This post is sponsored by EveryDeal. All opinions are my own.
The first three months of our marriage was a financial disaster. I had left my job to move two states to John (since, obviously, he could not move to me). Originally we were fine. We paid off a big chunk of student loan debt… and then both of our cars died within a week of each other.
Wait. Let me rephrase that. Both of them were totaled within a week of each other. We had literally driven our cars into the ground and they flew the white flag.
We had to buy a car.
Our budget got even tighter than it was. And it happened fast.
Suddenly, every dollar mattered. We were watching money more closely than either of us ever had. It was a lesson in frugality that neither John or I will ever forget. That tight year was definitely a time that helped us learn how to budget and shop in ways we hadn’t before.
But we are definitely not out of the norm. The truth is that most military families–especially those just starting out–struggle. Spouse unemployment or underemployment usually means that a military family household is also a single-earner household. Moving costs and “soft costs”– like a babysitter because you don’t live close to your family–also hurt budgets and make life a little harder.
These six tricks are easy ways to make a big difference in your bottom line:
1. Use discount resources
Military discounts are plentiful during May and November, but many businesses offer discounts or perks to military families and veterans all year round. EveryDeal is a discount resource and deals shopping site that aggregates discounts and promotions. For starters, they have a military-specific guide that you definitely want to check out. I was surprised to find some companies on their list that I had no idea offered military discounts. Score! (If you know of other discounts, EveryDeal wants to hear them. Just drop your suggestions into the comments at the bottom of this post. They’re constantly trying to improve their guide for military families.)
2. Grab your phone
Before you buy anything, make an online sweep of what you’re buying–even if you’re standing in the store. Don’t forget to include sales tax and possible shipping costs when you’re evaluating costs. If you’re shopping at the commissary, remember that there is a surcharge (which is currently 5% of the total bill), but not sales tax. Even with the surcharge, you may save money if it is lower than the sales tax in your state, and if sales tax is levied on food in your state.
3. Consider online deals
EveryDeal also offers a deal section, where you can purchase deeply discounted products for limited time. Products range from sports equipment to outdoor products to children’s toys. Once you click “get deal,” you’ll be taken directly to the product site– like Sierra Trading Post or Amazon– where the discount will be applied to your shopping cart. While this might not be the most efficient way of shopping for what you need–you might have to wait, and that could be a problem if you’re in dire need of, say, sneakers– but it’s perfect for buying gifts or wants for yourself or other people. I tuck away Christmas and birthday presents throughout the year when I see things that I know my recipients want. Not only does it help me save, it spreads out the impact of buying gifts on our budget, which makes January less stressful.
4. Keep your wallet up-to-date
If you’re a current serving member or spouse of a service member, you probably have your ID readily available. If you’re a veteran, you might not. Businesses may require proof of military ID for an advertised discount or perks. Since there is no veteran’s ID card like there is a retiree, active, Reserve, of National Guard ID, you’ll want to take precautions. Make a copy of your DD214 (the paperwork that shows you’re officially discharged) and keep it in your wallet. Boom, discount crisis averted.
5. Know the ins and outs of the commissary and Exchange
I know, I know– a lot of people hate the commissary and the Exchange. But hear me out. Both offer a lot of perks that can really help your wallet, if you know how to use them. Did you know, for example, that the Exchange will price match? If you’re living on base, that means that you save gas, time, and potentially sales tax (depending on the difference between your state’s sales tax and the surcharge) by price-matching at the Exchange. This can be a huge savings for really big purchases. You can also save substantially at the commissary by comparison shopping and purchasing their new generic brands. It takes a little extra time, but it can save you a chunk of cash. You also want to keep abreast of case lot sales–which is kind of the military’s answer to Costco–and check them out when they’re happening in your area. It could add up to big savings for you.
6. Be judicious with credit cards
It is true that a lot of military families (and Americans, in general) let credit card spending get away from them. But the truth is, credit cards aren’t evil. They’re a financial tool. Choosing a card that offers cash back, points, or perks can make your necessary spending go a little further… but only if you’re able to pay back your purchases every month, without interest, and on time. Choose a card that makes sense to you– for example, if your family spends a lot of money flying back and forth to family and friends, a credit card that gives you miles (and extra miles when you purchase plane tickets) could be the right choice. Some banks also offer credit cards with rewards that go directly back to your account or to paying off your credit card bill–that’s a great choice if you know you’ll let points or perks go to waste.
What discounts and tricks do you use to save money on your wants and needs? Don’t forget to check out EveryDeal’s military discount resource page and drop your thoughts in the comments on Jo, My Gosh! and on their site for them! (They’re really going to look at them and listen to you!)