Five Ways to Kiss Debt Goodbye This Year

It’s no secret to military families that finances can get tight. We have some unique financial considerations. It’s expensive to move often, prepare for deployments, and replace uniforms unexpectedly. Yes, we have had pens go through the washing machine with uniforms at our house. Yikes!

When I married my husband, we had a lot of debt holding us back from reaching our goals. No traditional wedding, no honeymoon, and no-frills! We moved into our first apartment without being able to buy much furniture for the first couple of years. Money got even tighter when I went back to school. Plus, we were feeling the effects of spending our money before we had even earned it.

Luckily, we got organized early on and paid off more than $50,000 in debt in the first 3 years of marriage. I’m no expert, but I learned a few things on our journey that might help you to get started.

1. Start Small. What can you do to save a little money today? Selling stuff that you already have can help to kick start your plan. When we started our plan, we sold some of our belongings to take a little financial pressure off. We sold a computer, a camera, a guitar, and even our dining room table. While you may not want to go that extreme, there is always a way to save! Make coffee at home this week instead of grabbing it on the way to work. Do your own nails instead of visiting the salon. Pack your lunch. Tiny decisions add up to big rewards. We visited the commissary at the beginning of each week with a budget in mind and a shopping list in hand. Your money will stretch if you set a budget, buy only what’s on your list, and eat at home.

2. Gain Perspective. What’s your weakness? Eating at restaurants when you’re too tired to cook? Online shopping when you’re bored? I challenge you to add up the total cost of what you spend per month in each category of your finances. We were shocked to see that a huge chunk of our money went to restaurants. Adding it all up can help you figure out where you need to start your plan. Many banks offer free tools in their online services that can do those calculations for you. Plus, there are free Military OneSource calculators and budget guides that you can use.

3. Be Accountable. It’s easy to get off track if you don’t prepare beforehand. Failing to plan is planning to fail. Take inventory of all of your bank accounts, debts, and goals. Write everything down. You’ll need that information to make an accurate budget. At the end of each week, I created a summary of our finances and gave my husband an update on where we stood. It’s motivating to see what is going well and helpful to see where you need to make a change.

4. Be Realistic. Know that it will be hard. I worked full-time and went to school full-time during our payoff plan. Some days it felt impossible, but it was worth it to not feel the weight of student loans after graduation. Remember that it will be worth more since you worked so hard for it. Also, remember to make a “for fun” category of your budget. If you don’t, you might get frustrated and give up before you really see results! It helps to have something fun to look forward to.

5. Set Expectations. When holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries come around, it can be easy to get off track. Set expectations for your family ahead of time. This will save you from possible disappointment. Sit down with your partner and have an open conversation about your financial goals. When we started our plan, we agreed that we wouldn’t buy extras and fancy things whenever we could help it. This meant that for our second-anniversary dinner, we enjoyed a sub sandwich picnic and took a walk together at a free nature trail. Funny enough, it was one of our most memorable dates.

If you’re at the beginning of your journey to financial freedom, please don’t be discouraged. It’s hard, but it’s worth it. You might even gain some other benefits along the way. During our quest to eat at home as much as possible, my husband discovered a love for cooking from scratch. During our quest to find free activities on the weekends, we visited some amazing outdoor spots that we wouldn’t have seen otherwise.There are tons of personal finance resources available to you through Military OneSource. Take advantage of them and don’t be afraid to ask for help! You can speak with a consultant and access exclusive content on military finances.

Remember: You can do this! What’s your favorite money-saving trick? Share it in the comments below!

Keeping the Art of Letter Writing Alive

My husband and I have an unusual treasure: an old cardboard boot box. It’s bright yellow and originally contained his first pair of military boots. It’s still in our closet now, 18 years later, because it holds something much more precious ‒ our love letters.

We started writing notes as soon as we began dating, even though we saw each other almost every day. Sometimes they were on scraps of paper scribbled during work breaks or pages ripped from my college notebooks. When he joined the military, I wrote regularly during boot camp and his combat deployments. At times, it was the only communication option we had. There are messy, tear-stained letters I wrote describing our newborn son he hadn’t met yet, and I saved his sand-stained letters filled with unusual stories of living in Afghanistan. Letters became our love language. Now, letter writing is considered a dying art. But it can still be an important form of communication for military couples. Here’s how to make letter writing a valuable part of your relationship.

Why should you write letters?

In the modern age of technology and instant messaging, writing letters can feel dated and slow. Why write when you can video chat, text or email? Even during deployments, military families usually have at least some options for keeping in touch with their service member.

