Close
You are now leaving the Military OneSource website.
Thank you for visiting our site.

Close
You are now leaving the Military OneSource website.
Thank you for visiting our site.

Close
You are now leaving the Military OneSource website.
Thank you for visiting our site.
    

How to Make New Year’s Goals More Obtainable

 Posted by on January 25, 2016 at 11:31
Jan 252016
 
Kelli

Kelli

Setting goals is a yearly occurrence for me. Failing to reach goals is also a yearly occurrence for me. So it’s no surprise as the New Year approached and people talked about their New Year’s goals that I died a little inside; nothing like feeling like a failure before actually failing. I have reviewed my past history in detail and introspectively examined my short comings and weaknesses. That was fun. I ditched the data and decided, “What the heck — let’s give goal setting another try,” but this year I adjusted a bit.

Don’t take on everything.

The years I’ve decided to lose weight, spend less money, learn to knit, be nicer to my family, save money, volunteer more, read a book a month, cook from scratch and run the Marine Corps Marathon have not gone well. I can tell you the marathon, learning to knit and being nicer fell off the wagon by the end of January. This year, I’ve consolidated, kept them general and have not mentioned specifics in the overall goal statement. I call them my triple F goal: food, fitness and finances. So when people ask if I have set goals, I whip out my three Fs and move on without further explanation. OH, and I HAVE NOT posted them on social media. I can’t think of a better way to set myself up for failure than to announce I’m getting fit on social media. There’s always that one friend that posts a less-than-encouraging comment come the Fourth of July photo album where I’m not in a bikini.

Involve everyone.

There is nothing worse than trying to improve your life and having a bunch of people who are supposed to be your support network doing just the opposite. As a consequence my husband and I found something we could both do together, and because the children living in our home ARE LIVING IN OUR HOME, they are coming along for the ride. It’s not going to hurt them to each work on the three Fs, modified for age of course. Having everyone on board, at least for now, is setting me up to hopefully make it a little further this year towards my goals!

Set milestones.

Reaching a mini goal is more attainable, reasonable and motivating than saying you want to lose 30 pounds. In fact, we don’t even speak in pounds in this house. The mentality is getting fit. For me, as a grandmother of three, mother of six, full-time employee and closer to death than I was yesterday, my milestone is going to look very different than my 11-, 13- and 16-year-old sons. My milestone may be a commitment to walking three days a week for a minimum of 30 minutes. My 16 year old’s milestone might be beating his personal record in a 5K. Nowhere in my goal this year is the term 5K. I literally have to walk before I run.

Celebrate those milestones!

I’m not sure what that will look like for us this year. I want my family to have input there, as well. I don’t mean huge expensive celebrations, but something to recognize our effort. I’m thinking if we make it through the first week we need to commemorate it somehow. NOT WITH CAKE!

Be realistic.

My goals used to be all over the place, sometimes even contradicting each other. I made sure this year my goals complemented each other. Food and fitness is a no brainer. The finance comes in because I looked at our budget, and the amount of money we spend on convenience food was staggering. Even though my actual grocery bill is going to go up, the savings in the long run will be significant. If that is my focus and I happen to go down a pant size and have more energy, well that’s just a bonus and reward for being disciplined and making time to start cooking again. Surprise! You have to go clothes shopping in three months! (Oh the things that motivate us.) And this brings me to my last little nugget of hard-learned wisdom.

Don’t compare your goals to someone else.

I have the most amazing friends. One in particular can cook anything, anytime with any ingredients in her kitchen, and it will always be delicious. She has always done this and sometimes on a budget that is so unbelievable. I’m not talking a big budget; I’m talking a dollar amount that doesn’t even rate being called a budget. So my goal of just cooking again and not eating out looks ridiculous next to how she lives, but I’m not her, and I will never obtain any goal if I look outside myself. We are all unique in our talents and our challenges. Make your friends a source of support and a valuable resource. If I start to lose my stride and want to drive through a window to feed my family, then a quick text to my talented friend yields a simple, yet delicious recipe on my phone I can prepare.

Life happens, be flexible.

