Six different “open when” cards laid out on a table.

“Open When…” Letter Topics

In the world of modern communication, we are used to instant responses from those who are important to us. But there are times during a service member’s training or deployments when they are unable to communicate as quickly as we would like. Sometimes they have limited access to their phones, or no internet access, or they have to wait in line to send an email. Even with ideal technology connections, the time zone difference may put a damper on live conversations. During these times of limited communication, how can we ensure that our loved ones in the military can hear from us when they need it most? We need “open when” letters.

An “open when” letter is a note written ahead of time to address a specific emotion or event, then sealed in an envelope to be opened at the appropriate time. It’s common to prepare letters such as “open when it’s your birthday” or “open at midnight on New Year’s” so that couples who are separated by great distances can still feel connected during these special moments. You can fill the envelopes with a simple message, or even a few small gifts. Many military spouses or significant others prepare a large stack of these letters before a deployment, and then tuck them into the service member’s bags to find after they depart. It’s easier to say goodbye knowing that you are sending your love and affection with them on the journey.

The beauty of an “open when” letter is that it offers exactly the emotion needed in a particular moment. The message might make the reader laugh, cry or smile, but it is a loving message that reminds them how much someone else is missing them or cheering for them in that moment. It’s timely, thoughtful and a great way to build up your relationship over the distance!

Are you wondering what topics to include in your next “open when” letters? I’ve got you covered! My recent book, Open When: Letters of Encouragement for Military Spouses contains 75 thoughtful and emotional letters written to military spouses and significant others. Each one focuses on a specific moment or challenge of MilSpouse life. You can use them as inspiration for writing your own “open
when” letters to your service member. Here are some suggestions to get you started.

Multiple “open when” cards with stationary around them.

“Open When” letter topics about your relationship:

  • Open when you really miss me: Share all the things you miss about them and remind them you will be waiting for them. Include a paper tracing of your hand for them to hold, sprayed with your favorite fragrance.
  • Open when you’re mad at me: Write something sweet or lighthearted that reminds them of your love and your endearing qualities.
  • Open when you’re feeling jealous: Reassure them of your love, your dedication to the relationship and your desire to be with them instead of anyone else.
  • Open when we’ve just had a fight: You won’t know what specifically you are apologizing for, but love requires us to be humble and apologize sometimes.
  • Open when you’re thinking about our future: Share your dreams for the future, a family, life after the military and any shared goals you are both pursuing.
  • Open when you’re dreaming of our next date: Share some ideas, either locally or all over the world, of places you want to go together, things to do together and ways to enjoy some couple time. Add printed images or magazine clippings!
  • Open when you’re thinking of our first date: Reminisce about the sweet, funny or silly things that first brought you together. Include a photo if you have one.
  • Open when you’re thinking of our song: Write out the lyrics, print out the album cover or list some places where you have listened to it together.

“Open When” letter topics for events spent apart:

  • Open when it’s your birthday: Add a birthday card, confetti and any flat gifts that will fit in the envelope.
  • Open when it’s our anniversary: Make a romantic card, share your favorite relationship memories and include I.O.U. coupons for the next time you’re together.
  • Open on Valentine’s Day: Discuss a fun date idea for the next time you see them or share some special photos of yourself.
  • Open when it’s our child’s birthday: Include a recordable card with your child’s voice, artwork or photos.
  • Open when you get promoted: Share how proud you are! Add the new patch or rank for their uniform.
  • Open on Halloween/Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year’s (or whatever holidays they will miss): Get a seasonal card, share your favorite traditions and think of creative ways to continue those traditions while you’re apart.

Encouraging “Open When” topics:

  • Open when you’re feeling tired and worn out: Offer supportive encouragement to get them through the day.
  • Open when you’re frustrated with the military: Remind them of all the reasons they wanted to join and how proud you are of their sacrifices.
  • Open when you need a laugh: Write your favorite jokes, print out some memes, list corny dad jokes — whatever makes them smile!
  • Open when the distance feels so far: Remind them of all the little things you appreciate most about them — the qualities you won’t take for granted once they are home.

Start with these topics, then add your own! “Open when” letters are a beautiful way to encourage a loved one in military life.

A hand putting money into a green piggy bank with the U.S. Army logo on it.

Budgeting for Military Families

Budgeting was not something my husband and I began immediately in our marriage. It was a skill we learned over time, and one that has changed not only how we manage our money in better ways, but how we plan for the future of our family.

