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Financial Tips for Military Spouses

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Financial Tips for Military Spouses
Financial Tips for Military Spouses

We Had a Baby!

Babies are expensive! My husband and I just had our first baby this year and while we did a good job of buying on sale and thrifting, it still adds up. My advice is to plan for items they might need a year in advance, as once you have the baby, you will need more diapers, clothes, and baby gadgets than you think. Once you learn of your pregnancy, use those nine months to plan, set aside money, and readjust your budget for when the baby is born.

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MilSpouse Money Mission

Congratulations on your first child! Welcome to parenthood and, yes, the realization of how expensive children can be. You bring up a great tip to pass along so others are not as overwhelmed. Get started early and plan during those pregnancy months! Your spending plan will be impacted, so here is a worksheet to help you start thinking through some potential changes. Know that you are not alone as you prepare for your new child’s arrival. You may want to listen to another spouse share some resources she wished she had known about early on in this short video.

Visit the New Child milestone for a more in-depth look at how to plan for all the financial changes a new child can bring.

Financial Tips for Military Spouses

Investing in Our Future

Invest, invest, invest! Even if it’s only a few dollars, invest and leave the money; do not touch it. My husband and I have , and while we know the risks of investing, we believe the reward is greater, just like getting to the top of the mountain! The apps out there today also make it fun, as you can easily watch your money and have greater interaction with what you’ve invested!

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MilSpouse Money Mission

One of the best things you can do is pay yourself first! It’s wise to consider building your emergency fund with three to six months of living expenses, and consider investing as a way to help build wealth. If your Service member is part of the Blended Retirement System (BRS), we recommend you save at least 5% into the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) to take full advantage of the matching contribution. That’s FREE money to help you build wealth!  For more on that, watch this short video. As Katie mentions, even if you have to start small, it really does add up over time. Everyone has a unique risk tolerance when it comes to investing, so it is important to learn more and communicate with your spouse about your goals and objectives. A great place to start for all things saving and investing is our Money Ready 201 section. Here you will find easy-to-understand resources to break down these sometimes-complicated topics. You can even take a quiz to learn about your money personality to help you get started.

Whether you want to build an emergency fund, increase your TSP savings, or invest in stocks and mutual funds like Katie, we’re here to help. We suggest watching one of our most popular videos on how time builds wealth.

Financial Tips for Military Spouses
Financial Tips for Military Spouses
Financial Tips for Military Spouses

On the Move with the Military

PCSing is a stressful time in a military family's life and can be made worse when financial hardships occur during a move. When planning for your next PCS, always expect things to go right, but also plan for things to go wrong.

My husband and I do our best to try and plan out every aspect of the move, but it always seems like unexpected costs or unforeseen events come up. We always make sure we have $1,000 in our budget to cover car issues or other unexpected incidents during a move. If you don’t have $1,000 readily available, you may be able to request a money advancement before your move through your installation’s Transportation Office.

If you do a Personally Procured Move (PPM), also called a DITY or do-it-yourself move, one thing you can do that could end up saving you money is to make sure your home goods are insured or covered. It's not uncommon for moving trucks, cars or trailers to get broken into on the road, which could end up costing you a lot of money in the end. If you decide to do a household goods (HHG) or move using a government moving company, double check all the paperwork to make sure the moving company writes down that your electronics are in working condition. It’s very common for things to break during an HHG move, so it's important your goods are listed as working or else it may not be covered.

One little way you can save money is to go to the installation lending closet once you arrive at your new home and borrow basic household items required to cook, clean, etc. Eating out every night for a week while you are unpacking your house can get costly, especially if you have children!

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MilSpouse Money Mission

These are great tips for a PCS. Thank you for sharing. We love this picture and it looks like you had some fun documenting the trip! We’re sure the more seasoned military spouses out there have a lot of experience and have learned many great hacks over the years. Hopefully the newer spouses will benefit from this wisdom!

One important to-do item on a PCS checklist is to review your insurance coverages. This is not just for home goods while in transit, as Jaime points out (which is super important), but also calling to update coverage for your home goods and automobiles in your new location. Rates can vary from location to location, so it’s important to know and plan ahead.

If you are authorized a money advancement like Jaime’s family, remember you have to pay that back. Plan for repayment in your post-PCS budget so you’re not caught off guard.

