8 Budgeting Tips for Military Families

A stack of dollar bills and quarters.

From credit card debt to frequent moves, military families face financial challenges that have unusual dimensions from civilian families. Here are tips that will help your family save and budget for your daily life and your long-term goals. By tracking your spending and creating habits to contribute towards retirement, you'll be prepared to budget like an expert and save like a boss.

Track Your Spending

Many people say that they don't know where their money goes. Empower yourself by tracking where your money is being spent. Whether you keep track of your spending by writing down your expenditures, keeping a spreadsheet, or using a website that tracks all of your accounts, it's important to know where your money is going. Once you know, it'll make it a lot easier for you and your family to plan and budget for the future.

Get Rid of Your Debt

Military families are more likely than civilian ones to carry significant credit card debt, as they have unique challenges. All of those moves can definitely add up! Some military families also have student loan debt, which can affect your credit score. So what to do? Make it a regular habit to pay off a portion of your credit card debt beyond the minimum payment. If you can pay off even an additional $25 or more per month, your debt will steadily decrease.

Pay Your Savings First

Savings often come in last when you're budgeting, after bills and expenses. Let's turn this around. When you're budgeting, make sure you factor in your savings as though it was a bill. After you're paid, "pay" your savings account instead of waiting to put in what's left over.

Build an Emergency Fund

The best thing you can do for you, your family, and your peace of mind is to build an emergency fund. That way you can roll with the rainy days when they inevitably come. As with paying your savings first, make paying your emergency fund first a priority. Most experts recommend saving at least 3-6 months worth of expenses. If that seems overwhelming, try to get to $1,000 first, and you'll have a buffer.

Creating Habits with Automatic Deductions

Dealing with personal finance requires discipline. Make it easier on yourself through automatic deductions. To really get your savings and emergency fund going, set up separate accounts outside of your main checking account. Then, have regular amounts automatically deducted from your paycheck. Let's say you automatically deduct $50 a week into a savings account. By the end of the year, you'll have $2,600. Not bad for $50 that you probably wouldn't even miss.

Live Off Of Last Month's Paycheck

Once you've built an emergency fund of 3-6 months, you're ready to level up to the next part, which is living off of last month's paycheck. The way to do this is to save the equivalent of one month's paycheck outside of the emergency fund or your savings. You don't need to do it all at once, as building up that amount will take time. But once you do, you won't be living paycheck to paycheck. For more information about how to make this work for you, read this article.

Contribute to the TSP

With automatic enrollment and simple choices regarding investments, the Thrift Savings Plan has been called "a model for all 401(k) plans." Compared to civilian 401(k) programs, the costs of administering the plan are much lower since the investments are all index funds that track the market rather than being actively managed. That results in greater savings that are passed directly to you. Since all members of the armed forces can contribute, start now if you haven't already. Even if retirement is a long ways away, the long tail of compound interest means you'll be very grateful to your younger self for making such a sensible decision.

Take Advantage of Military Benefits

Being in the military comes with many great benefits, from free healthcare to discounts to the GI bill. Make sure you know what kind of benefits come with being in the military. Start here with our section covering benefits in depth so you and your family can start investing in your financial futures.

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About

Fiona Lee is a personal finance writer for ReadyForZero, a website that helps people get out of debt faster on their own. She is a frugalista who loves discovering new ways to save money, especially in expensive cities. After living in New York and Beijing, she now makes her home in San Francisco. You can follow @ReadyForZero and @moderntime on Twitter.

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