Tag Archives: military families

Saving Money on a Military Income: It CAN be Done!

piggy-bankWhen it comes to saving money in a military household, most of us wonder where all this “extra money” is supposed to come from…especially for families in the enlisted ranks. When I was a new military spouse, my husband and I lived paycheck to paycheck. There just didn’t seem to be any other way to do it. How could we save money if there was barely any money at the end of the month?

Like myself, I think many military families may have trouble figuring out where to start, and how to make life something other than ‘paycheck to paycheck.’ And what if an emergency happens? Just charge it to a credit card, right?

Then I learned otherwise.

On a quest to get serious about our financial well-being, my husband and I paid off over $17,000 of debt in just 14 months. All by learning how to save. We followed Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University. The trick we used was simple: don’t spend money.

WAIT. Hear me out!

We simply cut back on things that didn’t seem necessary: eating out every day for lunch, buying new clothes just because they’re on sale, or swinging by Starbucks on cold mornings. Oh, and using our debit cards.

Yep. We started using cash for everything.

With certain techniques, we learned to spend less, and save more.

Save Money for the Fun Things
Instead of impulse shopping with money you don’t have (i.e., credit cards), save your money for big purchases. This will give you time to shop around for the best deals, and may even give you time to think about whether what you’re buying is really necessary.

And there’s something to be said about paying for things in cash. Try it sometime and see how it makes you feel. Yes. Feel those feelings. Spending a crisp $50 bill feels a bit different than swiping your debit card. And TWO crisp $50 bills? That hurts! Ok, it doesn’t literally hurt, but you get it.

But Don’t Forget About the Future
Experts like Scott Halliwell, Certified Financial Planner™, with USAA says, “You need to save money for your future.

And he’s not just referring to retirement. Most military families don’t think long term about financial readiness. A Thrift Savings Plan won’t cover everything.

Scott explains, “No matter your age, there is one thing nearly everyone can count on: Your income probably isn’t always going to cover 100% of your wants and needs all the time. As a result, you need to save money today so it’s available down the road.”

My husband and I took this tip very seriously. When we started our financial readiness journey, getting a solid ‘emergency fund’ in place was the top priority. Each pay period, when we had extra money, we put it into our savings account until we hit $1000. It’s grown exponentially since those first days.

We also have a mutual understanding that Emergency Fund money is for just that: emergencies.

Saving money, in any fashion, is one of the smartest things you can do for your military family, in my opinion. What if BAH goes down? How will you cover your off-post rent? If TRICARE requires military families to pay more out of pocket, how will you buy yourself a pair of glasses? With money saved for the future, little ‘emergencies’ seem to be just an inconvenience, instead.

We live in a world where happiness seems to be associated with “things.” Remember: life isn’t about keeping up with the Staff Sergeant next door, and with a savings plan in place, you won’t have to!

Do you have any financial success stories or tips? Share them with us!


shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Online Engagement Manager

Making the Military a Career: How an Elephant Sat on My Dreams

flag-on-a-white-picket-fenceThere’s been an elephant in the room between my husband and me for a while. That one huge topic we’ve been dancing around. We think we know what the other is thinking, and feel okay when the topic drifts away, untouched. Because it’s a big, fat, life-changing elephant:

Are we really going to make the military a career; we’re really going to do 20 years of this?

I’ll be honest: I dreamt of a life where my kids would grow up having the same friends since second grade, like I did. I hoped to see my husband work a job with normal hours and be able to come home at 5pm and coach little league. I thought I’d get to have tons of quality time with my best girlfriends from college, since they’d live right around the corner. I relished in the idea of being able to take a vacation with little to no advanced planning.

When I first met my husband, his goal was to do a short enlistment, then transition back to the civilian work force, allowing all of my little white-picket-fence dreams to come true. Now, we’re 8 years in, and my husband has some of the most elite and prestigious tours in the military on his resume. We have had amazing opportunities because of his service – some I never imagined possible…like meeting the President of the United States in the Oval Office and using the big, important phone on his desk. Okay, so only half of that is true, but still: IT’S THE PRESIDENT.

Recently, we stopped ignoring the elephant in the room and had the talk: are we staying in, or getting out? His eyes widened with excitement as he went through all the possibilities awaiting him in his next decade of service. Mine sank to my feet as reality set in that my perfectly planned life with the white picket fence probably won’t happen.

So, what does that mean for me and my perfectly planned life and white picket fence? Honestly, I have no idea, and that scares me a little bit. But in the last 8 years, I’ve learned that life doesn’t come in a perfectly packaged box. It might come in 3 year billets and surprise IA deployments. It can require a therapist and some serious amounts of wine. And wine is totally okay.

