5 Ways to Save Money While on Base in High-Cost-of-Living California

family with small children running
U.S. Army photo by Jim Dresbach

The cost of living in California is 43 percent higher than the national average, according to PayScale. If you’ve recently moved to a military base in the Golden State, everyday expenses can add up much faster than you’re used to. Try these five tips for cutting back without sacrificing your quality of life.

1. Find Discounts on California Car Insurance

California is one of the most expensive states to insure your vehicle—and it’s obligatory that you do so. The state requires that each vehicle owner is insured for at least $50,000, split between three areas of liability:

  • $30,000 bodily injury coverage per incident
  • $15,000 bodily injury coverage per person
  • $5,000 of property damage coverage per incident

Speak with an insurance agent to find out your best options for discounts on your policy. Insurance agents can look into military and other state-sponsored discounts, in addition to offering suggestions on how to lower your premium.

Don’t forget to tell your agent about any anti-theft or safety devices, such as car alarms or backup camera that you have in your vehicle, since many insurers offer discounts for these. The more safety devices you have, the more you typically tend to save.

The state-mandated Good Driver policy also requires insurance companies to offer a 20 percent discount to drivers with three years of clean driving records. Additionally, if you register for a California driver’s license and meet income guidelines, you can take advantage of the state’s Low Cost Auto Insurance Program. Visit their website to see if you qualify.

2. Lower Your Credit Card Interest Rates

While you’re adjusting to the new state, it may be tempting to pull out your credit card to cover unexpected expenses. If your balance is starting to add up, it never hurts to check in on your financial accounts to ensure you're getting the best interest rates available.

If you have pretty good credit, you can usually move your credit card balances with high interest rates to a transfer card with a zero percent interest balance, which could save you heaps of cash. Remember that the lower the balance on your credit cards at the end of each month, the less interest you have to pay on that debt, so always strive to pay it off in full if you have the means — or at least pay as much as you comfortably can.

3. Take Advantage of Military Discounts

A myriad of coupons and discounts is available to military families, from savings on cell phone accounts and cable services to amusement parks and hair salons or cosmetology schools. Here's but a sampling:

  • When sending letters and care packages, you can get free packaging materials from USPS and often pay a flat rate for shipping.
  • Many restaurants, movie theaters and other entertainment venues offer discounts for soldiers and their families. It never hurts to ask!
  • If you have a smart phone, plenty of grocery stores, clothing retailers, home goods stores and other companies have apps that offer savings and coupons. Be sure to check there (as well as discounted online retailers) before you make any purchases.
  • MyPoints.com offers points for online purchases from thousands of businesses that can be exchanged for prepaid debit cards or gift cards to major retailers like Walmart.
  • If you or your spouse is considering going back to school, check out the Military Spouse Career Advancement Accounts (MyCAA) program for scholarship opportunities and tuition assistance.

4. Save on the Little Things

Saving a few dollars here and there can really help take a load off your overall expenses. Look for ways to cut back on unnecessary luxuries without giving them up entirely. Here are a few places to start:

  • Do you head to the drive-through for coffee every morning? Perhaps make it two times a week instead.
  • Rather than pay for a gym membership, take walks or go for runs with your spouse, kids or other military families.
  • If you love spa visits, try DIYing facials and hair treatments at home. Invite friends and family over and give each other backrubs and manicures.

5. Have Fun on a Budget

Try new hobbies like photography with an old camera, upcycling, volunteering or sharing your experiences in a blog to nurture your senses of freedom, empowerment and adventure. Look for nearby museums and attractions that offer free or discounted admission and plan a day trip once a month to explore your new state.

You can even turn saving money into a game of its own. Get your kids, friends and family involved in money-saving treasure hunts, challenges to see who can save the most in a day or week, meal planning and brainstorming new ways to enjoy inexpensive entertainment.

Deborah Chavis is a Fire Theft Unit Manager for Esurance in Tampa, Florida. A former military wife herself, she also has a son in the military who was deployed while his family stayed at home. At Esurance, Deborah is part of Evets, a team dedicated to supporting our military and their families.

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