One of my favorite things about writing for Military.com is contributing helpful financial advice to the men and women who serve our country and to the families who support them. Since all my maternal uncles served, an appreciation for the sacrifices made by service members and their families has long been instilled in me. But my knowledge of what it's like to serve today is limited.
That's why I decided to reach out to a friend and fantastic financial blogger, Jennifer Hemphill of GotHarmoney?. Jennifer is a long-serving military spouse whose husband is a Major in the United States Air Force. I talked to Jennifer about what it's like to be a military spouse and the specific challenges and benefits that lifestyle entails. She shared with me some of her lessons learned and advice for new military spouses.
Life on the Road
Jennifer met her husband, Johari, when they were students in North Carolina. Johari joined the ROTC and when they graduated they married and prepared for the first PCS. Since then, they've lived in 7 different places and are currently preparing for their next PCS. They've also had two kids, two homes, a few career changes, and a dog!
Needless to say, I'm amazed at all Jennifer and Johari have been able to accomplish. But it certainly wasn't easy for them as they became adults together and learned how to navigate marriage and the military. Naturally, there were some mistakes made along the way...
Jennifer and Johari spent several years in New Mexico before they had a PCS to Arizona. Since they were told they'd be in Arizona for three years, they decided to take the plunge and buy a home. It seemed like the right investment for their young marriage and the risk should have been minimal.
As things tend to go in the military, plans changed. Six months in they found out that not only were they not staying in Arizona after all, they were in fact about to head overseas. So much for investing in the new home! Luckily, they found a tenant and, after a few years of vacancy and housing market struggles, were finally able to sell the house.
During this time, Jennifer had the added challenge of a realization: she needed to change her career to be more flexible. She obtained her real estate license only to learn that real estate was much too demanding to ever be considered flexible. Still, she pushed forward in her career so they could afford the best education possible for their children.
Time went on and Jennifer and Johari moved overseas and back, ending up in Kansas. Although they said they'd never buy another house, after two years in Kansas working in real estate, Jennifer couldn't ignore the fact that home ownership was a better investment than renting. So they went for it and bought a house. Things went well for awhile until...they had to move again. They went from New Jersey back to Kansas and finally to North Dakota before they were able to sell their house. Needless to say, their finances took a hit.
Benefits of Being a Military Spouse
While Jennifer and Johari suffered some financial setbacks, they've also experienced a great many benefits, including a career evolution that Jennifer may not have experienced otherwise. She started off as a director of a senior center in North Carolina, got into real estate and internet marketing when they started having children, and is now running her own business as a financial counselor and blogger.
Aside from the need for a more "portable" career, Jennifer's career evolution was a natural one. She'd always been the person her friends would go to for financial advice. And since she has such a warm personality and "go get ‘em" attitude, it's no wonder that many people would love to call her their financial counselor today.
I asked Jennifer what the greatest benefit to being a military spouse was and she said that it has made her "stronger" and a "better person". She's had the opportunity to learn many different cultures, build adaptability skills anyone would be envious of, and embrace the indescribable bond of the military spouse community.
Advice for Future Military Spouses
I'm personally so excited to see what life has in store for Jennifer and Johari next. But while they prepare for their next phase, Jennifer has a lot of useful advice for new military spouses as they embark on their journeys. Here are just a few of her takeaways:
1) Be Prepared for the Lifestyle Change
When Johari and Jennifer talked about their future together, they had many talks about what the military lifestyle would be like. Johari wanted to make sure Jennifer understood what this lifestyle would truly entail before they took the plunge together. While there are always surprises that can't be accounted for, Jennifer felt well prepared for the challenges ahead.
2) Attend Social Events on Base
New military spouses may find themselves overwhelmed by so many quick changes to their lives, which makes embracing new social events all the more difficult. However, not going to social events organized by the local military community is a mistake. These events provide a chance to enter into a tight-knit community that can help a new military spouse navigate the unfamiliar terrain of life in the military.
3) Utilize the Resources Available
There are many resources available to military spouses who live off or on base. Most especially, career resource centers can help the military spouse build a career that is both fulfilling and portable. And so many military spouses are now embracing entrepreneurialism, which means there could be paths that the new military spouse has never heard of! There are also financial resources available, which can help with goals like paying off credit cards, budgeting, and saving for retirement.
Shannon McNay is the Community and Customer Support Manager at ReadyForZero, a website that helps people get out of debt faster on their own. Shannon focuses her writing on the ways our lives are impacted by our finances and vice versa - including finances in your relationship, finances in your career, and how to overcome the mental barriers to paying off debt. You can follow @ReadyForZero and @shannonmcnay on Twitter.