Military life doesn’t exactly give you the opportunity to dream up a life you’d love to have. But I guess that’s the beauty of this one of a kind journey. It gives you other things you never thought to dream up.

Have you and your spouse made the decision to make the military a career? What advice would you give?

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Online Engagement Manager

Special Operations Forces: A War Weary Community Needs Support

air-force-special-ops

When Secretary Hagel dropped his budget proposals in February, it did not recommend cuts to US Special Operations Command (SOCOM). As a spouse who spent over a decade living the Special Operations Forces (SOF) family life, I can say I am relieved that they will not suffer direct budget cuts, but this also carries with it a significant amount of worry. No cuts, means the same or more missions, right?

You see, while SOCOM funds SOF missions, the programs that support families and dependents are provided by the “big” Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, and Navy. SOCOM’s service members will be equally hurt by low pay raises, decreased Basic Housing Allowance (BAH) and changes to TRICARE. As “big Service” budgets get smaller, and the operational tempo for SOF families continues or increases, where will they get their support?

In 2010, Admiral Eric Olson, then Commander of SOCOM, initiated a study of SOF warriors and their families and was able to document a “fraying” of the force with strong data. Admiral William McRaven turned those concerns into Preservation of the Force and Family (POTFF). POTFF primarily helps the service member focus on physical, spiritual, mental, and social issues. Of course, this assists the family as a whole, but POTFF programs aimed at the families are limited because of legal restrictions on who SOCOM can spend money on and how.

I have loved the idea of POTFF since its inception. I was part of those who were studied in 2010. I KNOW this fraying. I knew that I needed to do whatever I could to help future SOF spouses avoid the fraying that I felt for many years.

I am terrified that budget cuts to the programs provided by the Services will devastate everyone, but particularly SOF families because while the war draws down in Afghanistan, the SOF mission does not.

SOF families endure operational tempos and unpredictability in an unending cycle. Resiliency is NOT optional, and it comes at a cost. There were years when I had friends ask me if I was happy, and I could only answer, “I will be, when he’s home.” That routine lasted and lasted–it was the ‘SOF life.’

I can say that I am stronger than I ever imagined I would or could be, but I still cry for the new mom who, despite being a SOF spouse for three years, couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.

The family programs offered at our installation were stellar, but the amount of people deployed at any given time and in constant rotation needed far more manpower than the military family programs could offer. Our Airman & Family Readiness Center was staffed for the regular Air Force mission, not SOCOM’s.

So, now with Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, and Navy budgets shrinking, while SOCOM’s remains unchanged, what happens to those spouses and families? Of the 1% who serve in the military, 67,000 are in SOF units – a remarkably small, but growing number. The vision for the future of SOF is one of expansion. The stress will not decrease for these families. They have not and will not get a break. Our SOF families NEED adequate support for their growing missions from the Services, Defense Department, and Congress.

We are war weary – don’t forget us and the unique mission our service members provide within the military community.

Brooke-GoldbergPosted by Brooke Goldberg, Government Relations Deputy Director

Donor Spotlight: Crafting for a Cause

fabric-traditionsIn honor of their 25th Anniversary, FabricTraditions has chosen to commemorate their special day with the launch of a fabric collection that’s particularly significant to the people who most contributed to their success. According to the company’s co-founder, Dom Seddio, “We developed the ‘Creating New Traditions’ 100% Made-In-America line to honor our American employees, vendors and customers, as well as our military.” A percentage of fabric sales will benefit the National Military Family Association.

Seddio adds, “We chose the Association because it’s the only national organization that represents officer and enlisted families, all military branches, as well as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Public Health Service. It’s earned a 4-star rating from Charity Navigator for 10 years, a distinction that only 1% of U.S. charities merit. Our hope is that we can continue this program long term.”

The initial “Creating New Traditions” collection will consist of 26 new fabric prints. Subsequent collections will be introduced quarterly. Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Stores, the nation’s leading fabric and craft retailer with more than 800 stores in 49 states, will retail the collection and feature the fabrics in their Jo-Ann Fashion Fusion magazine. The “Creating New Traditions” collection will be easily identified in-store by custom-printed, deep blue Made-in-America board-ends.

