Running a family's finances is hard enough as it is. So what do you do when you have the added difficulty of a spouse who's deployed? How can you know if you're always making the right decisions for your family when you can't just pick up the phone and talk to your spouse about it? I'm going to talk about steps you can take as a team now so you can feel confident and ready to take on this challenge during deployment. Communicate Before Deployment
If your partner hasn't left yet, then you have a chance to communicate about your finances together before he or she goes. I know that this may sound crazy when there is so much to do to prepare for deployment, but it will be well worth it in the end! So carve out a few hours after your kids have gone to bed and go over everything: each other's spending/savings styles, what you'd like to improve upon as an individual, what your hopes are for your finances together, etc. The main goal is that you both walk out of this talk feeling like you understand each other's needs, goals, and money personalities.
What if your partner is already deployed? It's unlikely that you'll ever have enough phone or Skype time to chat this way, so send an email. First, explain what you're hoping to do and list some questions that you should both answer for each other. Then, email your answers to each other a few days or so later. Continue this discussion over email and remember to be open and honest and to withhold judgement.
Set Goals and Stick to Them
Now it's time to talk about your goals as a family. What is the most important for all of you as a unit at this time? Do you have debt to pay off, something to save up for (like a house), or do you just generally need to get your financial house in order? Whatever your goals are - big and small - decide on which are the highest priorities together. That way you'll know for sure what to focus your budget on while your spouse is away.
One of the most important things you can do is to be proactive. That means taking extra steps to speed up your goals with just a few small tasks. For one, if you have credit cards, call your credit card companies and ask them to lower your interest rates. Even if they tell you "no" right now, you can still find out from them what you'll need to do to make this happen in the future.
Next, comb through your budget to see if there's anything you can either remove or decrease in frequency. Going out to eat with the kids every weekend? Try cooking together on the weekends for fun, then treat yourselves to dinner out once a month. Have cable? If you don't mind watching Hulu.com then you can cancel cable altogether. There are a lot of ways to tweak a budget and these small changes can make a big difference when combined!
Plan for Emergencies
Emergencies are inevitable, so it's vital to have a plan. However you've developed your budget as a team, make sure at least a little bit goes into an emergency fund each month, with the ultimate goal of saving 3-6 months of living expenses (or more). This will ensure that you can handle unexpected expenses without watching your goals disappear. That's not to say an emergency won't come up before your emergency fund has enough to cover it, but the sooner you start saving, the better!
Trust Each Other and Yourself
One of the biggest challenges in running the family's finances during deployment is actually trusting yourself. Sometimes you may feel like you're doing it all wrong but that's okay! This happens to everyone. Even though you can't always pick up the phone to talk it out with your spouse, remember that you've set goals and priorities together - so if you're still working towards those goals then you know you're on the right track. Do whatever you can to remind yourself of those goals when you're budgeting, shopping, and planning for the future. And don't forget to celebrate small victories as you go along and to recognize your hard work.
Running your family's finances while your spouse is away can be incredibly tough - but it can be easier to manage if you and your spouse are on the same page. By prioritizing goals as a couple and maintaining focus on those goals on your own, you can rest assured that you're doing what's best for your family. Then, when your spouse comes home, don't forget to talk about your progress and re-evaluate your goals. This is a great way to work together again and make sure each of you has a role to play when deployment is over. Not to mention you can have fun with planning new goals as you start a new chapter in life together.