After seven years of dating long distance and eventually seven different deployments, my husband and I learned that letter writing has its own value. Words that are written on paper can be saved and enjoyed anytime, even in the desert or across oceans. Although written messages don’t convey all the body language of face-to-face communication, they can be carefully thought out to express your deepest emotions. Seeing your loved one’s handwriting and signature has a very personal touch that can’t be recreated in a text message.

When should you write letters?

Military couples can turn to letter writing to express themselves any time they are separated by distance and aren’t able to make phone calls. A letter can express the mundane details of your day, share a funny story or a joke, or contain plans for the future. Letters can be useful when passing along news or messages from people back home. A note can be inspiring to someone going through a challenging time such as basic training, a military school, or a deployment.

Letters can also be used to discuss deep thoughts or work out big emotions. Long-distance communication doesn’t always allow couples to express themselves intimately. Phone calls and even video chats can feel impersonal if one party is surrounded by friends and coworkers in the background. Quick phone check-ins are not a good time to bring up something that has been weighing on your mind. But a letter can be the perfect way to collect your thoughts, discuss an important decision, and let your loved one know how you feel.

 

What should you write in a letter?

If you aren’t used to writing, staring at a blank page can feel intimidating. Remember that there is no wrong way to write a letter. If you don’t like how it sounds, you can always tear it up and start over. Think about letter writing as a conversation, similar to the type of chat you would have via text messages if you knew your loved one was sleeping and couldn’t respond right away.

Some people like to approach letter writing like a journal entry. It doesn’t necessarily have to be written to the service member. It can be a collection of your thoughts and ideas, like something you would write in a diary. When you are finished, you can either choose to send it to your loved one or keep it private.

If you want to write a letter but feel stuck, here are some prompts to get you started:

  • Describe something interesting/funny/memorable that happened to you today. Tell who was there, what people said, how you felt, etc.
  • Write the lyrics to your favorite song or poem.
  • Share encouraging or inspirational quotes they might enjoy. You can even copy them from memes or Pinterest if you need ideas.
  • Describe a favorite shared memory: a date night, event, fun times with friends, or a holiday tradition. Tell your loved one why that memory is so important to you.
  • Ask questions or play a game where you share unusual facts they might not know about you.
  • Think about a future goal or dream. Write it down and share it with your loved one.
  • Make a list of some of the qualities you love most about your partner.
  • Tell them how much you appreciate a recent gesture or conversation with them, and why it meant so much.

You don’t have to be eloquent to write a meaningful letter. Just write what comes to mind, and it will become a treasured token for both you and your service member.

Shore Tour Master’s Program

We have made it to shore tour! Well almost, it officially begins once my husband is back from deployment, so we’re so close. A shore tour will mean more time at home and more flexibility. We’re excited to start on a new phase of our lives and his career.

Since my husband will have a little more free time once he starts shore tour, we’ve decided that it would be a perfect time for him to start a master’s degree. He will be working towards his master’s in engineering management, which is a mix of engineering and business classes. Because he’s a submarine officer, he’s had enough training that he will only have to complete half of the classes in the program, and he also did his undergraduate studies in mechanical engineering.

It’s been a few years since we’ve both been in college, but I’m hoping the transition of going back to school will be somewhat smooth. Thankfully, his program is available online or on campus. (The college is relatively close to our house.) We thought this would be the best option for him since he’ll be able to access professors easily and can use the resources at the college’s campus. All the courses he is taking are self-guided, so he will be able to complete his coursework on his own time. If everything goes well, he should be able to complete the program within the next two years.

Submariners are constantly going through different trainings. In fact, the first two years he was in the Navy he spent mostly in training and in classrooms learning all the ins and outs of a submarine. Since then he has gone through two additional training programs, and he will be attending another program in March before his shore tour duty. Although he has been through several programs in the last few years, these were all his primary focus at the time. So, unlike these programs, his master’s will be something on top of his job rather than being his exclusive focus.

While I would like to get my master’s within the next few years, we decided it would be best for me to wait. I have a pretty crazy work schedule, and I don’t think I would be able to manage my current job along with coursework. In addition to that, we didn’t want the financial burden of having two tuitions, and one of us needs to maintain and manage the house while the other is in school. We have a few friends who are both doing some sort of schooling at the same time and I’m not sure how they do it.

Have you and your significant other gone through schooling either together or separately? How was the experience for you? What would you do differently? I’d be curious to see how other people have handled this experience.

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