Hey, military spouse -- do you ever feel like your time is taken for granted? When you volunteer on base or spend hours waiting at the base pharmacy, is your time worth anything?
Yes, I think it is.
I also think undervaluing your time as a military spouse has a negative effect on all of us. Here's why.
When you're unemployed, your time seems to have no value.
Except for one brief year where I found full-time work near Quantico, Virginia, I have been unemployed or underemployed for the past decade that I've been a military spouse, and not from a lack of looking for work. Some of our assignments were at remote duty stations or overseas where there simply wasn't enough economy in the local town to provide jobs for all the military spouses who lived there.
Both my husband and I were happy that I was able to be a stay-at-home mom for our four children, but it did put a strain on the household budget. I learned early on to use the base Facebook yard sale pages or bookoo to find cheap furniture or kid's clothing. I got my own clothing from the base thrift store. I used WIC vouchers and attended food giveaways to stock our freezer. We weren't poor. We were just ... thrifty.
During that time, I would do anything to save money, even if it took more time. If I had to spend an extra hour or two at the base hospital because it saved us from paying co-pays off base, that was worth it. I spent three hours each month in the WIC office getting vouchers for baby food, so I wouldn't pay for it out of pocket. I waited in line for over an hour at food giveaways to receive a few bags of food. If I clipped coupons or drove out of the way to get a good deal, that was a worthwhile use of my time, because think of the money we were saving!
Saving money is great. Teaching yourself that your time has no value, however is not a great habit.
When you volunteer, your time seems to have no value.
During those lean years of unemployment, I also spent a lot of time volunteering.
I volunteered to organize events for a local mom's group so my kids could go to playdates.
I volunteered with the Family Readiness program for my husband's unit, so I could answer questions and help younger wives.
When we lived on a Navy base, I trained for a week to be an Ombudsman volunteer. We aren't even Navy.
Occasionally, I would receive a thank you note or a certificate for those hours of volunteer work. But for the most part, it was unrecognized and unappreciated. No matter how much I did or how many meetings I attended, there was always more they wanted me to do. Volunteers might be free labor, but an organization shouldn't treat them like indentured servants.
Here's the truth: Everyone's time has value.
In the past year, my view on saving money and volunteering has changed dramatically. What changed? I started working from home. I work part-time as a freelance writer. Now, every day, I have the opportunity to write articles and make money.
But writing takes time.
When I'm spending an hour waiting in line at a food giveaway, I could be writing and making enough to pay for that food in the commissary. A visit to an off-base doctor may have a co-pay, but if it saves me two hours, then I can use that time to write and make more than the cost of the co-pay. Three hours at the WIC office may give me $50 in vouchers to use for the month. But in three hours, I can make more than that from my work.
Suddenly, I have an income. But more importantly, I know my own value. I know that my time has value, and I need to choose carefully how I spend it.
Here's the secret, military spouse: Every one of us has value.
Whether or not you have a job, whether or not you volunteer, whether or not you have kids -- your time is money. Your time has value. You need to choose carefully how you spend it.
If you volunteer, that's great! Just make sure the organization respects you and treats you as well as they would treat a paid employee. If you are a stay-at-home mom or dad, that's great too! Just make sure you don't get stuck always watching someone else's kids for free or waiting in lines.
You always have something better to do. It's up to you to stand up for your own self-worth. Don't let anyone undervalue your time, military spouse. Because yes, your time is valuable!