Somewhere in the middle of the year you may have to manage your expectation of what success looks like. Hear me now, THAT IS OKAY. After all, we adapt and overcome on a regular basis and life is about meeting it head on, not dictating the way ahead.

Finally, at the very heart of reaching your goal is the reason for making that goal to begin with. Don’t forget what it was. Post it, review it and refer to it often. My reasons walk through the front door every afternoon and evening. Set it and get it. Bring it on, New Year!

 

Budgeting With Dollars and Sense

 Posted by on January 19, 2016 at 13:37
Jan 192016
 
Dani

Dani

Like many military families, my family is on a budget. I’ll be the first to admit that we aren’t always the best at consistently setting our monthly budget, but we’ve learned through trial and error that the months when we actually sit down together to get all the dollars accounted for, we follow it really well. There are a few key points to this that help us stay on track. With the new year also comes new savings goals, and I’m ready to plan some upcoming vacation days!

Set monthly budget meetings. My husband and I set aside a day at the end of each month to discuss the following month’s budget. We look at our income and expenses, discuss any out of the ordinary or upcoming purchases and create a realistic budget that works for our family of three. The key takeaway here: together. We do this together so there are no surprises to either of us.

In your relationship, there is likely to be one of you who is more of a saver and one who is more a spender. Use these characteristics to your advantage to help balance each other. For example, in my marriage, I’m the spender. When my husband sets the budget, he often sets it too low for what it actually costs, whereas I always like to set it so we have a little “cushion” money in case of an unexpected expense. When this happens, we compromise and choose a number right in the middle. Or, in some cases, we’ll budget lower for one thing but a bit higher for another thing. As long as we’ve set time aside to sit down and do this together, we’re always able to come to some sort of an agreement to start the new month with a solid plan.

Categorize your budget. This totally seems like it belongs in a Budgeting 101 lesson, but sometimes we all need a little reminder. Categorize your upcoming expenses into separate sections to keep your budget organized. The same categories generally occur each month, so doing this makes it much easier to keep up with your budget.

Categorizing works a little differently for everyone. Some people set very broad categories and work well with that, such as housing, utilities, food, transportation, medical/health, recreation, personal, savings, etc. These are the categories my family uses. But because they are too broad for us, we break them down even further. Our housing category has sections for our mortgage, lawn care and home projects. Our food category has sections for groceries, lunch money, dog food and eating out. Our recreation category has sections for date nights, family events and spending money. And our personal category has sections for haircuts, birthday gifts and child care. We also keep a much needed “miscellaneous” category for those unexpected expenses that pop up during the month, like a copay at the doctor’s office or a trip to the drugstore. You can break your categories down as small as they need to be to work for your family.

Make it fun. Unless you’re a numbers guru, budgeting and finances can be pretty boring. I like to liven it up a bit by keeping all of our information in a colorful binder with a bold label on the side so it can’t be misplaced. If you use page dividers to break up your system by month, get some patterned ones or use different colored pens to write out each month on the tabs. It can be colorful, classy and a little more fun!

Do you follow a cash budget? If your wallet has become old and dingy, treat yourself to a new wallet for a great pick-me-up. You can even budget that expense in your personal category. If you budget in spreadsheets, add a colored header and switch up the fonts a bit for a fresher look.

Money talk isn’t acceptable in all social circles, but when it comes to budgeting, we can all benefit from sharing what works and what doesn’t. If you’re really stuck, consider attending a personal budgeting or finance class in your area to set you off on the right foot. Military OneSource also offers free financial counseling for service members and their families — something to take advantage of if you’re looking for help with budgeting, money management, debt consolidation and debt management.

Cheers to a brightly-budgeted year of successful savings, friends!

Sunscreen Your Wallet for Summer Fun on a Budget

 Posted by on June 23, 2015 at 07:00
Jun 232015
 

Coat the kids with sunscreen and then slap some on your wallet too. Summer activities can burn the budget unless you sift through the flashier camps and theme parks to the nuts-and-bolts activities right in your backyard, town and base.