We have an entire section of the website dedicated to PCS moves. Here we have videos from other spouses, worksheets to help you start planning for your next move, and some financial planning considerations to keep in mind. Additionally, we provide 10 tips to make your next move a little smoother. Also remember that if things do not go according to plan, the military relief societies stand ready to help with no-interest loans, grants and other community support programs. Check out this blog for more information.

One other thing to consider with a move is change of climate! I bet Jaime learned the climate is a bit different in Colorado than Georgia. Do your homework and if your family needs new wardrobe items like hats and gloves or hair products to de-frizz your hair, it all adds up so be sure to plan ahead and account for any extra expenses.

Financial Tips for Military Spouses

Setting Financial Goals

One of the best benefits of the military is knowing that the paychecks are going to be stable throughout your time serving. Being realistic is the biggest tip I have when it comes to financial goals. You have to distinguish needs versus wants. If you aren’t going to actively save money, you aren’t going to see results. My husband and I like to set goals in these increments: one to four years, five years and then 10 years. By setting these goals you can also assess where your spouse will be in his/her career. If your spouse is planning to leave his/her military career, then you can figure out how much money you’ll need to make sure you're stable.

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MilSpouse Money Mission

A stable paycheck during a military career is certainly a strong benefit. It can bring peace of mind during times of uncertainty. Having a plan for that money is a great way to stay on track. From the picture, it looks like your family enjoys some peacefulness along your journey! Setting goals and celebrating small successes along the way can be a great approach to building financial success. Looking at time periods is a great start!

Here are a few other things to consider when setting goals. Make sure your goals are SMART, meaning:

  • Specific – Be very specific in terms of what you would like to accomplish.
  • Measurable – Define your goals in a manner allowing you to track your progress and know when you’ve succeeded.
  • Attainable – Set goals that are reachable, not merely dreams.
  • Relevant – Your goals need to be realistic to help you stay engaged.
  • Time-Bound – Set a target date of accomplishment.

Visit Goal Setting to learn more about setting goals and helpful tips to get started.

Financial Tips for Military Spouses
Financial Tips for Military Spouses
Financial Tips for Military Spouses

We Got Married!

Planning to get married is so exciting that sometimes it can prevent us from thinking about other long-term goals. When my husband and I were dating and starting to get serious about marriage, we sat down and had a talk. I knew that I liked to save money and watch it grow in my bank account but also knew that my husband liked to spend. I made it clear that I wanted to handle the finances so that I knew where the money was going and could be in charge of creating a savings. He wanted to make sure that he still could spend money if he wanted to. We came to the agreement that he would have a set amount of money put to the side each paycheck just for him to spend. This makes sure that he won’t spend money over the budget I have planned but also lets him feel like he still gets something from all his hard work.

This is why it is important to talk about this before marriage so that you know exactly what roles you will be playing and won’t get into arguments that could have been avoided by just sitting down and talking. I am proud to say that we have been able to build a substantial amount of money in our savings which allows us to know that we will be OK if life hits us hard.

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MilSpouse Money Mission

Congratulations on your marriage (beautiful wedding photo!) and great job having the sometimes-difficult conversation about money ahead of time! Financial management can be a leading cause of strain on a marriage, so it’s important to get ahead on those conversations as much as possible so you and your spouse can align, come up with a plan, and work together to reach your goals. It sounds like you were in tune with your financial differences to start the conversation, but for others who may not know clearly their own values on money nor their partner’s, we have some tools to help. Check out our values and rating worksheets. Print these out and use them as conversation starters with your spouse. You may not be completely aligned on how to manage finances, but like Mariah, start with open communication and mutual understanding. Then, work together to develop a plan that works best for your family. For more tips on being a new spouse in the military, visit our New Spouse section where you’ll see step-by-step information about military pay and benefits, financial planning considerations, videos from other spouses, and many other excellent resources to help get you off on the right financial foot!

Financial Tips for Military Spouses

Living Apart in the Military

Being apart from your spouse while they are on a tour, PCS or deployment is one of the hardest things a military spouse has to go through. I still remember when my husband called me and told me that he was being sent to South Korea for a year, and I nearly broke down. Since we wouldn’t be seeing each other before he left to Korea, we had to have a serious talk about spending, so that we would be on the same page. We both knew that life gets expensive so we came up with an amount that our account balance could not dip below.

Whenever he got paid, we could discuss our expenses. If we saw we were going over our budget, we would see if any purchases could be pushed to the next pay period. This communication saved us from being financially in trouble when we were apart and living separate lives.

Meanwhile, my husband was staying in the barracks rent free making it so we could put a large chunk of money into savings each paycheck. It’s always important to save when you can for a rainy day.

