Because You’re Worth It: 4 Tips for Military Spouses Going Back to Work or School

As a military wife, the most precious title I could be called is a colleague. The concept of holding a job, continuing education, and having a career is sometimes a fantasy, especially if you have children, and a spouse that moves every 12-18 months, like me.

Recently, I realized a career might be possible, but I would have to create a plan. My children were old enough to go to school and take care of their basic needs. My husband and I saved enough to spend a little on myself. After days of researching the internet about possible careers and my soul, I applied to get my Master’s Degree.

I kept thinking about my children, “How will they fair if I go back to school?” 

I worried about my husband, “What about his career?” 

After all, my husband and I sacrificed so much for his military career! Do we just dump everything we strived for just so I could have a job? To be hired in my field might have the same the probability of me weighing as much as I did when I was 19–it might never happen!

But I realized I needed to have confidence in myself that I am capable of making a decision that benefits me. To ensure maximum success, I started small. I wrote a list of my strengths. At first, my list looked like the line from “The Help,”

Fari, you is kind, you is smart, you is important.

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Feeling anxious and depressed from my little list of strengths, I decided to take all sorts of personality quizzes, including the one where it asked me what household appliance best fits my personality. The answer: a lampshade (because I said I liked hats). I still wonder if a lampshade is considered an appliance?

After researching my personality and strengths, I found I best fit the description of a physical education teacher/coach (…but I hate sports), an elementary school teacher (…but I hate kids), real estate agent (…maybe?), and a social worker (…what?).

So what’s the next step after taking all those random quizzes and asking career advisors for their input?

If you’re in the same boat I am, try this:

Browse through job-search engines for employment in cities you live in, will live in, or where you’d like to retire. Understand what the job requires regarding education, licensure, and years of experience. Research if the career can be studied online.

Some degrees are difficult to do online, like a doctorate in law or medicine, but you can earn an accredited degree in nursing, paralegal studies, and social work.

Research whether the university where you’d like to apply has been sued for lying about their achievements, accreditation, or for scamming potential students from their money in hopes of a receiving a valid certificate.

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Research the requirements needed to be [insert career]. Call or email admission officers about their accreditation. Does the university have experience working with military spouses? It is important to tell the university about your unique situation. For example, you are moving to Timbuktu in 18 months and want to know if you can continue your education in the middle of Mali, with restricted internet connection, and if you are allowed to perform your practicum there.

I learned that many universities will fine students for taking breaks in-between semesters, and many schools refuse a student to take online courses while overseas.

Budget and consult your spouse. After all, you will need your spouse’s help when it comes to everything that makes up your family. Group effort and support for the win!

The National Military Family Association offers scholarships! Apply! And not just for standard university and college courses, but scholarships can help pay for licensure fees, certification exams, and books. Check out their available scholarships and all the partner schools who offer awesome discounts and funding on top of NMFA’s scholarships!

Don’t be afraid to dip your toes in the pool, no need to take that huge plunge! By taking one to two classes every semester, you will recognize your time management skills, personal budget, and capability of obtaining the information. Eventually, your efforts will add up without breaking the bank, your sanity, and family time.

For a while, I thought going back to school to earn a career was selfish. I antagonized over whether I had enough money, time, energy, ability, and capability. Every step I took, I questioned if I am smart enough and worthy of going back to school. The answer at every step I took was yes, I am worth it. And so are you. It is truly unfair how many of us have to fight and restructure our goals as a way to achieve small victories. Just like our spouses that go on deployments and perform missions, we have the right to receive an education and join the workforce. Now go get it!

What tips would you give a military spouse who wants to pursue a career or an education?

Posted by Fari Bearman, NMFA Volunteer and military spouse

Don’t Forget Your Happy Thoughts: 7 Ways to Bring Positivity into Your Life

Military families are well-versed on sacrifice. We understand being confronted with hard times. It’s almost normalized among our communities. The entire family serves when a military member serves because of the countless contributions and sacrifices.

This past year was difficult for me. I found myself struggling to find positivity. I would look at social media and read something negative, watch the news and see the tragic events, and feel the stresses in my personal life. I hear the worries that so many confess about the new year.

All your dreams may not come true this year, but that doesn’t mean your nightmares will. I pray and hope you all find strength, love, and hope every moment you need it. If you find yourself struggling for some positivity in 2017, I hope this list will help navigate you away from negative thoughts.