Julie

Julie

Summer is all about freedom — at least from the kids’ perspective. No more homework, tests or projects and they can bask in the glory of doing nothing and spontaneously change course without missing a beat. I miss that part of being a kid.

When my sailor’s deployments overlapped the summer months, I remember feeling a bit lost and, frankly, trapped. What was I going to do with the kids all summer? We wanted to save money for a family vacation after the deployment, so how was I going to entertain the kids for two and a half months and still save money?

That’s when my girlfriends stepped in and gave me the keys to summer freedom. With a little research now, you can have a list of low-cost activities to choose from on any given day and the list itself can allow you to be spontaneous. I know that sounds impossible when you are the one wrangling the kids and pets, cleaning house, managing the yardwork and bills, but this plan will give you a bit of freedom and some extra cash on hand.
The keys
• Research on-base and community events and activities in the local newspaper and online.
• Make a calendar of the information you find for quick access.
• Find coupons and discounts using your military ID, online, newspaper and the base ITT office.
The plan
It’s all about the preparation — planning allows you to be spontaneous later. You know how summers go. The kids are all excited the first few days and then the days seem to grown in length due to rain, heat or boredom. Having options keeps things fresh.

Disclaimer: Just to be clear, I am not saying that parents should be entertaining their kids all day, every day. I am a firm believer in children helping around the house with chores, learning to play on their own and with others and using their creativity instead of claiming boredom, but I’m also realistic. The summer is long, so breaking up the weeks with at least one event you don’t do very often, makes it easier to fill in the other days with lower-key options to keep everyone engaged and less sloth-like.

Special events and locations
Explore and discover what your local area base and surrounding community have to offer for events or activities. Look for family discounts, day or night specials, ITT special rates or military discounts for all of your summer activities. The following ideas can be for your once-a-week adventures.

Story time at a book store.• Kids’ night at restaurants
• Fairs and festivals
• Museums or historical sites
• Libraries and bookstores
• Water, nature, community or amusement parks
• Camps and playgroups

Create your own adventure

• Scavenger hunt – Help your family get to know your city or base better by creating your own scavenger hunt.
• Area parks – Bring a Frisbee, football, kite, whiffle ball, etc. to add to the fun of the playground or open meadow.
• Playgrounds –Visit each playground in your area and have the kids rate each one. Revisit the favorite ones.

Boredom busters and budget savers
When it isn’t safe to dance in the rain or the heat is too much to bear, use these ideas to break the cabin fever.

Imagination station
My mom always had a cabinet filled with craft scraps and supplies that kept my sister and I occupied for hours. Here’s a brief list of some great starter supplies for your craft stash:

• Construction paper, brown paper lunch bags, coloring books
• Googly eyes, pipe cleaners, yarn, ribbon, cloth remnants, brads
• Scissors, glue, crayons, colored pencils, markers, paint, brushes, chalk, glitter
• Popsicle sticks, clothes pins, shoe boxes, oatmeal containers, empty toilet paper or paper towel rolls, empty egg cartons, buttons, single socks without a mate, cereal boxes

Fun food

• Fried jelly sandwiches – These are the perfect rainy day treat.
• Designer food – Make something fun like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches cut with cookie cutters, ants on a log or create something new with fruit and veggies and name it.
• Opposite meals – Have spaghetti tacos for breakfast and waffles for dinner or some other crazy combination of food that makes your kids laugh.

Activities

• Hot lava (The floor is lava, so you have to use the furniture and pillows to make it around the room without burning your feet off -please tell me you remember this game).
• Cat’s cradle, paper football or other camp games
• Build a fort
• Create a board game

Movies

• Borrow movies from your local library.
• Rent low-cost movies from vending machines or through your TV carrier.
• Attend the base theater for movies as they offer low-cost tickets.
• Check out the local movie theater for their summer movie programs (free or dollar movies).

One more thing — keep a jar by the front door where you deposit pocket change. This makes for the perfect grab-and-dash money supply you need in case the ice cream truck makes its rounds. If the ice cream truck doesn’t have a route near you, take the jar to your favorite ice cream shop as a nice surprise treat for the family. Planning gives you freedom to enjoy summer activities with your kids while keeping your budget and hair intact.

