The problem: Military life is full of expenses. Keep reading because: you want to learn how to save throughout military life.
This is a guest post submitted by Megan Shehan of Fiscal Tiger.
Military life comes with it’s fair share of difficulties, and those difficulties seem to touch every facet of life. Whether it be the absolute nightmare of getting anything on the calendar, or the difficulty of walking kids through separations, there are a lot of areas for possible strain.
But, there are also perks. There are avenues unique to the lifestyle that provide opportunities that can be taken advantage of to save money. And as we all know, saving money gives a family agency. It’s merely a matter of being aware and thinking through the opportunities critically.
1. You can save on your mortgage.
Buying a house is a huge financial commitment. While the military can often feel like the grand champion of complicating things, for those who are hoping and ready to buy a home, the military actually provides good help. The VA offers a VA home loan to all current and former members of the military and the VA has some stellar advantages including:
No Down Payment: You read that right, taking advantage of the home loan offered through the VA means that you will not have to deal with saving for an extended amount of time for a down payment.
Quicker Bounceback after Foreclosure/Bankruptcy: Unlike what is often a seven year wait period with conventional lenders, the VA typically allows buyers to reenter the market just two years after a foreclosure or bankruptcy.
Less-Stringent Credit Requirements: Usually lenders require a credit score of at least 755. While the VA doesn’t even technically have a minimum score, VA lenders often require around 620, but some are as low as 580.
In addition to home loans, the VA also offers personal and small business loans.
2. You can save during deployments.
Deployments are the worst. But, in the pursuit of compensation, there are a host of special pays that a deployed service member can be eligible for, which will boost the monthly household income. And that is one of the few silver linings.
“Deployment and relocation are stressful times, but there are laws in place so that sudden deployment doesn’t have a negative impact on your finances, credit, and financial standing with establishments when looking to rent, own, or get into a contract in the future. The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act ensures that you and your family won’t be punished for being called for active duty,” says Chelsy Meyer of Fiscal Tiger.
Thus, not only do service members receive additional pays (often non-taxable), there are also laws in place that ensure that service members aren’t shortchanged while they serve.
3. You can save when you PCS.
One of the major distinctions between military life and civilian life is the moves; they’re a melting pot of good and bad. Sometimes you end up in a European town you could never afford without the military, and sometimes you end up in an isolated town where the only thing more barren than the landscape is the social scene.
The military offers several options, all of which provide opportunities to save money. In every PCS, the service member’s family has the opportunity to decide whether or not to have a professional mover move them.
Complete DITY: A military family can opt to do a full DITY (Do-It-Yourself) move, which means that they are responsible for every aspect of the move. It provides the opportunity to be reimbursed by the government. The weight of your belongings and the fuel required to make the move will dictate how much reimbursement you’ll see from the government.
The downside is that you take on all the pains of moving. The benefit is that you’re going to receive the money that the government would have had to pay a professional company.
Partial DITY: You move some things, and a contracted company moves the rest. As with a complete DITY, you’re compensated for the weight, so something like books will result in a fruitful payback.
It’s no secret that movers are experts at being efficient in terms of both time and space, but they’re not experts at caring for your things. Thus, another benefit of a complete or partial DITY is that you can take care of the things that need to be taken care of.
Military Move: When you opt to have the government move your family, you’re not going to see the same financial returns. However, in some instances it will make the most sense. For instance, if your husband won’t be able to participate during most of it, or if you’re moving overseas, the hassle is likely not worth the returns.
Even when a contracted company will move your things, you can save some money by planning ahead (as much as possible), by communicating with your moving company, and by selling what you can beforehand.
4. You can save on counseling.
In many seasons the military may bring situations that challenge our family units, our marriages, and who we are as individuals. Especially for those who have spouses who have served combat deployments, the effects can be detrimental to both themselves and the people closest to them. There are moments in our relationships and lives when a little help would be nice. Whether your children need behavioral counseling or you and your spouse need financial guidance, or one or both is struggling with depression or anxiety, almost all bases offer support and counseling for free that can help get your family through difficult seasons.
5. You can save on education.
Perhaps one of the most public veteran benefits is the GI Bill.
For your spouse: If you are married to a servicemember or veteran hoping to utilize their GI Bill, it is absolutely a daunting prospect. If pursued in the wrong season, it will be a monumental uphill battle the whole time. However, if done at a steady pace during non-deployment seasons, it can be done.
Plus, schools want to benefit from the post-9/11 GI Bill. They’re working to build competitive programs that will allow servicemembers to work and thrive in the physical or virtual classroom.
For you and your children: If your spouse is serving for at least ten years and you have jointly decided to transfer benefits, then there are avenues that will allow a GI Bill to transfer from the servicemember to a spouse.
6. You can save on base.
Most of us living on base or in a military town have access to amenities that allow great savings.
Commissary: It can be easy to consider higher prices at a grocery store other than the commissary as the price you pay to avoid the payday rush on base. However, the commissary has been proven consistently to offer prices better than even store brands found at places such as Wal-Mart. A shift in your grocery schedule can save you the struggle of endless lines on payday, and save you a few bucks.
Gym: Seriously, this one is a non-debatable money saver. Civilian gyms are going to charge at least $120 a year just to use the equipment. Especially if you’re able to go during non-peak hours, utilizing the base gym is a clear financial break.
Community Centers: Often housing neighborhoods have community centers that provide a cost-effective way to throw big parties or even small get-togethers. Depending on the base, community centers often feature commercial kitchens, small theaters, and amenities such as pool tables and dart boards.
Movie Theater: Many bases have a movie theater where you can get tickets for just a few dollars.
The Exchange: The Exchange is one of the main places the frugally minded needs to tread carefully. Given the name brand nature of the Exchange, it can be easy to spend more than you should. However, with an eye on the sales, you can also walk away with some serious bargains.
You can do it!
That’s right, you can. Every time you’re tempted to believe that the military does nothing but detract, channel your inner Rosie the Riveter and assess how you can make the military do some work for you, for once.
The financial realities of military life can be crafted to work in a beneficial manner for military families who are willing to keep an open mind and a thoughtful attitude towards the unique opportunities that come their way.
Megan Shehan is a writer from Boise, ID. In her free time she loves running and scrapbooking. She is a dedicated football fan and loves the Patriots!