The largest age bracket across all branches of the military are ages 20-24. At that age, not many people know a whole lot about money, let alone how to save. Often times, we learn because we make mistakes. We spend some money on going out to dinner a few days in a row, only to find that the washer needs to be replaced. We’ve all been there. But when your spouse is deployed and the flow of money changes, it’s even easier to get off track.
My husband and I lived on a very steady budget since we moved in together, and in the early years we definitely struggled. We had to learn those hard lessons and we had to accept that, as much as we want toys and fun things, the first priority is always the essentials. We got used to limiting ourselves, and our tight budget left us very aware of how easily we could get thrown off course if something happened. We were happy but we were stressed.
Fast forward a couple years, and we found out my husband was deploying. I sat in multiple family readiness meetings going over everything we should expect, including some financial planning seminars. But it was one speaker that really stuck out to me. He said, “Whatever position you’re in right now financially, you will be in when they return. If you start this journey with bad money spending habits, you will end it in the same position.” I thought about that for a long time. We truly didn’t have bad spending habits, but we did go out to eat more than we should. And, like many, we did buy things we didn’t need from time to time. We had all these grand plans for what we would do with the extra income. Build a garage, go on a vacation, renovate our home, etc. But none of our ideas revolved around how we would save this income.
It was amazing how quickly we planned to adapt to a new budget; like we had forgotten the lessons we learned the hard way. But I didn’t want what that speaker told us to come true. I refused to believe that he was right, and I was going to make sure that we were the small percentage that didn’t fall into that bracket. So, after many conversations with my husband and the helpful advice of those who have “been there, done that” we made a plan. Here are some tips that helped us build a savings, while still living out our goals!
If something needs to be fixed, don’t wait it out
A lot of people assume that part of saving money involves putting things off until it’s feasible. If you really don’t have the money to comfortably pay to fix something, then okay. But if you do have the money, and you’re putting it off because you just don’t want to spend it, stop. Because that appliance or car that you’re waiting to fix is a ticking time bomb. And by the time you decide it’s convenient to pay, that $300 issue could be a $1000 issue.
Choose the right credit cards
Having a credit card was something we put off for a long time. My husband had one early on and we just weren’t responsible enough with it, so it got closed out. With deployment coming, we really wanted one for any emergencies that may pop up, and this time around, we shopped hard for the right credit card. For us, this meant low introductory APR, no annual fee, earned points for every dollar spent, and low introductory limit. With those things in mind, we chose Chase and got a Freedom Limited card. Not only did we get no annual fee, but the introductory APR was 0% for 15 months. This gave us comfort knowing that even though we were thousands of miles apart, we would have this extra security.
Know your benefits
When Kyle left, we had a few small loans left over from our wedding and other necessities, as well as 2 car payments. We applied his SCRA benefits (Service members Civil Relief Act) to all loans, significantly lowering the interest for all of them. Not only did this take away the burden of what we had left to pay, but some companies (shout out to Synchrony Bank!) applied this new APR to the amount that we had already paid. We were amazed to see that some of our loans disappeared, and one of them actually sent us money back! Throughout deployment, we were able to pay off 5 pesky loans that were hanging over our head, further contributing to our ability to save more.
Pay yourself first
I know that you’ve probably heard this one before, but it’s tried and true. Before we distributed money to any bills, groceries, etc. we would put a portion of it into our savings. This portion would remain untouched, while any remaining money could be used for necessities and fun. Over time that amount grew quite a bit, and our new habits solidified until we had a routine built.
Separate your expensive home projects into parts
If you followed along with the blog while my husband was deployed, then you know that we did renovate our home. It’s not completely done, but a lot of it is. Many people asked how we managed to save money and still renovate our home, and it’s quite simple: It took an entire year.
The renovation was my big surprise for my husband, so he had no idea what, exactly, was changing. I moved from room to room and started with the things that would cost no money: remove all carpeting, choose paint colors, pull off the trim. Once I knew what I wanted a room to look like, I got to the shopping part. I started with painting, which can be expensive, but it helps to know exactly what you want and how far you can stretch it. I painted our living room, hallway, and stairwell all the same color (taupe) and stretched things as far as they could go, within reason.
As I worked my way around the house, I got to some of the bigger projects that required a contractor. But that’s when I started reaching out to people I know, either family or friends, who have those skills. Lucky for me, that was my dad and my brother. They both have excellent building and wood working skills, so besides materials and the occasional lunch out, we weren’t spending nearly as much. We spread each project out so it didn’t affect our budget, and over the span of a year, the whole house changed entirely.
Don’t plan that vacation, yet
Before deployment, another Army wife and I traveled down to Texas to see our husbands. When we got back, all we wanted to do was plan another vacation with them. But we had a whole year ahead of us, and we just weren’t sure where we would be at that point. We sat on our laptops sharing different ideas back and forth, looking at resort prices and rentals. We wanted something big to look forward to, and we got caught up in all of it.
But we reminded ourselves to slow down and stop trying to plan these high-dollar adventures when the future was so unclear. We did end up planning some trips, but we waited until the guys were closer to homecoming, and we spent way less. Truth be told, when you’ve spent such a long time apart, just going to the grocery store together is enough.
Remember that most loans are longer than a deployment
We saw a lot of couples buying new trucks, cars, four wheelers, etc. and we definitely felt that urge sometimes. But the fact is, you may be able to afford that $300/month payment now, but can you afford it when your budget changes again? Deployments typically don’t last as long as a loan, so consider whether or not you can maintain those payments when they’re home. Also, consider the fact that while they’re gone, you aren’t paying for gas, food, etc. for a second person. But when they return, those expenses pick back up again.
Did you build a savings during deployment? What are some key tips you learned?