When budget cuts close or greatly downsize your favorite programs you’ll probably notice that your own pockets seem a little lighter, too. Why? Because unless you decide to live without those things altogether, you’ll probably spend more getting them off base instead.
Here are some tips for getting the most for you money without letting go of any of the on-base services you love.
Groceries. If you don’t already, now is the perfect time start careful meal planning and couponing. With the commissary closed at least one day a week, you won’t always have the luxery of dropping by for that forgotten item. Careful planning of each meal throughout the week can help you avoid that problem. And since you may need to hit the grocery store outside the gate – where you may find taxes and higher average prices – a few coupons will help cover the difference. You may even discover that couponing at civilian grocery stores results in lower bills than you’ve seen at the commissary. And no, you don’t need to get a Sunday paper to make it possible (although it would certainly help). I use Southern Savers, 5 Dollar Dinners and Abundant Food Savings (and, if you’re in the Pacific Northwest, Frugal Living NW) to match printable coupons with grocery store sales.
Childcare. We’ve already heard that the Army and Air Force are planning to make day care cuts. And while not many specifics have been released about just what those cuts will look like, I would be very surprised if hourly care centers escape unscathed – and even more surprised if the free childcare that comes with the Army Family Covenant completely sticks around.
Now would be the perfect time to organize a childcare swap with a few girlfriends. If you’re used to paying $4 an hour on an Army post for childcare (or $2 during deployments) and have only one or two children, hiring a regular babysitter probably isn’t more economical. Talk to your friends and neighbors and agree to swap care times. This is a great way to make sure you don’t have to take your child with you to the dentist.
If you have more than two children hiring a babysitter to stay at your home instead of taking them to hourly may actually save you money. I have used Sittercity.com to find a great babysitter that my kids love. The service is free for military users.
Gym. If you’re anything like me, the gym is not just for exercise – it’s a mental health tool. And if the one you use for free (or a small fee) on base closes, axes it’s childcare program or drastically reduces it’s hours, you’ll probably be willing to find an alternate off-base. Like so many other parts of the budget cuts, we don’t yet know how gyms and other MWR facilities will be impacted. However it’s unlikely they’ll escape without some changes.
Gyms off-base can be really expensive. Look first to your local YMCA. Most locations include a childcare option, a military discount or maybe even financial aid for those who qualify. If a YMCA isn’t an option, visit the private health club. Ask about military discounts or when their next sale will be that waves or greatly reduces their one-time joining fee.