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Couple reviewing military household budgeting tips.

Budgeting 101: Tips from Military Spouses

Mar 28, 2024 | 4 min. read

Need ideas and inspiration to manage your household finances? Military spouses share tried-and-true methods that work for them.

It’s no secret that military spouses are experts at juggling family, service obligations and finances.  With frequent PCS moves and other work commitments, they often handle the household finances. In fact, according to a First Command Financial Behaviors Index survey, 87 percent of military spouses say it is primarily their role to handle household finances and 83 percent say it is primarily their role to manage long-term investments and retirement savings accounts.

Taking care of activities like creating and sticking to a regular budget, saving for special events and purchases and planning for long-term goals like retirement may mean saying “no” a lot – something that can make sticking to financial goals all the more difficult. Is it possible to find balance between being fiscally responsible and not feeling like you’re missing out?

Since nine out of 10 of our Financial Advisors are veterans or military spouses, we asked some of those military spouses to share some of their favorite budgeting and saving tips for household financial management.

Tips For Spending Less Money 

The first thing you want to do when taking control of your finances is to get a thorough understanding of where your money goes every month. Once you've figured out what costs are essential (rent/mortgage, utilities, childcare, etc.) and which are discretionary (eating out, vacations, gifts, etc.), you can start to trim expenses with purpose.

  1. Reduce Consumable Expenses: Consumable expenses include things like alcohol and tobacco products, regular stops at the coffee shop and trips to the convenience store for sodas and snacks. Reduce the number of trips to these places or find inexpensive alternatives, like bringing coffee from home rather than stopping at a coffee shop or keeping tasty snacks on hand in the pantry. The important thing to ask is, “Does this add value to my life?” If it does, budget it in and enjoy that grande macchiato! If it doesn't add value and it's a purchase of habit or convenience, consider redirecting that money to something that brings you joy.
  2. Take Advantage of Military Discounts: A huge number of online and brick-and-mortar companies, from clothing retailers and restaurants to hotels and vacation destinations, offer significant discounts to military families. Not sure whether a given store offers such a discount? Just ask!
  3.  Make the Most of Benefits Available to Military Families: Military families are provided numerous benefits that can help ease financial stress. Benefits can include BAS and BAH pay, as well as comprehensive health care coverage and educational benefits like the Post 9/11 GI Bill. Be sure to speak to your First Command Financial Advisor to learn about these offerings and others.
  4. Learn About Military Tax Credits: Managing taxes can be a significant expense, but there are multiple money-saving tax benefits available to military families that can help ease this pressure. One of them, the Military Spouse Residency Relief Act, allows military spouses to pay income taxes only in their state of residence instead of in the state in which they are currently living and working. In some case, this may mean being able to forego state income taxes.
  5. Use Cash on the Weekends: It's easy to lose track of how much you're spending when you're having fun, and even more so when you're using a debit or credit card. Before you go out on the weekend, pull out the amount of cash you plan on spending. This will help you stay on budget and give you a clear idea of what you're spending, while still allowing you to go out and have fun. We may be moving to a cashless, digital society but this is still a good practice.

Tips to Save for the Future

With some effort, you’ve hopefully found small ways to spend less money each month without cramping your family’s style. And now that you have some freed-up cash, here are some productive approaches for how to put that extra money to work.

  1. Create an Emergency Fund Want to dramatically reduce your financial stress? Set up an emergency fund and contribute to it regularly. Even if you only add a small amount every paycheck, you’ll be able to watch it add up quickly. Best of all, the next time you have an unexpected home repair or issue with your car, you’ll have the peace of mind that comes from knowing that you can cover it without dipping into your monthly budget or putting it on a credit card.
  2.  Make Saving Automatic The best way for saving to become a long-term habit is to make it as easy as possible. Military savings programs like Thrift saving plans and Savings Deposit programs can help you make your saving even more efficient. Automatically transfer a set amount of money each month to a separate account. You’ll be surprised how quickly your savings accumulate when you “pay yourself first.” Your Financial Advisor can help you determine if any of these programs are the right fit for your goals.

Tips to Foster a Healthy Money Mindset

Building a culture of saving in your family can be surprisingly easy and deeply satisfying – as long as you’re willing to stick with it. But to do so, the whole family needs to be on board. Find time for teaching opportunities to help your family develop a mindset that:

  • Avoids the idea of “deserving” nice things and embraces the idea of saving for the things you want
  • Values spending time together more than spending money together
  • Understands that saying “no” to a small purchase today may allow you to say “yes” to a larger, more meaningful purchase later

At First Command, our Financial Advisors are well-versed in military pay and benefits, and we offer complimentary financial plans for active-duty service members and their families. If you need help with budgeting and planning, contact a Financial Advisor today to get started.

TSP funds have very low administrative and investment expenses, and low expenses can have a positive effect on the rate of return of your investment.

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