Budgeting is an essential step towards financial stability, but it isn’t the most fun or romantic item on most people’s list of things to do with their partner.
Building a budget can be especially challenging for military families, since they have to handle frequent changes like PCS (Permanent Change of Station) moves and deployments.
Let’s discuss the basic steps to building a budget, the importance of flexibility, and how to adapt your budget for a PCS move or deployment. Whether you’re new to the military or a seasoned service member, these budgeting tips will help you achieve financial stability.
Military Family Budget: The Basics
Being part of a military family brings its unique set of challenges, including frequent moves and deployments. These life events can make managing your finances a bit more complex, but with a solid budget in place, you can navigate through these uncertainties more smoothly.
Assess Your Income
The first step in building a budget is to understand your income sources. In addition to your base pay, consider military allowances, bonuses, and any other sources of income. Be sure to add the military spouse’s income into the household budget. Knowing your total income will provide a clear picture of your financial starting point.
List Your Expenses
Make a comprehensive list of your monthly expenses. Start with fixed expenses like rent or mortgage, utilities, insurance, and loan payments. Then, include variable expenses such as groceries, transportation, entertainment, and savings. It’s helpful to go through bank statements and credit cards to see bill amounts for the past few months. You may discover some memberships you’re no longer using.
Categorize Your Expenses
Organize your expenses into categories like “essentials” and “non-essentials.” Essentials are those you must pay every month, while non-essentials are more discretionary spending. This categorization helps you identify areas where you can cut back. If the service member and spouse have a different view of what is essential, this is a time to discuss and get on the same page.
Set Financial Goals
Establish short-term and long-term financial goals. Whether it’s building an emergency fund, paying off debt, or saving for a post-deployment vacation, having clear objectives will help motivate you to stick to your budget.
Create Your Budget
Allocate your income to cover your expenses while ensuring you’re setting aside money for savings and debt reduction. Your budget should be realistic and reflect your family’s needs and priorities. Using budgeting tools or apps can make this step easier, especially when the service member and spouse are temporarily in different locations, like during deployment or a TDY (Temporary Duty).
Flexibility in Your Military Family Budget
In military life, we say, “don’t write anything on the calendar in pen” because we know that plans always change. Flexibility is key to successfully managing a military family budget. Here’s how to incorporate it.
Aim to build an emergency fund with at least three to six months’ worth of expenses. This safety net provides financial security during unexpected situations like medical emergencies, car repairs, or an evacuation for a natural disaster.
Allocate for Surprises
Military life is full of surprises, from unexpected deployments to PCS moves. They say anything that can go wrong will go wrong; usually as soon as the service member leaves to train! Set aside a portion of your budget for these contingencies, and adjust your spending accordingly when they occur.
Review and Adjust
Regularly review your budget and make necessary adjustments. Life changes, such as promotions, pay increases, or having a baby, may require you to modify your budget to align with your new financial situation. Use the tools available to you on base to make budget adjustments. Aid societies like the Army Emergency Relief or the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society are located on base and offer free assistance to military families.
Adapting Your Military Family Budget for PCS Moves
A Permanent Change of Station (PCS) can be both exciting and financially challenging, especially if you’re moving overseas to an OCONUS assignment. Here’s how to prepare a budget for PCS moves.
If you receive a housing allowance (Basic Allowance for Housing, or BAH), update your budget to reflect the new rate at your PCS location. This may affect both your housing expenses and discretionary income.
Research Cost of Living
Before your move, research the cost of living at your new duty station. The service member’s BAH rates will change, and so will the cost of groceries, gas, and activities for the family. This will help you anticipate changes in housing, utilities, and other expenses.
Budget for Moving Expenses
Even when you choose a military-sponsored PCS move, moving can be expensive. Budget for transportation and temporary housing costs, as well as any loss of income from the spouse leaving their job. Take advantage of military discounts and allowances available for PCS moves.
Temporary Lodging Allowance (TLA)
Utilize TLA, if applicable, to cover temporary housing expenses during your transition. You can apply it to hotel stays at the duty station you are leaving and the new one when you arrive. Ensure you understand the rules and regulations governing TLA at your new location.
Update Your Financial Institution
Inform your bank, credit card companies, and other financial institutions of your change of address. Ensure your bills and financial statements are redirected to your new location.
Adapting Your Budget for Deployments
Deployments can bring about significant changes in your financial situation. Even if your service member has deployed before, remember that the budget can be different this time, depending on where they are going in the world, whether they will pay for internet access, and if they are married and receiving the separation allowance. Here’s how to plan for them.
Create a Deployment Budget
Draft a simplified budget for the deployment. Consider expenses like childcare, home maintenance, and utilities that may change during this time. If you typically share income and accounts, make sure each person has access to the correct funds. If you maintain separate accounts, make sure all bills are covered and each person has enough for discretionary spending.
Set up automatic bill payments and transfers to savings accounts to ensure your financial obligations are met even when you’re away. This is especially important if you won’t have internet access during the deployment. You don’t want to earn late fees while you’re waiting for your next wi-fi location!
Power of Attorney (POA)
Consider granting a trusted family member or friend a power of attorney to manage your finances in your absence. This can help ensure bills are paid and savings goals are maintained. Contact your bank and financial institutions to see if they require special documents for this. Many banks will not accept a Power of Attorney for certain actions if the person’s name is not on the account. And it’s much easier to sign or fax a document to them before you go on deployment!
Maintain open communication with your spouse or family members about the deployment budget. Were there unexpected issues that drained the funds? Is there enough saved for a post-deployment trip? Regular updates can prevent financial stress and ensure everyone is on the same page.
GoVA Helps Military Families with Financial Solutions
Building a budget as a military family is a crucial step towards achieving financial stability and peace of mind. Remember that your financial well-being is an essential part of your overall readiness as a military family, so take the time to build and maintain a budget that works for you. By following these steps, you can take control of your finances and navigate the unique challenges of military life with confidence.
GoVA supports military families by helping them build financial strength using FREE tools like The Edge. On this interactive platform, you’ll find helpful articles and useful tools like a Budget Builder and a mortgage calculator. It’s all tailored to your experience as a military family, so whether you’re facing a PCS move, a deployment, or a paycheck emergency, you get an edge on managing your finances.
GoVA members will also find support and helpful services throughout the home-buying experience. Our team can answer your questions, connect you with a lender, or help you find a military-friendly real estate agent. It’s all free, thanks to military scholarships from our sponsors! Register today for a free GoVA membership, and start taking control of your military family budget.