Apr 232015
 

Learning to budget and save — two words I wish weren’t so painful for me to hear. As a consequence, I have struggled to pass those two talents on to many of my children. I have, over the years, tried different methods. All of which worked for a little while, but eventually failed, mainly

Kelli

Kelli

because I didn’t keep up my end of maintaining whatever program I had started. You can apply this to chore charts, grade charts, reading charts and just about anything that has the word chart in it.

What it comes down to is the iron will to say no and watch your sweet fabulous angel crumple or melt into a pool of despondency right in front of you, and often the entire human race in whatever store you are in.

I didn’t always have this iron will. Especially in the middle of a deployment when it seemed it would never end, nothing was going right and I just wanted my husband, so I might possibly have been out for some retail therapy myself.

Pulling me back into a good place financially hasn’t always been easy, or consistent, but I am making headway. Here are some lessons learned:

  • Do talk about it. You don’t have to reveal every little penny you make, but helping your children under the cost of just living in a home and having food might help them put into perspective why they can’t have $150 shoes that month.
  • Do explain why you might make $10 an hour at the after school job, but after taxes, gas money, lunch money and any other applicable donations they really can’t afford to fork out $150 right away to buy those shoes themselves.
  • Do lay out a spending plan, budget for just them and a savings plan. Setting $25 a month aside to buy those ridiculous — I mean fabulous — shoes will go a long way to teaching them the value of a dollar earned and a dollar spent.
  • Don’t belittle what they value, you know, like I just did. Let them figure out if saving for 6 months for a pair of shoes is really worth it. Best case scenario, they do buy them and then discover all that self-discipline wasn’t well spent because what they liked six months ago has changed. Now they have a pair of ridiculous shoes they don’t even really like, instead they really wanted a new lacrosse stick or baseball bat.
  • Do let them make poor financial decisions and let them feel those consequences. It’s hard, but better they squander a small amount today and learn a valuable lesson than have to learn it with a few babies in the house. Then everyone moves in with you and that’s just a mess.
  • Don’t bail them out because you know how much they want something, you love them and want them to be happy. If you love them, let them suffer now and avoid the scenario I just told you about.
  • Don’t say yes to a prize or treat every time you go to the store. We set up even our youngest angels for heartbreak when one day we really can’t buy them something. They need to learn that no or not now doesn’t mean I don’t love you; it means I love you and you need to learn to wait, save and know you are more than what you can buy.
  • Do help even your tiniest little spender save up enough to buy something attainable and then celebrate and make a big deal when they finally have enough to go to the store and get that $5 item. You’ll have to help them “earn,” that money as I’m pretty sure it’s still frowned on to let six-year-olds get jobs.

One of the greatest gifts we can give our children is an understanding of saving, the satisfaction of finally purchasing that great (fill in the blank) and the satisfaction that not only did they earn it, but they own all of it free and clear.

Debt is one of the top stressors in our families. If you are like me and need a little extra help getting your own life right with your checkbook and savings account, take the time to reach out to the resources on your installation and through Military OneSource that can help you do just that.

Savings happens just one penny at a time and together you and your children can both learn how to make that happen.

 

Moving on up on the Same Old Budget

 Posted by on February 28, 2015 at 09:00
Feb 282015
 

 

Kristi

Kristi

Just once I’d like to see an honest commercial — one that says, “Eh, this is cool, but you probably don’t really need it.” That would never happen, though. That company, while honest, would be broke. We are a nation of consumers — a world of consumers — with each move I want more square footage and extra bathrooms. At the grocery store, it’s not enough that my cart is full of a week’s worth of groceries; I toss in an impulse magazine and pack of gum for good measure because I’m bored in line.

If I’d get honest with myself, I’d say, “Self, you don’t have time to read celebrity gossip. That gum is going to end up at the bottom of your purse under a layer of dirty 2T socks and granola bar wrappers. And, as for those extra bathrooms, you know you have to clean them, right?”

Man, I have some really valid points. I think I like this straight-shooting version of myself.