This generous donation from Fabric Traditions brought back some wonderful memories of military life for me. My family was stationed at Andrews Air Force base for nine years. We were lucky enough to live in base housing and were blessed with wonderful neighbors. Every Tuesday night, the ladies in the neighborhood held a craft night. Some nights, only three people showed up. Other nights, we had twenty people packing the room. We all had different projects to work on – cross stitch, quilting, doll making, dough art, sweatshirt painting, and knitting. It was a lovely way to relax away from the kids, and connect with other spouses.

Every once in a while we held a special craft night, and we would all learn a new craft together. We had so much fun! We made gingerbread houses at Christmas time, learned how to ‘blow out’ real eggs to make our own keepsake Easter eggs, tea stained fabric, and painted sweatshirts.

Did you know crafting improves your health and overall quality of life? It can soothe emotions and relieve stress. You gain a sense of accomplishment and the pleasure of creating things. Trying new crafts, and being creative, promotes brain flexibility and growth. Who knew?!

Crafting also offers an escape from your every day cares and worries. It’s a low-stress way to unwind from life’s pressures and concerns while engaging in a worthwhile activity that allows for a bit of a diversion. We never realized that those few hours gave us a break from the stresses of military life – we were just having fun!

We are so happy that FabricTraditions has chosen to recognize the efforts of our Association! Military life can often be overwhelming, uncertain, and stressful, but with companies like FabricTraditions, spouses and families can find fun, creative ways to bond and enjoy this unique adventure!

Do you and your neighbors get together and do anything crafty? Share them with other military spouses in the comments section below!

anniePosted by Annie Morgan, Development and Membership Deputy Director

Putting the Pieces Back Together After Deployment

family-retreatsThe other day when I was at the commissary, I ran into someone who told me she was feeling overwhelmed with all of the stuff she was dealing with after her spouse returned home. He had been deployed for the third time in five years, the children were not as welcoming as they had been the last time, and she was wondering how they all could recapture the family she remembered and wanted back again. She knew I worked at the National Military Family Association, and that I had been a military spouse. Was there something out there that could help?

The world of military life has changed since I was an active-duty spouse. These past years of wartime climate have affected families in ways that could not have been imagined when troops began their repetitive cycles of deployment. Most families have worked to come back together after each deployment but it gets harder and harder when the time apart exceeds the time together.

The National Military Family Association has been advocating for military families for forty-five years. And like the changes that have occurred since I was a military spouse, our Association has changed. One of those changes, born from our advocacy, listening and acting in response to families’ concerns, and the occasional chance encounters in the commissary, is our Operation Purple® Family Retreats.

Take a military family dealing with reintegration and reunion challenges following one or multiple deployments, add family-focused activities designed to celebrate the family and each other, and mix with special resiliency and team-building fun set in or near national parks, and you have the basic recipe for an Operation Purple Family Retreat. And this special opportunity comes with free lodging, activities and meals…thanks to the generosity of donors that want to honor military families. But there is more.

“Seeing my son smile more than he has in months…Husband retreating into self and allowing growth…Me allowing myself to admit areas I need to improve on…” Service member Dad

“Great experience that was much needed for our family. We were able to connect without the distractions of everyday life…” Military Spouse

Almost 400 military families have participated in an Operation Purple Family Retreat. We keep learning what it means to them. And so I suggested to my new friend from the commissary that she and her family apply so that they, too, could begin to focus on each other. Applying online is as easy as checking our website in February for the application, locations, and dates. We will have four in 2014 – across the country. February 14-18, 2014 at Teton Science Schools, Jackson, WY is already full but we return there June 30 – July 4th. Maybe this is just what your family needs…

theresaPosted by Terry Buchanan, Youth Initiatives Director

My Spouse Has Deployment Orders. Now What?

deployment-bagsOnce you’ve been a spouse long enough, you will experience that moment where your service member comes home with a date. A date you would like to forget, or at least never get to…the date of the next deployment. I always felt that once we had a date, it was a big cloud hanging over our heads, everywhere we went, and over everything we planned.

From that point forward, life was colored with the tint of it, whether it was buying a car, landscaping the yard, or finding a new activity for the kids to participate in based on the season. We had to consider how everything would change once he left. Could I manage a change in schedule without him? Would the aging vehicle we had be adequate to evacuate the whole family without him if a major hurricane came?

Early in our marriage, relatives remarked we never seemed to enjoy what we had right now. It was difficult to enjoy the “now” when we couldn’t depend on being in the same place for more than a month or two at a time. We made it through ten deployments and countless stateside separations. It was a high operational tempo, and no matter how many times we said goodbye, it didn’t get easier, because we never knew when, or if, he would be back.

Over 11 years we saw crew members lose children, remaining spouses hospitalized with no authorized care for their children, and lost members of our community to suicide and disaster. Pessimistic as it may seem, we knew to plan for the worst and hope for the best.