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Here are some ideas to bring positivity into your 2017:

  • Help Others. When a situation arises to help someone, make sure to help them. Hold the door for someone. Raise money or goods for charities. Ask someone about their day or lend your ear to someone that needs to vent. Maybe helping someone else will help you, too.
  • Be Kind. A small amount of kindness could mean the world to someone. Spend more time complimenting others instead of criticizing them. Let go of judgment, and seek to understand others instead of judging them.
  • Pursue Goals. Find your passion. Set goals and go for them. Don’t hold off on something you can do today. This is the year that you make it happen! If you want something in life, you need to go for it. You can’t accomplish anything if you don’t even attempt it.
  • Appreciate Life. There is so much breathtaking beauty and majesty in the world, don’t allow pain and heartache to destroy that for you. You may get knocked down, but you will get up (yes, this is a Chumbawamba reference). Military families may bend, but they never break! They’re strong and brave (don’t forget it).
  • Find Your Happy Place. Nature is full of happy places, in my opinion. Hiking to a waterfall, laying in a grassy field, or looking at the sun and feeling its warmth on my skin are examples of nature sending me to my happy place. These may not be suitable spaces for you, and that is fine. Find a place that works for you. Test a few out. You can have more than one location. Take some time to clear your mind and focus your energy on positive thinking and seek happy thoughts.
  • Technology Timeouts. Don’t forget to experience life. The amount of technology we have access to today is fantastic in many aspects, but it shouldn’t consume your life.
  • Have FUN! Enjoy moments and create memories. Smile and laugh, as much as possible this year.

I hope everyone shares love and empathy toward others. I believe we can all speak in terms of hope, and remember our actions and words can influence and inspire the next generation. Let us follow our hearts and not forget our happy thoughts.

What positivity are you bringing into the new year? Share it with us!

blair-c-headshotPosted by Blair Coleman, military spouse and NMFA Volunteer

The MTF Pharmacy: Where Precious Hours Go to Die

A few weeks ago, my husband sent me a photo of his pharmacy ticket while he was waiting for a prescription at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

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The image of his pharmacy ticket showed that at 11:40, there were 42 tickets ahead of his. At 12:05, he sent me a text saying they’d only called two tickets in the last 20 minutes.

About an hour and a half later, I check in with him to see how long it took the pharmacy to fill his prescription. He was STILL there! Maybe the pharmacy was short staffed? Were there only a few windows open? Nope. There looked to be plenty of staff, he said. And there were eight windows open!

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He finally received his prescription at 1:40; essentially wasting 2 full hours of the Marine Corps’ time.

Many military treatment facility (MTF) pharmacies have the option to request your prescription, and then return at a later time to pick it up, but unfortunately this isn’t always an option for most. In my husband’s case, his Primary Care Manager (PCM) referred him to a specialist at Walter Reed, which is an hour away from where we live. He had no choice but to wait for his prescription that day.

Thankfully, he now has the option to communicate his dissatisfaction through the new Joint Outpatient Experience Survey (JOES).

JOES rolled out last year as an improvement over the old patient satisfaction surveys. Previously, each of the services had their own version of the survey, but it wasn’t consistent across the Military Health System (MHS). Now standardized for all, JOES will allow the MHS to compare performance and satisfaction across the board.

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In a few weeks, my husband will receive a survey in the mail asking about his experience at the facility where he received treatment, and the provider he saw that day. He will be asked to rate aspects of his care– did the provider treat him with courtesy and respect? Was it easy to make the appointment? Would he recommend the facility to another Tricare-eligible family?

He will even have the option to rate other services in the facility, such as Radiology, Laboratory, or Pharmacy. Well, how about that?

If the survey information my husband provides is used properly, it should give some valuable insight to the Defense Health Agency (DHA) on his experience within the MTF he visited.  His relayed experience should help pinpoint areas that may need improving, like the pharmacy wait-time.

Does any of this sound familiar to you? Will you complete the survey? We want to hear about your experiences, so please share them with us!

mjPosted by MJ Boice, Staff Writer

Looking Back on Your Life: How are You Answering These 3 Questions?

As we begin the last week of our first month of 2017, I’d like to challenge you to reconsider the points we explored in creating more meaningful goals for ourselves this year. During the last month, we’ve explored the challenges of traditional New Year’s resolutions and I’ve offered some fresh alternatives to renew the process in order to create authentic, achievable intentions.

In week 1, we discussed how resolutions are typically created from the surface level of our minds, where our ideas tend to be short sighted and shallow. We challenged ourselves to go deeper and expand the boundaries of our comfort zones by creatively exploring the thinking behind our objectives.

In week 2, we recognized the “Debbie Doubter” part of ourselves that operates from a place of fear, then introduced and investigated our “Inner Hero” – the adversary of Debbie. We challenged ourselves to see 2017 from that new perspective that exemplifies hope, clarity, and determination.

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In week 3, we utilized this newfound “Inner Hero” persona to reflect back over 2016 and determine the aspects that we would like more of and less of. We challenged ourselves to use this information to design our personal manifestos for 2017.

In week 4, we courageously admitted that some of our habitual behaviors lead to living small lives. We challenged ourselves to identify our core values and analyzed them against our current behaviors, then eventually altered those behaviors to start living a life more closely aligned with our values. This goal helps us achieve the biggest impact possible.

