’t make any real resolutions this year, but I did sign-up to run my first half-marathon with some co-workers in a few months.

Signing up for the half marathon made me think about my exercise habits. And my eating habits. I’ve always loved exercise and eating healthy foods, but work and life get in the way sometimes, and I end up falling off the wagon.

So, to stay on track, I immediately thought of Pinterest. I’ve used it here and there over the years, mostly when I feel inspired to get fit. I use it for workout ideas, recipe ideas, and my new favorite, weekly meal planning. But, does Pinterest actually help? Here are my thoughts:

Help #1: FRESH IDEAS
My favorite thing about Pinterest is there’s always something new and exciting when it comes to cooking; ideas I would have never thought of, or quick and easy ways to make things. I use the search bar to list things I already have at home to see what fun new dish I can make for dinner.

Hurt #1: FAR- FETCHED
The problem with Pinterest is all the elaborate ideas made to seem easy, but are actually ridiculous. There’s no way I could create that project, or recipe at home without breaking the bank.

SOLUTION: Find boards to follow that are realistic. I like to follow a friend of mine, who only pins things she has tried to make herself. It brings reality back to Pinterest and makes you feel better for not being able to make that fancy dessert. No #PinterestFail here.

Help #2: INSPIRATION
Sure, there are plenty of unrealistic pictures of models claiming they workout, but there are also a lot of real-life inspiration stories and workouts that you can find on Pinterest. Scrolling through those pins helps make me feel like I can reach my goals and feel better overall. There are workouts for busy moms, students, yoga in the workplace…you name it! Find the ones that are right for you.

Hurt #2: GUILT
The worst part of Pinterest is the feeling of guilt that washes over you when you don’t have time to cook that fabulous meal, or workout 15 hours a day to look like those unrealistic, Photoshopped models.

SOLUTION: Pick 1 or 2 pins you really want to achieve. Whether it’s a week-long ab challenge, or one nice meal you really want to tackle over the weekend. By avoiding the feeling that you must overdo it, Pinterest will become more of a friend rather than a foe.

Does Pinterest help you reach your health and wellness goals? If so, share your tips with me in the comments!

Jordan-BarrishPosted by Jordan Barrish, Public Relations Manager

New Year’s Resolution: Save More Money!

money-resolutionsWith a brand new year just around the corner, we brought this post out of the archives to remind you and your military family that making the resolution to save money is easier to achieve than you think! Check out Brooke’s tips for making this New Year’s resolution one that will stick all year!

Here we are, almost to 2015, after a holiday season that probably involved a lot of spending, rather than saving. You may not have made a New Year’s Resolution to save, but it’s not too late to come up with a promise to yourself and your financial readiness. America Saves has a great program that has helped many service members and their families become better savers.

Make a pledge to save at America Saves (a campaign of the nonprofit Consumer Federation of America), and they will send you text messages to remind you to work toward your savings goal. You can choose the purpose of your savings goal (ex: vacation, retirement, home purchase), how much you want to save per month, and for how many months.

Military Saves, a component of the America Saves campaign and partner of the Department of Defense’s Financial Readiness Campaign, also has a pledge program that will help you meet your goals for 2015 saving. When you pledge, you will get their newsletter with great strategies for saving. You may learn about some special programs that are only available to military. For example, the Savings Deposit Plan which can only be used during deployments and is guaranteed a 10% return rate annually. You can’t beat that for a savings program!

They also give great tips for how to save on a tight budget. Military Saves Week is February 23-28, 2015, and installations everywhere will be hosting events to promote financial readiness for service members and their families.

January is also the time of year when your W-2 arrives in the mail, or becomes available online, and you start thinking about that tax return or bill. If you will get a tax return from 2014, think about whether or not that should be used to pay down debt or factor into your savings plan. America Saves has more tips on how to save money at tax time.

With all of these resources at your fingertips, you have no excuse not to make a plan to save that is worth sticking to!

Take the Military Saves Pledge today!

Brooke-GoldbergPosted by Brooke Goldberg, Government Relations Deputy Director

Make the Most of Your Post-Military Health Care Options

My biggest stressor during my husband’s separation from the military was finding new health care for our family. I was pregnant with our second child while my husband was going through the transition process, and I didn’t know if he would be eligible for the Transition Assistance Management Program (TAMP).

And guess what? We didn’t find out we were NOT eligible for TAMP until AFTER he separated from the military. Just in case TAMP wasn’t an option, I explored the Continued Health Benefit Plan (CHBP). This plan has several pros and cons:

Pros:
-Coverage is similar to TRICARE standard
-Coverage ranges from 18-36 months
-Coverage is available for the entire family, or just the service member

Cons:
-A quarter of premiums are due up front ($2,868 for a family)
-Includes cost-shares and deductibles
-Deductibles from TRICARE standard to NOT carry forward to the CHBP coverage

CHBP may be an option right after TRICARE or TAMP coverage ends.