My personal tip is that it was always nice to have something around that reminds you of your spouse while they are gone, like a picture of the two of us. It helps to have those reminders of when you were together and be able to look forward to the memories you can make together when they are home.

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MilSpouse Money Mission

Separation from your spouse is certainly a difficult part of military life. Keeping a picture or memory prominent in your everyday life is such a great idea. It looks like this was a fun night out!

There are many types of separation – such as short deployments, longer deployments, TDY for training, field and other training exercises, and unaccompanied tours like your husband's in South Korea. Before any separation, it’s important to know the financial implications. Some may come with special pay and allowances and others may not. It sounds like you did a great job communicating and coming up with a plan. That’s really half the battle! The path to success is having a firm understanding of your goals, knowing any changes in income and expenses, and then developing a plan to stay on track. There is no right or wrong answer. You have to see what works best for you and your family. For deployment, Erica shares her tip in a short video to watch here. For more tips like this and many other resources to help you plan for time apart, visit our Pre-Deployment section.

Financial Tips for Military Spouses
Financial Tips for Military Spouses
Financial Tips for Military Spouses

Got a New Job (for Myself)

I had been a stay-at-home mom for 15 year before starting my new career, but even then, I always found a little job to get out of the house and make a little extra spending money. I was a dog walker and house sitter for six years both in Washington, D.C. and Seattle. Having this little bit of extra income allowed us to stick with our financial goals like saving for college and retirement. Four years ago, when my spouse deployed to Afghanistan, I decided to become a certified personal trainer. It gave me some financial freedom as well as something that was just for me.

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MilSpouse Money Mission

That’s awesome, Suzann! Employment for military spouses is definitely a challenge with so many moves, but it sounds like you’ve done a great job finding creative ways to supplement your family’s income. While it’s not always easy, the first step is to start with setting financial goals like you did. If others need help to get started, visit Goal Setting for some tips and resources. Once you set goals, then it’s time to take a look at your family’s spending plan. If you identify any gaps or opportunities to reach your goals faster, it might help you determine what level of income to strive for at the start. Finding a job or starting a career can be overwhelming if you don’t have some goals in mind. Break down your major goal into smaller pieces, make a plan, find your passion and get creative. Remember, whether you’re working or not, it’s important to save for YOUR retirement. Save into your own Individual Retirement Account (IRA) or a spousal IRA. To learn more, visit our Money Ready 301 Plan to Retire section.

Financial Tips for Military Spouses

We Bought a Home!

There have been times in our military career that my spouse and I have had to be separated for a period of time. When we last PCS’d, my spouse had to stay behind and finish the job while I had to move ahead and start the kids in school. During that time, we decided that the house we really wanted was yet to be built. So, while on my own, I built and closed on our new house.

We used a VA loan to purchase our home with no money down and were able to roll over the closing costs into our mortgage, so we paid no money out of pocket!

It was the first house we had purchased in 15 years, and it was one we knew we would live in longer than three years. It was a really growing time for our entire family, but so worth it.

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MilSpouse Money Mission

Congratulations on your new home! How exciting! Periods of separation are never easy, so great job handling such a major purchase on your own. For others who may be in the market for a new home, we recommend checking out our 5 Rules for Buying a House. This may help you and your spouse prepare for that big step.

For Suzann and many families, the VA loan may be a terrific option. One huge benefit, as Suzann mentioned, is that a down payment is not required. However, we encourage saving for a down payment on a home even if you don’t have to make one. This savings could help you pay for the VA Funding Fee or for move-in expenses that make the home yours. And, if you choose to make a down payment, you will pay less in interest costs over the life of the loan. Visit the VA website to learn more about VA Home Loans by clicking here.

Whether it’s a new home or a new car, major purchases can sometimes put a strain on your budget. Try to avoid acting on impulse and have a level head and a plan in place. It sounds like Suzann and her family waited for the right time and had a plan. Remember that every family’s financial situation is unique, so make sure you research your options and what makes sense now and long-term.

Just a few tips to keep in mind from financial experts:

  • Housing expenses should generally be less than 25% of your pre-tax pay.
  • Transportation expenses, including payment, insurance, fuel and maintenance, should be less than 15% – 20% of pretax pay.

Visit Money Ready 301 for more information on Major Purchases.

