A piggy bank and a hammer on a table

What Can Military Families Expect in 2023?

Stability within a military family directly correlates to the service member’s state of mind. As the military continues to concentrate on readiness, support for families is a top priority. The 2023 Defense Department budget gives us a look at the key issues being addressed by the government. Let’s look at a few of the goals the military is hoping to accomplish during this fiscal year.

  1. Base pay increase. The 4.6% base pay increase is effective this month (January). While it’s always nice to see numbers go up on a pay stub, it’s also important to emphasize the national inflation rate as of October 2022 is almost 8%, which still leaves a large burden on families.
  2. Temporary Basic Allowance for Housing increase. BAH went up in 28 military housing areas in communities where rental prices spiked by 20% or more. Outside of these 28 areas, there is still a huge discrepancy in BAH and local rental rates. The temporary increase in BAH in these areas was in place from Oct. 1-Dec. 31, 2022 — BAH rates should remain the same in 2023.
  3. Savings at the commissary. The new goal is for customers to save 25% on their grocery bill when compared to shopping at civilian grocery stores. Most commissaries were already funded to give shoppers an average savings of 22% on their bill, so the new budget aims to fund another 3 to 5% to help military families save. It is important to note that while we are not taxed on the food at commissaries there is a 5% surcharge attached for the maintenance of the commissary itself.
  4. The Military Spouse Career Accelerated Program. This program will be centered around military spouses receiving 12-week paid internships with corporations that will keep them on past their next PCS season. Spousal unemployment has been a problem for decades, with military spouses’ unemployment rate clocking in at around 21% compared to 3.7% within the civilian population. It isn’t a surprise given how often we PCS that limited state-to-state flexibility in professional licenses and the shortage of affordable child care exacerbate this problem.
  5. Accessible, affordable health care. When military families have trouble securing child care, it directly impacts readiness. Long waitlists and a shortage of child care workers make this a very real challenge for many — this budget aims to adjust DOD civilian pay to $15/hour to help retain workers. They are also including fee assistance, putting money towards new construction and sustainment.

These goals are by no means the only ones addressed in the 2023 Defense Department budget. I would encourage you to do your own research to learn all you can about topics that are important to you. Seeing key challenges being addressed just goes to show we can be heard and things can change. We are the military family. We create the stability this lifestyle takes from us. Our experience and expertise are desperately needed to mold our future.

Sydney’s two toddlers in their camping tent looking out at the sunset

Camping With Toddlers

As 2023 is recently upon us, and everyone begins marking their calendars with family plans for the year, I thought I would share some encouragement and tips for anyone considering going camping with young children. Camping can be a fun and inexpensive way to get away as a family and enjoy the outdoors together. I especially think it’s a wonderful thing to do as a military family because it’s a great way to explore a new area — and find a new adventure not too far away from home when you are too far or unable to see extended family over a long weekend.

As our weekend camping plans approached this past October, my husband and I were surprised with many of the reactions we received when people learned we were doing such a crazy thing with a one-year-old and a three-year-old. To be honest, their reactions made us grow increasingly fearful as our trip approached. Were we actually crazy?

 Our trip did not happen without some challenges, but we left with happy hearts and fun family memories, and we were overall so glad that we braved this adventure. Here are some tips for those considering bringing little ones camping:

  1. Plan to spend a long time planning. Our camping packing list was four pages long, single-spaced. I spent weeks thinking about all of the things we would need. It was helpful to break the list into the following categories: tent and sleeping, things for the kids, equipment and tools, kitchen items, fun and entertainment, personal items, and two food lists – one for cold items to store in a cooler, and the other for nonperishable items that can be stored in a bin. For meal planning, it can be helpful to make a chart with items you plan to cook, as well as the equipment and tools needed to prepare and eat each of those individual items. You can’t make pancakes without a spatula. You can’t mix a salad without a bowl. You can’t serve leftover chili the next day if you don’t bring a container to store it in, etc.
  2. Bring more than just the bare minimum. You aren’t going rogue backpacking. You are packing an entire car, so take advantage. If your goal is to have fun, you should bring the extras! Bring fun foods like s’mores, Jiffy pop, comforting drinks like hot chocolate, apple cider packets, a jug of cold apple cider and some orange juice. We went camping around Halloween, so I brought candy and pumpkins to carve. Bring books to read to your kids around the fire, a basket of toys for the tent and a Bluetooth speaker to play music. Bring fishing and hiking equipment, a net and binoculars for the kids to explore the campground.
  3. Keep in mind, the first trip will be the most expensive. While camping is notoriously a cheap way for your family to have a getaway adventure, your first camping trip will not be cheap. You will need to invest in nice equipment that will last — a tent, a camping table and stove, sleeping bags, cookware and other basics. You can find lots of resources online with camping essentials lists. This might be something you spend a while saving up for, or you might consider putting some of those big-ticket items on wish lists for the holidays so family and friends can help with some of those expenses.
  4. Sleeping tips with young children. This seems to be what scares people most about bringing young kids camping, and it was certainly our biggest challenge. Our 16-month-old daughter made it clear she did not enjoy sleeping in the wilderness, and unfortunately kept us awake more than we would have liked in the middle of the night and early hours of the morning. While there is no way to guarantee great sleep with children, here are some things that helped us:
    • Bring as much as you can that your children are used to having at night, such as special blankets or lovies, and a sound machine can be incredibly helpful.
    • Bring a pack-n-play for any child who is used to sleeping in a crib. You really don’t want to experiment with your child sleeping in a non-confined space for the first time while camping.
    • Get everyone ready for bed before you put your kids to sleep. Make sure everyone (including mom and dad) is in pajamas and has toiletries accessible — so you are not rummaging around in a dark tent next to your sleeping children later in the night.
    • Remain positive. Just because you have a bad night of sleep, doesn’t mean your camping trip is ruined.
  1. Items we were glad to have. I can’t include our entire packing list, but I did want to include some of the not-so-obvious items we were glad to have on this past camping trip:
    • Tablecloth, paper plates and bowls, silverware and caddy
    • Baby carrier for hiking
    • Collapsible trash can with zipper lid
    • Glow sticks to put on the kids/dog to keep track of them in the dark
    • Plastic bags and containers to store leftover food items in the cooler
    • Broom and dustpan to sweep out the tent before packing up
    • Board games to play at night
    • Toys and books to keep in the tent and occupy kids during the day

