The ways you can spend money on a military ball are just amazing to me. I am surprised that our younger troops can ever afford to go to a service ball, with all the expenses. Thankfully, there are ways to attend a military ball on a budget, and still have a good time.
1. Budget for tickets
There's not much we can do about the price of tickets, unfortunately. But there are some options. Perhaps you can encourage your unit or organization to do some fundraising -- or participate in the fundraising if they already have it. The best option is to start saving up for tickets a few months in advance.
2. Plan ahead for uniform changes
Don't have the right uniform for the ball? Please, don't go spend a couple of hundred dollars on a uniform just for the ball. Check your base thrift shop, or ask if someone has a uniform you can borrow. Ask your supervisors if there is an acceptable uniform that you already own.
You may need to replace a belt, a pair of shoes or buy some new medals. Space this out as much as possible -- or save your clothing allowance for these things, to make it easier on the budget.
3. Don't buy a new dress every time
Ball gowns can be so very expensive, and hard to wear more than a couple of times before you change sizes or styles or something happens to it. But you don't have to buy a new dress unless you fall across a super-clearance at a discount store. Thrift store or consignment shop dresses are just fine, and the price is right.
We have some noted some affordable options in our What You Should Wear to the Military Ball piece and you can always look at an Operation Deploy Your Dress function or swap with friends.
4. Carpool, take a taxi or get a room
Safety is first when it comes to driving and special events. If you need to take Uber or Lift to ensure that you get home without incident, I consider that money well spent -- but maybe you can carpool or share the ride to save a little bit. Check to see if bus transportation is being provided by the sponsoring organization. This is especially great for balls that are some distance from your regular location.
Or, you could look at getting a room at a nearby hotel or the one where the event is being held. Generally, when booking the venue, the organization will get a block of rooms at a discount. It will certainly be cheaper than a ticket or accident if you drive when you shouldn't.
5. Be resourceful about child care
You can't take the kids to the ball, but you can't leave them home alone. Balls are exactly the right time to ask the grandparents to visit, as they get the bonus of seeing their service member all dressed up. This is also a great time to do babysitting swap with friends or neighbors, especially if they are in different services or communities. You take their kids overnight for their ball, they can take your kids for your ball. The price is right, the care is good, and the convenience is awesome.
6. Be reasonable about the extras
This is one area where costs can quickly get out of hand. Now, don't go telling your spouse that I said this, but there is no reason to spend a ton of money on a fancy hairdo, manicure, pedicure, etc. If you have the money in your budget, go ahead and splurge. If you don't have the cash on hand, restrain yourself and save up so that you will have the cash next time. Honestly, you're not going to remember your pedicure two years from now. If you need to cut corners, this is one easy place to do so.
7. Set a budget for drinks
Drinks from the bar at a ball are notoriously expensive. Try to satisfy yourself with the provided beverages, or at least ration yourself on the expensive items. This is not the right time to be ordering the fanciest cocktails, as the markup will be stupendous. I usually reward myself with a nice bottle of something at home later in the evening -- which could be an option if you're staying overnight, too.
There is no way to eliminate all the costs of military balls, and they are a great way to build camaraderie, honor military traditions and have a little fun. However, keeping the cost under wraps is a good way to make sure you have good memories when the event is over.
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