Financial Tips for Military Spouses
Financial Tips for Military Spouses
Financial Tips for Military Spouses

Bought a Car

When we arrived at our new duty station and finally got settled, I decided to go back to work. We needed a second vehicle, so I started saving $200 from each paycheck to put aside for this purchase. Once we had a good chunk of money set aside, we started to shop around – price checking vehicles at several local dealerships, so we could get the best deal! We also got preapproval from our bank ahead of time, so we knew what we could afford.

We ended up getting a 2015 Chevy Cruz at a dealership for $9,000, and I was able to use $2,000 I had saved for my down payment, which made my monthly payment a more affordable $180. I continue to throw more than the minimum at the payment each month, so we are paying it off earlier than expected!

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MilSpouse Money Mission

Great job! Sounds like you took all the right steps to make a smart car purchase. You planned ahead and saved money toward the goal, you shopped around instead of making an impulse or emotional decision AND you got preapproved before heading to the dealership. Excellent! Financial experts recommend keeping transportation expenses — including the car payment, insurance, fuel and maintenance — less than 15% – 20% of your pretax income. It’s also nice you have the flexibility to pay off the loan earlier than expected. That’ll certainly save you money by avoiding more interest charges.

If anyone else needs tips on making a major purchase like a new car or home, check out our section, Money Ready 301: Major Purchases.

Financial Tips for Military Spouses

Created and Kept a Budget

We started making our budget to set money aside for when my husband leaves the military and we move back home. We started saving about 18 months prior to my husband considering the transition to civilian life. This will help the transition of finding a place and making sure we have enough to cover bills while he's looking for civilian employment. 

Our budget has all of our current expenses as well as any expenses that we think can be cut and instead put into savings each month! Making the budget was simple, but we did find that sticking to it can be difficult at times! We ended up using cash envelopes to really help us stay on track and not go over budget. 

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MilSpouse Money Mission

Love this picture and thank you for sharing! This is proof that you don’t need a fancy app or tool to help you budget. Putting pen to paper can be just as helpful. The trick is finding what works for you and then actually doing it. To your point, creating the plan is one thing…sticking to it takes commitment. It was wise to start planning ahead for your husband’s transition from the military. This can be a huge change for your family, so you’re smart to get started! Sounds like you’re moving back home, and although it might be familiar, be sure to do your homework as things change and the cost of living may be different than when you were there before.

For others planning the transition from military to civilian life, we have a whole section dedicated to you with many financial tips. Visit Transition to get started!

And for those wanting to put together or update your budget, check out this sample worksheet to get started. We have that and a lot more information on budgeting in our Money Ready 101 Budget section.

Financial Tips for Military Spouses
Financial Tips for Military Spouses
Financial Tips for Military Spouses

Spouse Deployment

There's hardly a happier moment than homecoming from deployment! My husband and I were able to be fairly stress free, and even enjoy a small staycation, because we set a homecoming goal before deployment! Our goal was to put at least $250 away in savings each month of deployment and have at least $1,000 saved up for a homecoming celebration of our choosing.

Planning ahead financially helps you be happier during the often stressful time of "redeployment," and setting a goal can also give you both something to look forward to during those long months!

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MilSpouse Money Mission

Welcome home to your husband! No doubt deployments can cause a lot of stress and anxiety, especially for family members holding down the home front. You did a great job communicating BEFORE the deployment, which is one of our key recommended tips. Often, deployments can come with additional pay, so it’s important to do your homework and have a plan for any increased income. Also remember to adjust your budget if income will be reduced or “go back to normal” after a deployment. A staycation is a great idea! Having a plan and saving up for it allows you to enjoy the time without the stress of using credit cards or accruing debt. 

For other spouses who may be experiencing a deployment, be sure to check out our Pre-Deployment and Post-Deployment sections for more great tips to help you prepare AND hear from other spouses who share their best practices.

Financial Tips for Military Spouses

Served as a Caregiver

Finding a job as a military spouse can be really difficult, especially as a parent of a special needs child. Explore what options the military and state might have for you! Colorado and some other states have programs that allow you to be paid as a certified caregiver! Although there might be some paperwork and processes to go through, it's worth it to earn some extra income for work you may already be doing.

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MilSpouse Money Mission

Thank you so much for sharing information on this important topic. Having a child with special needs can be especially challenging in the military. That’s a great tip to explore any and all benefits the military offers. Be sure to check out the Exceptional Family Member Program on Military OneSource as well.

Brittany, another spouse, offers her tips in caring for a child with special needs in this short video.

Financial Tips for Military Spouses
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