A few days later, we drove away from Jordan Lake with happy, full (and tired) hearts. While it certainly did have its challenges, we were glad we braved the experience with our two little ones.

While camping with young children can certainly be an intimidating thing to attempt, it can be a very rewarding experience if you put in the necessary preparation and planning. I hope these tips are helpful and can encourage any parents out there who want to try camping with littles, but might be fearful, or just don’t know where to begin. So, you got this!

Lizann assembling a chair in her living room

Why Home Projects Make Perfect Goals During Deployments

During deployments, military spouses like to make to-do lists and set goals to accomplish during the long months apart. Sometimes these goals help make the time go faster and distract you. But other times, you’ll see people make wildly impractical goals, like “I want to lose 50 pounds, learn another language and run a marathon.”

There’s nothing wrong with dreaming big for your personal goals. But during deployments, you’ll have limited amounts of time and energy. You want to choose meaningful projects that don’t just suck up your time, but also give you a positive burst of energy to help you face the challenges that come with this separation. That’s why I often turn to home improvement projects as the perfect goal during deployments.

First, let’s be clear about the types of home improvement projects we’re discussing here. While it may be exciting to completely demo your kitchen or renovate a bathroom yourself, that usually isn’t within the scope for a military spouse to handle alone while their service member is away. If you have a full-time job, kids, schoolwork, or any combination of those, then you probably don’t want to start knocking down walls in your home during a deployment. Setting big, unrealistic goals can just make you feel stressed and overwhelmed.

Instead, let’s focus on smaller home projects that are a little more reasonable — and financially affordable — so you can take small steps and work on them a little bit at a time. Tasks like fixing broken items, rearranging furniture, painting walls, refinishing wooden furniture, adding accent décor, hanging curtains or wall art, and organizing untidy spaces can all be fulfilling goals during a deployment.

  • Feel accomplished. During deployment, days can often drag on without any positive milestones to mark their passage. When you work on an ongoing project, you can see the changes and the improvement in front of you, and you can celebrate when a project is complete. You also get the satisfying thrill of solving a problem, using power tools and making a decision on your own. It gives you a burst of confidence, knowing that if you complete this project, you can complete others too!

Bike racks mounted on the garage wall

To feel accomplished, choose a project like painting a room or hanging shelves on the wall — those have a very visible result, and a definite moment of completion. Then clean up all the tools and enjoy your new, improved space.Lizann holding a roller paintbrush

  • Personalize your space. If you’re in base housing or in a rented apartment, then it may be difficult to make big permanent changes. But there are many things you can do to bring joy and peace into your daily living areas — without knocking down walls and doing renovations! Focus on small things like adding your favorite colors with paint, rugs or throw pillows. Use temporary accents like removable wallpaper, decals or curtains. Add personal touches, such as items you have collected from dates and travel with your service member, or favorite pictures in frames. While you are personalizing your space, don’t forget to clean out items you no longer need or things that don’t fit your style anymore. You should check with your service member before sending any of their items to a thrift store! But getting rid of your own old clothes, unwanted books or outdated furniture can be both exhilarating and practical — especially if you have another PCS move in your future.
  • Gain a sense of control. When the military is controlling so many aspects of your life, your living arrangements and your relationship, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and helpless. You can regain a sense of control by taking charge of small decisions throughout your day and making your own choices that bring you happiness or relaxation.

Stack of chopped wood

Start with a small space in your house — like a bathroom — and make it your Zen zone. Keep it clean and free from clutter. Add comfortable towels and a scented candle. By making these small decisions and improvements, you’ll feel more empowered to face the wild lack of control that deployment throws your way. Once you have one clean space, you’ll feel more energized to tackle the next space. One room at a time, you can gain a sense of control over your hectic military life.

If you’re facing a deployment, walk through your home and start dreaming of some of the small improvements and home projects you want to complete on your own. Whether you do a new task each week or spend a whole month fixing up one space, doing home projects during deployment can help you feel accomplished, personalize your space and help you regain a sense of control.

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