Deployment Dollars & Money Mistakes
Once upon a time, I was engaged to a wonderful man in the military. As I was delving into the exciting world of wedding planning, he deployed to Afghanistan. I kept myself occupied with work, friends, and of course… planning our wedding. A huge part of the planning process was to understand our budget and manage our finances. Doing so during deployment was twice as hard! I made plenty of mistakes, had plenty of regrets, but— I also did a few things right. The next time my husband deploys, I will be fully armed and ready to tackle our finances.
The things I did wrong:
Waited until halfway through the deployment to make a budget. I didn’t sit down with my husband and create a budget before he deployed. We talked about it, but it was more along the lines of, “I’ll live off whatever I earn, and whatever you earn will go into savings or toward the wedding.” Um… do not do this. Although I was working full-time, there was more to consider than just the basic bills each month. From car repairs to care packages, there were definitely other expenses we should have planned for.
Overspent before deployment. Unlike our usual weekend getaways once every month or so, I drove twelve hours from New York to see him almost every other weekend before he deployed. I was scared and, looking back, there were other ways to deal with my fears than overspending on things like gas, hotels, eating out, his pre-deployment checklist, and all the last minute gifts I bestowed upon him before he left.
Didn’t set up auto transfers between our accounts. I made the mistake of assuming that transferring his pay from his account into our joint account would be okay. After all, he and I had discussed it, and it was what we both wanted to do. Unfortunately, the banks weren’t in on our agreement. They froze his account within the first week of his leaving because of the large transfers leaving his checking account. My husband was not within contact at this point, so I was running around like a crazy person trying to fax my power of attorney (POA) to the banks so they would unfreeze his account. Oh, and that’s another thing I did wrong. I didn’t send my POA to his bank before he left!
Didn’t alert the bank he would be out of the country. This was not a problem for us until my husband was on his way back from deployment. He had a layover in another country and bought a few gifts for our family and me. So just what do you think happened? Why, they froze his account again. It was a hassle and if we had taken the necessary precautions we would have been fine. At least we know our bank has our backs!
The things I did right:
Kept separate bank accounts. While we were planning our wedding during deployment, we both had separate checking accounts and one joint savings account. This worked out well, because he had an allotted amount for his spending, I had my allotted amount for the bills and my spending, and we had our savings account for the wedding.
Got POA. The POA is important to have for a number of reasons, but especially for matters involving your finances and banking. I don’t even want to think about how much more difficult it would have been to work with my husband’s bank if I hadn’t already had the POA.
Kept a close watch on his leave and earning statement (LES). I am not kidding you; I watched that thing like a hawk. Knowing and understanding his LES meant I knew when to expect each paycheck, could make sure all his entitlements were received, and could be certain that his allotments were taken out. It was a great tool when creating our budget!
Saved for our wedding. Thanks to the money we saved during deployment, we were able to contribute a nice amount to our beautiful wedding the following spring. It was a nice accomplishment!
The things I’ll do next time:
Won’t spend the combat pay. Or the family separation pay. Or any extra pay he receives as entitlements during his deployment. This was different during our last deployment since all of our “extra” money went to our wedding savings, but in the future, we will put that extra money right into savings. It’s best not to get used to it since it won’t be there forever, and we were already living without it. Save when you can!
Keep extra in savings. Even though we were saving for a big event, I do wish we had put some of our income into savings. There will always be things that come up, including the trip and a new outfit for homecoming!
Discuss our financial goals before he leaves. It’s a good idea to make sure you’re on the same page about your goals and finances before your spouse is out of the country for an extended period of time. We knew what our goals were on the last deployment, and I will make sure we know our goals on the next one, too.
Take advantage of extra savings during deployment. From Thrift Savings Plans (TSP) to Saving Deposit Programs (SDP), I will make sure I understand what each of these acronyms mean and that we take full advantage of what we can.
To conclude… there are lots of ways to do a poor job with your finances when your spouse is deployed. There are also lots of ways to save money and do a stellar job as the family CFO! Deployment gives you enough to worry about, and with the proper precautions (and stories from people like me who know exactly what NOT to do), your finances don’t have to add extra worry.