I hope these segments have proven helpful in redesigning your 2017 ambitions. The purpose of this series was to move you closer to becoming the person you were meant to be and living the life you were called to live. In the everyday humdrum of military life, we can often lose contact with those aspirations.

However, at the end of our lives, none of us are going to look back and wish that we lost more weight, or worked harder, or drove a better car. The superficial goals we placed upon ourselves to achieve will quickly fade away leaving us with pure clarity.

The elemental concerns that will be important to us at that time, though quite personal, are universal:

  1. How satisfied am I with the person I chose to be?
  2. In what ways did I love those around me well?
  3. What positive impacts did my life make?

We can take steps toward those ideas now by making purposeful choices in who we are being and how we are living, then adjusting ourselves accordingly. In fact, if you only endeavor to answer those three questions every once in a while, and make small modifications in response, you are already committing to doing very hard work.

May your 2017 be full of ideas, words, and actions that move you forward toward the ultimate dream of living a life that mattered. May we all journey onward in this collective spirit of unity hand-in-hand.

How are you doing with your New Year’s resolutions? Share your progress with us!

mwellsPosted by Michelle Wells, NMFA Volunteer and military spouse

Breathing a Sigh of Relief: Hiring Our Heroes is Tuned in to Military Spouses

As a mother of two young children with an active duty husband who deploys quite a bit, we have made a family decision that I will stay home, and not work, for the time being. But that doesn’t mean I can’t plan for the future. I know at some point I will be ready to join the work force, again. With that in mind, I was excited to find out the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s program, Hiring Our Heroes (HoH) was hosting an event near my home in San Antonio, Texas. Cue the babysitter…I was headed out to see what it was all about!

For those who don’t know, Hiring Our Heroes is a national program with a mission to connect businesses and communities in a productive way. One of the programs they run focuses on helping veterans and their spouses find meaningful work. Even better, Hiring Our Heroes has networking receptions, hiring fairs, and even an online resume booster built specifically for military spouses. This sets HoH apart as a small, but growing, group of organizations who are more holistic in their approach to helping veterans. When families are included as part of their mission, everyone wins.

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As I listened to the keynote speakers at the event, which was hosted by USAA–also a great supporter of military families–it was clear HoH truly understands the unique challenges of being a military spouse. Whether it’s facing the hurdle of filling gaping holes in time while resume writing, or finding ways to get face-to-face with potential employers, they have it covered. The network of employers they have built understand we have a unique set of traits and skills that make us desirable employees.

This particular reception had representatives from big name companies that ran the gamut, from technology to business, and hospitality. As I strolled, I spoke to an Human Resource agent from Southwest Airlines, a representative from an IT firm that specialized in government contracts, and a customer service rep from a local car dealership. Each one of them was genuinely interested in hearing about my personal history as a military spouse and how that translated into traits that would benefit their companies.

As the evening ended and I spent time talking with other spouses, it was clear I wasn’t the only one who worried about how my time as a military spouse potentially affected my career opportunities. I breathed a sigh of relief knowing that when the time was right, there are organizations like HoH there to offer help. Whether you are actively looking for work or just keeping your options open, make sure you check out this organization and all they have to offer. They have events nationwide so take a look at their website to see when they will be in your area. I highly recommend it! Most importantly, rest assured that there are groups tuned into the struggles and needs of military spouses and are doing something about it.

Have you ever attended a Hiring Our Heroes event? Tell us about your experience!

headshot-cbrownPosted by Christy Brown, NMFA Volunteer, San Antonio, TX

Kick Complacency to the Curb: Live BIG and Live Your Values

In this blog post, we invited our Inner Hero to help us get to know ourselves better by reflecting on the past year. Let’s use these self-discoveries to define our core values and challenge ourselves to live bigger in 2017!

Struggle #4:  Living Small

How many of us have gotten so accustomed to our recurring, habitual behaviors that we commonly claim to ourselves or others: “That’s just the way I am?”  

While self-acceptance is a very worthwhile endeavor for each of us, and true inner peace cannot occur until we accept all of the unique parts of ourselves, there is a fine line between whether our self-acceptance is advancing us toward goal achievement, or whether we allow it to shift into an attitude of complacency.

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The danger with complacency is that it convinces us to be the absolute smallest possible version of ourselves. If we allow complacency any level of control in our lives, pretty soon its sidekick–fear–will show up assuring us that every risk we consider is just too dangerous. Before too long, our fear can end up resembling the mouse in the popular children’s book, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie with its circular, never ending demands.

One surefire method to kick complacency and fear to the curb is to do the work of recognizing our core values and the significant insight they contribute to designing a life of meaning lived out purposefully.