Our dreams are getting bigger by the day, but unfortunately, our income doesn’t seem to follow the same exponential growth pattern. What’s up with that? Since our checking account balances can’t keep up with our growing list of wants, we have to get creative with the budget. You have one of those, right? If not, get yourself one — they don’t cost a thing. Creating a budget changed my life. I erased debt, started saving and took a good hard look at the damage I was doing a penny here and a penny there with coffee runs and window shopping gone awry.

What if I told you that there are tricks to getting some of the things you want and need now without crushing your plans for a comfortable retirement or the decade of braces that your child’s pediatric dentist is already banking on? Would you be interested? Of course you would — I’m on the edge of my seat, and I already know what they are, for crying out loud.

Moving on up to bigger and better doesn’t mean paying more. Use your trusty old income to get you the items you need and the luxuries you crave.

Buy off-season

For every sale there is a season, and for every season there is a sale. Replace worn-out coats and sweaters as the rest of the country flocks to the nearest beach and score double the inventory thanks to clearance prices. And there’s no better time to prep your closet for summer than when that first chill sweeps the country (even if the temperature never changes where you are). You can also shop annual sales and markdowns as retailers clear room for new inventory.

Trade up

I am all about consignment. Think about our ball gowns — we can either wear them until they unravel or swap them out for a new one each year. Some installations have dress donation events or swaps. You can browse consignment shops near you regularly for fabulous deals on items that are still in great shape or check out online clothing consignment websites for women’s, men’s and children’s fashion. This is also a great resource for cleaning out your closets. Sometimes, you can even get more bang for your buck by accepting store credit instead of a cash payout — perfect for clothing your children after you just donated all the clothes they’ve outgrown.

Your installation is also a great resource for leads on cars, housing, and big-ticket items, like furniture, baby gear or electronics. Especially around PCS season, keep your eyes peeled for these items and more that people decide not to take with them. You might even luck out and land some freebies from friends and neighbors as they pack.

Embrace your benefits

I’m guilty of letting my installation be an untapped resource for bargains. Sometimes I forget to price check the exchange or shop the commissary to stock up on food for the holidays or parties. For convenience sake, I don’t drive 20 minutes to base every time I need something when there’s a grocery store a mile from my house, but the potential savings are worth a routine trip.

Aside from shopping, you can also use your installation fitness center instead of pricey gym memberships. Check out books from the installation or online library instead of buying books or paying for downloads. Take advantage of your TRICARE medical and pharmaceutical benefits. Need legal or financial help? Yep, installations have that too. Come to think of it, so does Military OneSource, you could click back to tons of no-cost resources right now (better yet, finish reading first).

As part of the military community, we can travel on a pretty tight budget. We have access to national park and museum passes, discounted tickets, low-cost lodging and equipment rentals that could add up quickly any other way.

And, finally, it might not get you freebies, but it can get you discounts. When shopping off installation, ask for a military discount everywhere. The worst they can say is no, so why not check?

So, while I’d love to sell you on the idea of keeping it simple and saving every penny, I can’t in good conscience do that when I’m a shopper at heart. The best I can say is be a smart shopper. Do your research, wait for a good deal and, most importantly, make your purchases count — don’t let the things you want right this minute hold you back from the things you want for your future.

Feb 262015
 
Kelli

Kelli

I remember the moment I became engaged. From that moment it was wedding gown shopping, bridesmaid selection and wondering if my Marine would be able to actually get leave to make it home for the wedding. Nowhere in our planning did we discuss money.

Wait, that’s not true. I spent it and asked him for more. He said, “Yes” and handed over his paychecks. We were careful and had budgeted for the beginning of our life together — things like the deposit for the apartment and gas for driving the 1500 miles from my home in Texas to Camp Pendleton in California. We really hadn’t discussed much beyond our immediate financial needs.

Day-to-day budgeting wasn’t something either of us had ever had to do, much less with someone else. Not only were we new to being married, we were new to being financially independent. Somehow we had to make our two financial backgrounds mesh into something that would work for both of us and the new family we were building.