We did develop some routines that created a sense of security and control, to the extent possible. Everyone is different, and with children involved the dynamics were always changing, so flexibility was critical. I learned to expect the natural inclination to push each other away as the date of departure approached, but always tried to focus on making the most of the last few weeks.

Additionally, there are some rules that I think everyone can mold to their circumstance or dynamic (with a few non-negotiables):

  1. Get your affairs in order (i.e. prepare for the worst). You MUST have a copy of your service member’s orders and a general and specific power of attorney, and an updated copy of wills. There aren’t any paper police who will arrest you if you don’t, but you will come to regret not having them if you ever need them. You SHOULD make sure that you understand how your roles and responsibilities will change during the deployment. You will have to fill in for your spouse in many ways. What day does the garbage come? Where are the tax documents if tax time comes? How does the sprinkler system work? This is not just an issue between spouses, but may involve children, as well. Include them, if it is age appropriate, in defining and learning how to fill in for each other with one less person in the house.
  2. Spend time doing what you do best as a family. Whatever things make your family happy together, do them. Watch movies together. Play board games together. Go hiking together. Cheer each other on at sports events together. Do you see a pattern? Together. It’s pretty simple.
  3. Adjust your expectations. This is required for everyone involved. Deployment is difficult for everyone and everyone has to be as flexible as possible (yes, show this to your service member because it applies to them, too). The first few deployments, I wanted emails and letters, but I got phone calls. I was terrified of something happening to my spouse and not having some tangible recollection of his last words to me. It wasn’t realistic for him to sit down and pen something. He needed to hear a voice, so I got over it and looked forward to hearing his voice. In later deployments, he wanted to call at 10:30 PM when I had to get myself ready for work and walk out the door with a fed and dressed two year-old by 6:00 AM. He didn’t get the loving positive wife, with anecdotes of toddler cuteness. Instead, he got the overly tired frustrated wife with anecdotes of failing potty-training. He had to learn to accept my fatigue as part of the new status quo and not take it personally. Marriage is work on both ends, whether you are together or apart.

Deployments are never easy or simple, but you can try and make your preparation predictable and routine, which can help ease stress and facilitate bonding. There is no one-size-fits-all way of communicating or preparing, and you have to find what works for your family dynamic. Life happens and the world keeps turning during deployments. Don’t focus on failures and successes; focus on maintaining your connection and remembering why you and your spouse chose to make a life together.

What does your family do to prepare for deployments? Are there any must do’s? Check out our app, MyMilitaryLife for our other tips!

brookePosted by Brooke Goldberg, Government Relations Deputy Director

Roadmap to Understanding the Childless Military Spouse

couple-jumpingLet me be honest here for a minute. I’m 28. I’ve been married for four years. I am a military spouse. I don’t have kids, nor are they in my immediate future.

Boom.

I’m sure some of you will read that and, no doubt, think I’m weird. But spouses like me are not rare; in fact, there are a ton of us. We’re just hiding from the command parties that feature bubble wrap laid on the floor for your kids to trample on.

Ok, we’re not really hiding. But in my experience, some spouses with children often forget how to communicate with those of us who are not parents. We all came from the same bus stop, remember? Just not all of us took the ride into parenthood.

Speaking of my experiences, here are some of the craziest things that spouses with kids have said to me.

Consider this a roadmap of what not to say to the childless military spouse:

“Don’t you feel useless with all that free time and nothing to focus your energy on?”

“You don’t want to be the OLD mom – better not wait much longer!”

“Are you having infertility issues?”

“You could just adopt!”

“Aren’t you READY for kids?!”

“But you’re almost thirty.”

“Having kids gets us so much more money on our tax return!”

“Don’t you get lonely?”

As military spouses, we’re all trying to find common ground, share experiences, and support each other. And while none of the spouses who said these things to me meant any ill regard, they still made me feel excluded.

Those of us in the military community who don’t have kids by the “normal” age (read: young parents) still want to be included in your play dates, kids events, and yes, we’ll even help set up the bubble wrap on the floor at the next command Christmas party. Maybe we are struggling with experiencing pregnancy, or worse, maybe we’ve lost a pregnancy, but we just aren’t sharing. Or (gasp!) maybe we are childfree by choice.

Having children is a big decision for any one, and those of us who haven’t crossed that bridge, still have other things in common with you. We’re loving wives, focused employees, loyal friends, and can be a genuine support system for you on this military journey!

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Online Engagement Manager