It's been said that the best laid plans often go awry. In other words, even if you make detailed plans, something may still go wrong. That doesn't mean you shouldn't make plans, but you should be prepared with alternative plans. In terms of money, this is particularly important, especially these days as we experience federal budget cuts, fluctuating gas prices and an uncertain economy. Military OneSource can provide helpful hints and resources to guide you through whatever financial roadblock you encounter. So if your plans go awry, get help. It's there when you need it.
Design a new financial roadmap
The first action to take when faced with a sudden financial change is to reassess your income and expenses to see where you can make adjustments to live within your means. Changing your spending habits requires discipline. Just like learning any new habit, it helps to adopt a positive attitude and include the whole family in the effort. There are ways to cut spending without sacrificing fun. Here are some tips to help you get started:
- Review your spending habits. Separate needs (food, housing, medical) from wants (buying a daily coffee-shop latte, frequenting restaurants, buying the latest electronic gizmo — you get the picture!). Distinguishing what you must buy from what you'd like to buy shows you where you can trim your budget.
- Be proactive with lending institutions. If you know you will have trouble meeting a payment, contact your lending institution and seek their advice as soon as you experience financial difficulties. Do not go to a third-party business offering to help you out. Many of these cost more and require quick repayment.
- Reduce expenses through smart shopping. Do research on items you must buy to find sales. Look to your commissary and military exchange for money-saving tips. Use coupons and frequent shopper rewards programs to lower costs. Consolidate errands to save gas. Find used items in good condition instead of buying new. Your children can look for lower prices for items they need too, or they can help out by clipping coupons.
- Use cash. If you shop with a fixed amount of cash in your pocket, you will be compelled to stay within your budget. It is easier to spend more than you intended when you use a credit card.
- Temporarily adjust contributing funds to your long-term goals. Your long-term goals may have to be put on hold temporarily to cover more immediate cash needs. Avoid this if you can, but if not, try not to make these changes permanent. As soon as possible, resume contributions to your long-term goals (such as college or retirement savings).
- Find low or no-cost family entertainment. Take advantage of the Morale, Welfare and Recreation program at your military installation for discounted or no-cost family activities.
- Build up an emergency fund. When you have the means again, set aside an amount of money from each paycheck, so that you are prepared for an unexpected change in your budget in the future. This is easier if you have the money taken out by allotment and put directly into a savings account. Small amounts from each paycheck will make a difference over time.
Even if you aren't experiencing a change in your financial situation, you may still find these suggestions helpful for building up your savings. Adopting a more frugal lifestyle teaches valuable lessons, such as living with fewer things (you'll only have to move them all anyway with your next PCS!), having a financial safety net for times of emergency and being able to purchase items without paying for credit card interest on top of the item cost. If you have children, these financial lessons will pay dividends later on. By setting savings goals for specific items before you buy them, your children will see how long it takes to earn the money. They may even raise a portion of the money themselves through chores. When they get the new item, they'll have a greater appreciation for what it took to purchase it.
Financial resources: you don't have to go it alone
Should you find yourself in a difficult financial situation, your Family Readiness System offers diverse options for accessing a network of integrated services to help you easily find the support you need for everyday life in the military. Your first stop might be the Personal Financial Management Program office located in the Military and Family Support Center on your installation. You can talk to a financial counselor and get help readjusting your spending plan. The program can also help you understand your consumer rights and obligations, save for the future and resolve any other financial concerns that may arise. Visit MilitaryINSTALLATIONS for contact information and choose "personal financial management services" in the selection box.
If you don't live near a military installation, you can also access personal financial counseling services through Military OneSource. These counselors also understand the military environment and the special challenges you may face. To learn more about these financial counseling resources, contact Military OneSource at 800-342-9647.
For emergency financial support, you can also reach out to military relief organizations. These private, nonprofit organizations help service members and their families with certain emergency financial needs in the form of interest-free loans or grants. Each service has its own relief organization and may assist with emergency expenses such as rent, utilities, vehicle repair, emergency travel and medical and dental expenses. To apply for assistance, contact your service's relief organization:
- Army Emergency Relief or call 866-878-6378
Note: If there is no military installation within 50 miles of your location, Army Emergency Relief has a support agreement with the American Red Cross to assist soldiers and their families.
Services provided through the Personal Financial Management Program on your installation and Military OneSource are available at no cost. These counselors understand how your finances can be impacted by unexpected changes. And the military relief societies can provide you with some financial peace of mind during an otherwise uncertain time. Let these services and resources help you make sense of new financial challenges.