Like many military families, we live off one salary. This is not always easy, so I wanted to share a few budgeting tips that have worked well for us since we began a couple years ago.

  1. Tackle your debt before your savings. My husband and I began our marriage in debt. We both had car payments that added up to almost $800 per month. At the end of each month, we found that we were able to save very minimally, if at all. It was discouraging for both of us, feeling like we were making little progress in either category; that is, paying off debts or We decided we needed to actively focus on our debt before we could think about saving; so, we endured a painful year and a half putting every extra dollar we could find towards our car payments and becoming debt-free. Once we were no longer spending that money on car payments, we found that we could pay it forward into savings and investing.
  2. Budget carefully and consistently. I’ve tried many budgeting tools over the years and have had most success with “zero-based budgeting”. This is a budgeting system in which you anticipate unique expenses for the upcoming month and plan where every dollar will go for that specific month — whether that be into an expense category or into savings. Your goal is to reach a balance of zero at the end of the month and plan a new budget for the next month. In other words, there is no “carryover” money into the next month. Whatever money is not used that month goes into savings. Successful budgeting takes consistency and discipline. Entering your expenses into your budgeting tool or app is a task you must commit to doing every few days to stay on top of your spending and remaining allowances.
  3. Anticipate your expenses. Anticipating your expenses is an important skill to develop when using a zero-based budget. You should always be thinking about the month ahead. For instance, this past September I began working on our October budget, listing any unique expenses I knew of such as a hair appointment, Halloween, hosting friends for a weekend and my husband’s promotion ceremony. I knew we would be spending more than usual that month, so I cut our spending allowance in other categories such as personal spending, family fun time and eating out. By cutting the budget in some categories, you allow room to spend more in other categories that month — with the goal of meeting your typical monthly savings goal.
  4. Pace yourself. Since becoming debt-free and budgeting well, my husband and I no longer live “month-to-month” like we did for those first couple years of marriage; however, we choose to. What I mean by this is that we pace our spending throughout the month, so we do not ever use our entire paycheck. We can pay off our credit card at the end of the month without dipping into savings. In fact, usually there is a good bit left to save. I like to challenge myself at the beginning of each month to spend money only on needs and buying the extras in the latter half of the month. This is helpful in preventing me from “blowing the budget” in the first week or two of the month.
  5. Be realistic. If you are new to keeping a budget, it will take a few months of closely monitoring your spending to be able to set up a realistic budget for yourself. I still find myself tweaking certain expense categories when I find that we are going over budget in those areas for consecutive months. Of course, there are times where instead of tweaking your budget, you need to tweak your lifestyle (we have had to do this with eating out less than we’d like to), but other times you may be going over budget because you have set unrealistic expectations for yourself.

As the popular American financial guru Dave Ramsey preaches, “A budget is telling your money where to go instead of wondering where it went.” And I really mean it when I say that creating a budget has been the best decision my husband and I have made in our marriage, and for the future of our family.

A woman is sitting, drinking coffee and looking out the window.

Preparing for New Beginnings

January is traditionally a time for making plans, resolutions and revving into high gear for the new year ahead. For many of us, the holidays are a stressful time versus a restful time, and for many military families there can be complex nuances during this time depending on deployment status. Additionally, PCS season is right around the corner. Yet, this time of year we often ask ourselves to speed up even though in nature, winter is usually a time for slowing down and hibernating.

This January, what would it look like to slow down? What if instead of requiring more and more energy to keep up with resolutions and plans, we instead turned inward and gave ourselves permission to rest?

This time can be used to reflect on the last year. What worked well for us? What would we like to change and do differently? What is truly important to us and how can we make time and space for the people and things that really matter? January is a great time to settle, quiet our minds and listen to our intuition about how we want the upcoming year to look, and how our military life impacts our plans.

As the winter moves on and we have a firm understanding of what we want in the upcoming year, February can be devoted to making concrete plans, setting intentions, reviewing boundaries and how to implement them. We are still resting, still reflecting, still in a hibernation of sorts but we are now, slowly, moving toward the newness of spring.

As the days grow longer and we prepare for spring, we put our plans into action. We may stick to our plans longer, having taken the time to rest and reflect. We may have a new understanding of what is truly important to us. And we will be ready for the business of spring and summer.

Featured Topics