The result was a series of unfortunate events and miscommunications. We quickly learned that discussions about our feelings and why he married me really needed to include where and when we spent the income we were getting at the time, which wasn’t much and we had to make it stretch.

Here are a few lessons learned and what I tell my own children as they wean off my checking account and start living on their own.

Credit is not all bad, but don’t abuse it. In today’s financial world you can’t live without a credit score. So much is tied to that three digit number. However, use credit wisely and don’t rely on it. Living off credit cards can dig a financial hole so deep you never climb out. If you are paying with a credit card, ask yourself if you are really out of all other options.

If you can’t afford to pay for it, maybe you don’t need it…today. The burden of carrying debt is much harder and longer lasting than the burden of delaying a big purchase for a few months. Many marriages have some of their biggest trials because of financial matters. New marriages certainly don’t need the additional stress of creditor calls or late payments.

Talk, talk, talk. Discuss your goals and find shared financial goals you both can support. Discuss how you are going to achieve them and what you have to do, or not do, to make that happen.

Listen, listen, listen. Make sure you are both really hearing what the other wants and needs. This is where the real work of budgeting comes in. The give and take of marriage is something that will never go away, but it’s something you can get good at with practice and a lot of patience.

Schedule a regular budget review. Once you decide on your goals, set a budget, make sure you are constantly revisiting that budget together. Things happen, plans change and sometimes you have to shift what you want with what you need.

I have had more than one mistake in the check book, overspent or flat out just missed a bill. Some of them have been costly errors. Having a solid foundation early on with how we dealt with our money as a couple made all the difference when those more challenging financial times occurred.

Take advantage of all the financial resources available to you. I wish that I had done that when we were first married, but to be honest, the resources available then were not near as extensive as they are now.

Help is available with basic money management, saving and investing, as well as home and auto purchasing to help you plant your feet on a solid financial path. And when you mess up, because I promise, it will happen, you can also get help on getting back on the right track.

The best thing I ever did was keep my husband informed about our income versus our expenses on a regular basis. It kept me accountable as the main money manager for our family, but it also gave him an idea about what it cost to take care of our family.

Setting financial expectations and accountability together now will pay off in your bank account and your relationship for years to come.

 

 

What Not To Do With Financial Goals in The New Year

 Posted by on January 31, 2015 at 08:15
Jan 312015
 

There are two types of New Year’s resolutions, those made with money in mind, and those that burn through it like it’s last year’s style. But just because we don’t openly say, “Hey, self, let’s save some money this year,” or “Hey there, you, let’s put a dent in that credit card bill over the next 12 months,” shouldn’t saving money — or at least spending it wisely — always be a goal?

Kristi

Kristi

Whether you’ve resolved to get fit, cut junk food from your diet, de-clutter, see the world or simply clean out your DVR, you can make sure that your goals don’t set you up for a financial revival-type resolution next year by making sure your goals for the year are free of financial side effects.

Bandwagon resolutions

Do you really want to go cut sugar from your diet, or are you just doing it because your friend talked you into it? Before you throw away everything in your pantry with refined sugar and convince yourself you like the taste of costly sugar alternatives, do your homework and decide if your heart’s really in it before your money is. It’s worth mentioning, that if you do need to or want to make drastic changes in your diet, you can shop your commissary for lower prices on foods that can stock your healthy kitchen.

Changes you can’t afford this year

I’d love to blaze through every DIY project on my Pinterest page, scoop up investment properties or backpack through Europe. And, even though these can be done on the cheap (relative to the dream you’re chasing), they still need financial backing. Let’s make sure our resolutions match our financial state.

Cost denial

Ignoring those costly activities on your to-do list this year won’t help much. Be upfront and honest with yourself. If you make resolutions with built-in price tags, like going back to school or remodeling the kitchen, crunch the numbers before you commit. Set a budget, shop your options and make sure you’re comfortable with the costs.