What are some of your other options? You may consider an employer’s health insurance plan, finding insurance in the individual market, or coverage through the Affordable Care Act. If you’re losing TRICARE, TAMP, or CHBP coverage, you’ll have a qualifying event, which means you don’t need to wait for open enrollment to come onto the plan. For our family, finding coverage in the ‘marketplace’ through the Affordable Care Act was the best option. Some good things about this coverage for us was:

  • Subsidies to pay for premiums are available based on your income
  • A wide-variety of plans to choose from ranging from HMO plans similar to TRICARE Prime and PPO plans similar to TRICARE Standard
  • We were able to keep our current providers
  • Monthly premiums are paid at the beginning of the month (not 3 months up front as required by the CHBP)
  • If you move, you can apply for coverage in another state

Here’s what we did:

Are you considering post-military health care options? What would you recommend to others separating from the military who are not eligible for retirement health care benefits?

katie2Posted by Katie Savant, Government Relations Information Manager

Drowning in Child Care Costs? Here’s Your Lifesaver!

judy-familyI was 7 months pregnant, working full time and searching for a child care provider. As a first time parent, I was terrified to bring my daughter home (can you believe they let you leave the hospital with a newborn and no instruction manual?), but finding someone I trusted enough to leave her with all day while I worked made me incredibly paranoid. Add to that the expense of infant daycare in the DC area, and I was a wreck.

While relaying my plight to my coworkers, a fellow military spouse spoke up and asked, “Don’t you know about Child Care Aware?” The name sounded like some watchdog group who might provide a list of reputable centers.

As it turned out, they were so much more.

My coworker went on to tell me about the subsidy she received for her two children in daycare. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. The military would help us offset this huge expense? I wouldn’t just be ‘breaking even’ between my income and the price of daycare? AND the facilities had to adhere to even more stringent guidelines than the state required? Where could I sign up?!

My husband and I selected a few places off their list to check out and tour. We got on a couple of waiting lists at the ones we liked, but we couldn’t do anything with the Child Care Aware application until our daughter was actually born. Once she arrived, we called them (and spoke to a really helpful representative) and discovered we just needed to scan and upload a few documents, and apply online.

To be eligible, I had to either be working full time, or in school full time. So, we sent in one of my pay stubs, my husband’s leave and earning statement (LES), along with the application, and waited a couple weeks to see if we were approved. If we were approved, how much would our subsidy be?

The process was easier than I assumed it would be; I figured I’d have weeks of paperwork going back and forth, and I worried we’d still be waiting to finalize everything when I was ready to go back to work after maternity leave. My worries were, thankfully, unfounded and we were eligible to receive the highest stipend allowed!

So how do they figure out your stipend? In a nutshell, they take into account the income of the service member and the price of the center where you’re placing your child. Suffice it to say, our center was more than their ‘cap,’ which is how we were able to receive such a large amount.

Today, Child Care Aware has contracts to work with Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps families, and Army families now use the General Services Administration (GSA).

I am continually surprised by how many other spouses with children aren’t aware of this benefit. If you’re in school or working, and you’re up to your ears in daycare costs, take a few minutes to look this up and see if your center is listed. Trust me when I tell you, it was so worth it for our family!

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

A Different Kind of Halloween: How Transition Changed Things

halloween-katieGhosts. Goblins. Princesses. A young Marine. Families dressed as the Jake and the Never Land Pirate characters. These are my 10 years of Halloween memories.

I love celebrating Halloween on a military base. I love the deep sense of community. I love the designated trick or treat hours in military housing. I love the fire pits and pot lucks and general good will in the community.
I felt safe and secure taking our young son to trick or treat on a military base.

But, this year will be different.

This is the first year we are a Veteran family. My husband is no longer active duty and he is not retired. He was medically separated after going through the Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES), along with a medical board. The entire process took about 12 months. IDES was complicated to navigate on its own, but add in my husband’s various medical appointments to the mix, and I’d say our transition out of the military was complex. We encountered many highs and lows during the entire process; it would have been awesome to have more resources or peer support to help me, as a spouse, help my husband and our family navigate through our transition.

With 1.5 million service members leaving the military in the next 5 years, transition from military to civilian life is, or will become, a reality for many military families.

halloween-katie-2And transition is hard–both emotionally and physically draining.
In fact, our Association hosted a Transition Roundtable event to talk about the needs of families during the transition process. We fielded a survey asking military families who have transitioned, or who anticipate transition, to share their top concerns.

Three out of four are stressed, or very stressed, about transition. They identified their top concerns as: being financial prepared, finding employment for the service member, accessing post-military health care, finding behavioral and emotional support, and understanding Veteran Affairs’ benefits and the claims process.

Our roundtable was the beginning of a conversation about transition. We’ll cover your top concerns, identify gaps, and develop resources to help YOU and YOUR FAMILY successfully transition from military to civilian life.

This year you won’t find our Jake, Izzy, or Cubby on your military base, but instead you’ll find a family of Super Heroes creating new memories in our hometown bravely navigating our transition from military to civilian life.

Has your family transitioned out of the military? Is transition around the corner? What are your top concerns?

katie2Posted by Katie Savant, Government Relations Information Manager