When it comes to money, people handle it in different ways. Some spend it as soon as they get their hands on it and others save and budget it.
Armed Forces members and their spouses are no different, though they can be more likely to be subject to tight restrictions and sudden expenses. However, there are programs and services available to help alleviate financial burden, and some spouses are willing to share a helpful tip when needed.
Sgt. Alexandra Shea serves in the U.S. Army Reserves, and her husband also serves in the Army.
“My parents were both military when I was a child and at age 23 I joined the Army as well. I left active duty in 2015 to become a Reserve Component Soldier to finish out my retirement,” said Shea. “I met my husband shortly after I arrived to Fort Stewart, Georgia, and we started dating before we deployed to Afghanistan. Several months after we re-deployed we got married. I am also a government service employee full time.”
Shea says the biggest challenge is preparing for retirement, but she and her husband plan and budget accordingly.
“My husband and I have maintained separate finances so there will be no arguments about someone spending $300 on something,” said Shea. “We split the bills as evenly as possible. He takes care of the mortgage and I take care of the utilities, taxes and car insurance. We rotate who pays for the groceries since we spend about the same amount every two weeks.”
Shea takes advantage of shopping apps that help contribute to her budget plan.
“I use a ton of reward apps on my phone so I can get money back or items for free at the places I shop. Target’s Cartwheel is a good one as well as Shopkicks where your points equal gift cards and of course the Walmart Savings Catcher. I actually bought a wooden park bench last year for my porch and used my reward dollars on it, didn’t pay a dime,” said Shea.
Shea urges other military couples to take advantage of the different programs made available for financial support.
“Take advantage of base services today, don’t keep putting it off! Army Community Service has a great resource for people who need to know how to create and use a budget or have really crappy credit scores,” said Shea. “There are paid professionals that can help you clean up a credit report all for free! They can also give you advice about investing for the future. Take advantage of school as well. So many scholarships are out there and you just have to apply. I know life gets busy, but you just have to make the time to better yourself and your family’s futures!”
Molly Bruski is the wife of a Seabee in the U.S. Navy. The Bruskis were recently stationed at Port Hueneme, California.
“I handled the finances and our budget. I would say that, granted we were financially secure, but it was tight. Our biggest struggle was not being able to travel home to see family simply because we couldn’t afford to. So when things went wrong or [everything] hit the fan we couldn’t be there to comfort and support our families and friends through tough times,” said Bruski.
The Bruskis were able to successfully navigate the challenges that come with financial independence.
“I got a full time job, worked overtime and picked up shifts when needed. We wouldn’t go out places as often as we would have liked, or went on as many adventures as we hoped to while in California,” said Bruski. “Going into marriage, I knew nothing at all about the military or what it would be like being married to a service member. I didn’t realize there were groups I could have been in for while he was in basic training, etc. I wish I knew that you’re not going to have everything figured out right away and that it’s okay. I just wish I would have known more.”
Bruski regrets not taking advantage of financial support services when given the opportunity.
“They offered a free budgeting class for couples and we almost went a couple times but never did. I wish we would have. Granted I have things figured out, it just would have been nice to know where to start,” said Bruski.
Bruski said she learned by watching what other military couples were doing.
“Save your money and plan ahead. I have watched many of my friends, who are military couples, struggle more than they needed to just because they didn’t plan accordingly,” said Bruski. “Also watch and learn from other couples and take mental notes on certain things. For example, my friends got out of the military before Alex [Bruski’s husband]. I knew we would be moving the same way they were, so I helped them move and watched the moving process. I made notes of what we needed to do to be prepared.”
Jaide Schultz is the newly wedded wife of a Marine, her high school sweetheart.
“The challenge I’ve faced so far, financially, was having to move from Michigan to North Carolina,” said Schultz. “After getting a moving company and a company to ship my car— in total it was a few thousand. Granted you do get reimbursed after filling out forms and turning in receipts, but it’s not an easy or fast process to get that money back, especially being a newly married couple when money isn’t readily available due to the wedding.”
Schultz found creative ways to compensate for long wait periods with her finances.
“To compensate, I was working full time while going to school full time because my husbands Basic Allowance for Housing hadn’t kicked in yet. So far, financially, since we’ve been living together we haven’t had any other struggles and I am a Leasing Consultant for two Apartments,” said Schultz. “I found a lot of support groups and pages, so I did research on things I had questions about with being a military spouse. I can say I’ve definitely grown in knowledge through those pages and without them I wouldn’t have been as prepared.”
The newly married couple has recently begun budgeting in order to manage their lifestyle.
“It’s been almost nine months that I’ve been a military spouse, but only about four months since we’ve been living together,” said Schultz. “We’ve just recently created a budget because we’ve realized we spend too much money on eating out and other unnecessary things. I wish we would have created a budget earlier, but it’s better late than never.”
Schultz encourages other military spouses to continue pursuing their goals despite unpredictable changes and finances.
“Don’t stop chasing your dreams just because you are a military spouse. Yes it makes things harder with moving and the unpredictability, but don’t stop chasing your career goals, there is always options and alternate paths to get there,” said Schultz.
Abigail Rennard is a wife of an Army Soldier, and the couple just recently reported to their newest duty station in Oahu this year.
“Since you move frequently, you have to adjust to different economies; what I spent on groceries in Kentucky doesn’t go nearly as far in Hawaii,” said Rennard. “Pets are also expensive when moving! We definitely didn’t expect to pay as much as we did to move our dog, but we knew it had to be done, and there was no way to make it cheaper. Just don’t panic!”
Rennard recommends using a budget during a move to a new station.
“We try our best to type out a budget and stick to it, but it’s harder than it sounds when you move, and in the couple of months after. Don’t be too hard on yourself when you can’t stick to it; the new pay will kick in, and sticking to a budget will become easier when you adjust,” said Rennard.
Lastly, Rennard encourages couples to remain flexible during sudden changes.
“Go with the flow! I can’t schedule and control how everything happens, which drives me a little crazy sometimes. Trainings and trips will be cancelled with a days notice, and there’s nothing you can do about it,” said Rennard. “Just enjoy where you’re at. While we would like to be saving more money, or wish we were closer to friends and family, the locations are temporary. Enjoy what you can where you are. Take the day trips, pay for the experiences, and take pictures! It’s a unique opportunity to be able to travel so much while you’re young.”
Despite sudden changes and a fluctuating financial budget, there are still creative ways to compensate— a fact that can be proven by military couples.