Over the years, I've written about deployment and holiday finances from almost every angle. But until this month, it never crossed my mind to tie the two together. After all, how do you link the joy and celebratory nature of friends, family and the holidays with the separation and struggle that can accompany any deployment?
As it turns out, there are more connections -- especially from a financial angle -- than you might expect.
Read on for actionable tips to help you stay on track with your finances during either season.
- Make a solid spending plan. Whether you're creating a budget for gifts, setting expectations for gift exchanges, or carefully crafting meal and party menus, good planning is the hallmark of a financially fit holiday season. With a deployment, you'll typically see increased income, decreased expenses, and an opportunity to pay down debt, save and invest. In both cases, enter with a clear plan of both your guardrails and the things you want to achieve.
- Communicate ahead of time. Mapping out and communicating about an upcoming deployment or holiday decisions -- well in advance -- can ensure you and your partner are on the same sheet of music. If you're preparing for deployment, discuss how you'll monitor and manage bills, access important accounts with logins and passwords, and easily put your hands on contact information for key financial contacts such as powers of attorney. The same goes for holiday prep. Chances are, you and your spouse will each start thinking about the holidays, making plans and buying gifts well before December. Put your heads together in the fall to make a holiday gift list and a financial strategy to manage online spending.
- Brush up on time management skills. I'm a list maker. All I do is look to the right of my keyboard for an up-to-the-minute (OK, up-to-the-hour) list of what's on tap. This approach relieves stress and provides structure to my day. Whether you're juggling gift-buying, meal-making or party-planning throughout the holidays -- or the multitude of tasks you're taking on alone during a deployment -- a solid list and time management skills can add a much-needed sense of control to each day.
- Set spending limits. With any deployment discussion, the topic of retail therapy usually works its way in. Frankly, it's an understandable reaction to the stress associated with a deployment. Rather than blindly saying you're not going to do it, take a more measured approach: Set aside a bit of money for the express purpose of spending on you. When it comes to gift giving and holiday outlays, set personalized limits in early November -- well in advance of the emotional firestorm that awaits.
- Maintain a clean house to reduce stress. When someone stops by to visit, which tends to happen a lot during the holidays, it goes without saying that having a clean house is a beautiful thing. Similarly, a set of financial accounts and routines that are centralized and consistent can make you feel a lot less scrambled during the transition to a deployment.
- Share the responsibility. I'm always amazed by the flexibility, adaptability and downright bad-assedness of military spouses. During the holidays, I'd encourage you, as a couple, to share the burden of cooking, cleaning and shopping. During a deployment, you may have to carry the bulk of it, but this is where your own network of friends and resources can assist. No one knows unless you ask, so don't be afraid to "share."
- Give yourself a break. I can't remember a single holiday season that's gone off without a hitch. And I know our one deployment had more than a few; years later, I still cringe. In either case, cut yourself some slack when things go awry and you get knocked on your backside. Get back up, dust yourself off and keep doing what you do.
There you have it: seven straightforward tips to thriving, not just surviving, during this holiday season and on the occasion of your next deployment. Good luck.
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