Impulse buys

Let’s say, for instance, you want to get in shape this year. Let’s say your plan is to join a gym. Then let’s say you call up the first gym in the phone book (note to self, find out if phone books are still a thing and a relevant reference) and they offer you a ridiculously expensive 10-year contractual membership…with start-up fees. You proudly accept when they throw in some smoothie coupons. But if you would’ve taken the time to shop around, you’d know that your installation fitness center gives you the same workout without bringing your wallet into the equation (with the exception of your military ID card).

You can increase your nutrition without a $500 juicer. You can start blogging without a dime. And you can rent equipment, like — oh, I don’t know — camping gear, instead of spending a fortune on a new outdoorsy lifestyle that you might not be cut out for.

All in upfront

Repeat after me, “Year.” We have all year — 12 months, 365 days — to turn our resolutions into reality. Just like you can’t safely lose all the pounds you want to shed in the first week of the year, you likely can’t responsibly front all the cash for a year-long change in the first few months. Instead, pace yourself, consider any cost associated with your resolution to be an added monthly expense, and budget like you would your cell phone bill or fun allowance. Knowing what you can afford can also help you set a realistic timeline for achieving your goal this year.

Setting it in stone

Sometimes great ideas don’t pan out. Sometimes you check the boxes faster than you expected, and other times you need to slow down for the sake of your budget, body or lack of time. Take time to re-evaluate your resolution after a month or so. If you splurged on a gym membership, but you prefer to just run on your own, you might as well save your money and cancel your membership. If, after only a couple of months, you’ve burned through half of your travel budget, maybe it’s time for a staycation.

I hope you’ve resolved wisely, and even if you haven’t, there’s still plenty of time on the calendar to make adjustments. As a service member or family member, you have the advantage of cost-effective or no-cost resources on your installation or here on Military OneSource — you might as well try them. Here’s hoping 2015 is the year we stick to our resolutions without sacrificing our hard-earned money.

5 Ways to Get Back on Track After the Holidays

 Posted by on January 30, 2015 at 15:12
Jan 302015
 

Eek! It’s January and the bills for our holiday purchases are coming in. It’s easy to get caught up in the festive holiday spirit, and before we know it, we’ve spent more than we should have on presents for those we love. On top of that, sometimes unexpected things happen during the holidays that put us even further over our budgets. So it’s not so surprising to find ourselves in a post-holiday financial panic.

Evy

Evy

Last November, my mother had an emergency quadruple bypass, and my four brothers, sister and I all went back home to be with her. We got to reminisce about old times (we hadn’t all been together in 27 years!), and all of that closeness brought out the mama bear in me. None of them have significant others in their lives right now, and I wanted to make sure they each had gifts to open on Christmas day. So I purchased several gifts for each of them, on top of the gifts I purchased for my own family. Needless to say, I overspent. Now that the bills are piling in, I have to figure out a way to get back on track. Fortunately, my 20 years of experience living on an enlisted soldier’s pay while staying home to raise our three wonderful children has gifted me with several tried-and-true tactics to get expenses back under control.

  1. Find things you can sell.

Start decluttering your house and sell what you can on a classified ad site. It’s quick, easy and free. You’d be surprised how many people will clamber for that unused treadmill sitting in the corner collecting dust (and laundry).

  1. Stick to your budget.

If you don’t already have a budget, make one—now. If you do have one, stick to it for the rest of the year. In fact, go one step further and make a commitment to cut something out this month, say eating out or buying new clothes, and use the money you’ve saved to pay off one of your holiday bills.

  1. Use up the food in your freezer.

Before you go out and buy pork chops for dinner, find out what’s in your freezer and use it. Add the money you save to your bill payments. And instead of throwing out leftovers, have them for lunch or dinner again the next night, or use leftover ingredients in a new recipe for the next meal. Like grandma used to say, “Waste not, want not.”

  1. Get extra work.

If you are in a profession where you can make some extra money on the side, do it. For example, if you’re an English teacher, you might be able to do some tutoring or freelance editing. If you’re a stay-at-home mom, see if anyone needs your babysitting services while they run errands or have a date night. As a young military family stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia (home to the Basic Officer Leaders Course for Armor and Infantry), I would type up officers’ end-of-course papers for a fee.