Challenge:  Define your personal value system. Try this:

  1. Read through the following core values list and circle any that resonate strongly with you.

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  1. Write out the list of circled values in order of significance, with #1 being the most important.
  2. Focusing on your top five core values, write down three actions that you currently take in your life that are in direct alignment with these values (these actions move you toward your goals). This is your “keep” list.
  3. Focusing on your top five core values, write down three actions that you currently take in your life that are not in direct alignment with these values (these actions move you away from your goals, or cause you to remain frozen in place). How can you become more aware of these actions and take steps to diminish them?
  4. Choose three more creative actions to add to your “keep” list that you will commit to in order to move closer to your goals.

How can the concept of living in alignment with your core values help you to achieve goals that feel unreachable? How does defining your values help you to live bigger?

mwellsPosted by Michelle Wells, military spouse and NMFA Volunteer

Couponing Made (Somewhat) Easy!

Four years ago, my husband and I PCS’d for the…’I-don’t-even-know-which’ time. We were newly married, and I had to quit my job to move across the country, but our money situation was alright. However, after 6 months of bad luck in the job hunt, I decided to go back to school. I started looking for every and any way to save money. That’s when I began couponing.

To start, no, I don’t buy items in extreme amounts. I don’t have a stock pile of 100 bottles of shampoo and 200 toothbrushes sitting around. Buying in bulk isn’t practical for military spouses who move every year and a half and are always lacking storage space. But I’m not going to lie, couponing takes time and it isn’t always fun. But I can help make it somewhat easier for you:

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Online Coupons
The first thing any couponer will need is a printer. Printers are fairly inexpensive and are less than $100 at your base Exchange, or online. Printable coupons are one of the most popular coupons available. The easiest printable coupon site to use is Coupons.com, and I like Lozo because it’s the most comprehensive. For foods that are organic or non-GMO, there are sites like Common Kindness (which donates to your favorite non-profit each time you redeem a coupon!), and Mambo Sprouts.

Printable coupons give you the biggest variety of products because there are so many out there. But it is definitely more time consuming to sift through the coupons you don’t want just to find the ones you do want. Once you “clip” the coupons, print them out and cut. To save some time, enlist help for cutting coupons–I use my husband. I hear kids also work well!

Electronic or digital coupons are also becoming more and more popular. For military families, one of the best resources is the Commissary Rewards Card. Grab a card at the Commissary and sign up online! This is the easiest way to save money at the Commissary because you can go online and clip all of their coupons and just scan your rewards card at the checkout. The website also gives you options to send your coupons via e-mail, or download their mobile app so you can see what coupons you have while you’re shopping.

Many grocery stores offer digital store coupons. If you regularly shop at Safeway, Vons, Shaw’s, Wal-Mart, or any other store, check online to see if they offer additional savings. Typically, all that is required to redeem them is a valid email address. Once registered, you simply go to their website, clip coupons, and punch in your phone number at the checkout.

In-Store Coupons
In-store coupons are ones you’ll find at the grocery store, or placed on the products themselves by the manufacturer. For coupons placed by your local military installation, be aware that most can only be used on base either at the Commissary or the Exchange. Even though the Commissary and Exchange sell the same items on the same military base, they do not sell them for the same price. Check to see which one sells items at a lower cost. In my experience, the price is almost always at the Commissary. If you see coupons around the store, and you’re not buying that product on that day, grab one and put it in your coupon pile for the next trip.

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Coupon Books
The last type of coupons to look out for are in the coupon books. These include ones that come through the mail such as redplum, SmartSource, and Proctor & Gamble, or that you find by the door at the Commissary. So when you get your mail and it looks like a bunch of sales flyers, STOP! That is usually where the redplum coupon book is hiding. You can usually find coupon book in your local Sunday newspaper, as well.

Tips for couponing
Overseas military families can use coupons on base that have expired up to 6 months after the expiration date. If you have clipped coupons you aren’t going to use, think about donating them to military families in overseas locations by participating in the Troopons®–Coupons for Troops program.

You will save more money on non-food items, so be more diligent about finding coupons for things like paper products, cleaning supplies, make-up, shampoo, razors, and deodorant.

The commissary will NOT double coupons. If you have clipped it on your rewards card, you cannot use a second paper coupon along with it.

Most civilian grocery stores WILL double coupons. Check your local grocery store to see their coupon policy.

Even though I hate not using a coupon, coupons do not always make a product the best deal. Always check to see if there is a better deal with similar products.

Get a second e-mail address! Whenever you need to “sign-up” on a product’s website in order to receive their coupon, they will relentlessly hound you with e-mails. Get a second e-mail account to give all of those websites so your personal account isn’t cluttered with junk mail.

These tips have helped my family, and with a little patience and persistence, I think they’ll benefit your family, too!

Do you have some must-share couponing tips and tricks? Leave a comment and share the wealth!

Posted by Katie Swogger, military spouse and NMFA Volunteer