Like Riding a Bike: 6 Savings Tips for One-Income Military Families


Saving money is like riding a bike. When you don’t know how, and you try to start, it’s tough. But with practice, a good bike, and someone to run beside you for a few feet, it really can become second nature to you. I know from experience.

Military life can make it especially hard to start pedaling the savings bicycle, though. More families seem to be one income families, and that alone, can be stressful if not planned wisely. Here are some of my easy tips on how you can take the training wheels off your savings bike and pick up some speed with building wealth:

  1. Cut off the cable (but keep the internet). Cable tv is just plain expensive. And it’s even more depressing when you have 500+ channels, and you only watch a handful of them. If you’re ready to get serious with saving money, cable goes first. In it’s place, try options like AppleTV, Netflix, Hulu, or Roku—they stream the same shows (using internet), for much cheaper!
  2. No spend months. I’ve done a few of these in my savings journey. They’re tough at first, but end up being a great way to pocket extra cash. Aside from groceries, gas, and bills, you buy nothing extra in a month. Put all the money you save directly into your savings account!
  3. Cash budget. This is my favorite, and perhaps my best tip (in my humble opinion). I started using a cash budget in 2012 and have never looked back. I pay my bills, and gas for my car, on my debit card, and everything else is cash. Each month—or paycheck—I decide on a number for categories like groceries, pets, and (when I’ve saved some money) entertainment. I head to the bank every time I get paid, and withdraw exactly how much I need. I even ask the teller for specific denominations to make sure there’s no mistakes. I carry my money in envelopes, and stop spending when the money runs out. TIP: If you’re trying this method, give it around 3 months to find the ‘right’ amounts for your budget.
  4. Keep the change. I used to be annoyed with all the spare change I’d find lying around my house…in purses, in wallets, in my car. So I bought a piggy bank and started putting all the spare change in there. As it filled up, I got excited at the potential amount of money inside, and when it was full, I took it to my bank—a credit union—and used the coin counter there for free. And even better, it was directly deposited into my savings account! TIP: Avoid coin counters at big chain stores…the fees make me sad.
  5. Free is fun. If you’re in a no-spend month, or you’re just cutting back on frivolous expenses, like eating out, seeing a movie every weekend, or going to concerts, don’t be discouraged thinking there’s nothing else to do. There are free, exciting things to do everywhere, and some of the best adventures are the free ones! I recommend the National Park Annual Pass–which is free for military members and their dependents. It allows you free access to federally operated recreation sites around the country. Other (mostly) free ideas: see if your town has fun events, like summer movies on the lawn, free museums, hit up all the splash pads with the kids, visit the local library, or take advantage of free or $1 events on base, like bowling or movies. When in doubt, google, “Free things to do in [your town]” and see what comes up!
  6. Coupons are your friend. I still don’t have the hang of extreme couponing, but I try to make it somewhat worth my while if I see a good coupon here and there. Buying groceries for a family on a budget is tough, so taking advantage of coupons, savings clubs, and store fliers is a great way to save money. Check out this post on how to get the most bang for your buck!

Saving money can be a challenge, even for the most savvy saver. Know that it may take a few tries to finally take the training wheels off, but when you buckle down, get serious, and make a plan, it WILL get easier. If building wealth were easy, everyone would be rich, amiright?

If you decide to try any of these tips, or you’ve had success with them before, leave a comment and let me know! And I encourage you to take advantage of Military Saves Week, which is happening THIS WEEK! They have more financial tips, encouragement, and practical advice to help your military family save money, get out of debt, and build wealth. And it can start with a simple pledge to save.

Are you ready to get on the savings bicycle?

Posted by Shannon Prentice, Content Development Manager

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