  1. Start saving for the next holiday season.

There’s no time like the present, right? Start saving now for the holidays this year. It doesn’t have to be a lot; even saving your change in a jar can add up. If you can afford it, save as much as you spent this year. Just add up the amount you spent, divide it by 11 and then save that much each month. You’ll have holiday money when you need it, without using your credit cards.

Paying down your holiday debt won’t be easy, but it will be worth it. Paying the minimum amount on your credit card can take years to pay off, so taking care of that debt as soon as possible is especially crucial. Developing a plan and sticking to it – while also allowing yourself to have a little fun – is the best way to get back on track after your holiday spending spree.

 

 

Jan 212015
 
Evy

Evy

Ben Franklin said, “Nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes.” Why can’t it be,“Nothing can be said to be certain except vacations and chocolate?” Oh well, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, right? Preparing for tax time is something you can do little by little, throughout the year so you’re not completely frazzled by April 15. The easiest time to get ready for tax time is way before it arrives. Here are some tips to help you prepare well before tax day is here.

  • Start now to collect everything you’ll need. Keep everything tax related — such as your W-2 forms, medical and dental expenses, moving expenses, mortgage interest payments, child care costs and more — in a safe, convenient place. The more organized you are now, the less stressful April will be.
  • Everything will be easier if you create a system that works for you. Create a checklist and put it on the front of a file folder. Check them off as you collect them so you will know what you have left to gather and won’t miss anything.
  • You don’t have to be a tax expert. There are tax professionals available to you. Be sure take advantage of the no-cost tax preparation and filing services available to you and your family through Military OneSource.
  • Remember that service members may qualify for special tax benefits, including a filing extension and military pay exclusions.

Tax time doesn’t have to be difficult. Getting organized can help you have the easiest tax-filing experience yet. By the way, you’re welcome.

 

Taxes? I Think I’ll Pass

 Posted by on January 15, 2015 at 15:49
Jan 152015
 

The biggest epiphany I ever had about taxes was in the third grade when I realized that “taxes” and “Texas” were basically the same word — the vowels were just switched. Yeah, it doesn’t seem that cool to me now either, but that’s pretty much where my tax knowledge peaked.

Kristi

Kristi

Unfortunately there’s much more to understand about taxes than how to spell the word, but there’s only so much my brain can hold between animated movie soundtrack lyrics that I just can’t let go, next Thursday’s to-do list and my wonderfully geeky knowledge of grammar. So, I’ve accepted that there are aspects of my life I can’t fully control — some things just have to be delegated out to people who are more qualified.

And during tax season, that person is my husband — he’s in charge of our income taxes. How wildly old fashioned of us, right? I usually sing the tune of, “Anything you can do, I can do better,” but this is not one of those situations. He’s better. He has the patience to read, research and crunch numbers. I like to pretend that he actually kind of likes doing the taxes, but I might have just made that up to relieve my annual tax-filing guilt.

I lend my strengths where I can. I can organize W-2s, statements and anything else that looks tax-ish, but when filing day arrives, I make myself scarce and only emerge in the form of that scrappy guy that boxers always have in their corners in the movies — I offer refreshing beverages, dab sweat, give pep talks, apply butterfly bandages to (paper)cuts, etc.

Every once in a while our household tax superstar gets stumped, and like a walking, talking Military OneSource commercial, I always point him to the tax resources on the site for two reasons:

  1. I have absolutely no helpful tips of my own — seriously, not one.
  2. Military OneSource has tax tips, professional tax counselors, filing services and the answers to military-specific questions, like “Where do I actually live?” and they understand why that can be confusing.

If you don’t have a tax superstar at your house or you are the superstar, but you hate to admit that you don’t actually know all the ins and outs of forms and filing, you have Military OneSource tax support in your corner (scrappy boxing coach not included). So, from the free filing services to the year-round access to tax consultants who can answer questions and maximize your refund, I encourage you to use the tax services available to you just as I gently suggest to my frustrated husband hours into the filing process.

All materials copyright Military OneSource, 2012. Blog content held jointly by writer and Military OneSource, with shared rights to republish with appropriate attribution.