This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of USAA. All opinions are entirely my own.
I was. Not. Having. It.
Just a few months into being a military spouse, our bank account was dangerously low. I was unemployed, not because I wanted to be, but because the slow-moving licensing process of transferring my teaching credentials was super expensive and ultimately not worth it, when we considered our PCSing schedule with the military. John was working hard, and I had begun freelancing, but when it came to our expenses, it simply wasn’t enough.
We kept looking for new ways to tighten our belt (as I kept looking for new ways to expand my fledgling freelance writing businesses). In fact, I kind of became a money-saving ninja during those lean months. It wasn’t that we hadn’t been financially prudent before. We just had to be much more extreme. I found ways to save money where I hadn’t thought of before (here are my secrets for saving at the farmer’s market and how you can be frugal at the Commissary too). I learned more about the services offered by the military and military service organizations (like these vacation budget hacks and these free services for military moms).
So I want to pass on some of that knowledge to you. Because no matter what your situation is, saving money is always good, right?
While the Commissary and the Exchange are known for having some great deals, sometimes they come up short. Take the time to do some internet sleuthing to make sure that you really are getting the best price at the Exchange or the Commissary. When it comes to the Exchange, keep in mind that AAFES will price match local ads… so if you find something cheaper locally, grab the ad and take it to the Exchange. They’ll price match it and you won’t pay tax.
2. Use on-base thrift shops
Instead of buying new just to have it broken or have to leave it behind in the next PCS, consider making purchases at on-base thrift shops. These shops are run by non-profits (usually through organizations like Navy-Marine Corps Relief Societies or spouse clubs) and are staffed by volunteers. The profits from the shop go back to community improvements and value-adds, like scholarships for military kids and spouses. Not only can you buy things at a discounted rate (cha-ching), but you’re also helping to provide great services to your community and you’re being kinder to the environment.
3. Get your interest rate low on loans
If you’re a family dealing with debt and loans, you know what a drain it is on resources. (And I feel you. John and I are still paying off what started as more than $100,000 in college loans– all of it incurred during undergrad, which was a decade ago.) The good news? The Servicemember Civil Relief Act (SCRA) can help you reduce the interest on your debt by capping the allowable interest on your loans at 6%. That might not sound like great news, but if you’re carrying debt with an interest rate above 6%, having it reduced will result in less interest being incurred on your loans, which means you can pay down the loan principle faster. You can read more about the SCRA here.
4. Keep an eye on that LES
It’s time to get familiar with the Leave and Earnings Statement (LES)… unless you’re a veteran or a service member yourself (then you already know this!). The LES is available with every paycheck your spouse gets from the military. It offers a ton of information that is really important to your family, which is why you need to know how to read it too– not just your husband or wife. If they deploy (and they will at some point), you need to know how to hold the fort down using this important document. Check the LES to make sure that your spouse hasn’t been over- (or under-) paid and that all of the deductions, entitlements, retirement info, etc., etc., etc. are correct. If the military messes up and pays out too much money, you are responsible for that overage. (That means you want to catch it right away so you do not spend it. The military will correct their books and deduct the overage from another paycheck… which will hurt if you weren’t keeping track.) If they missed something, you want to catch it right away so the correction can be made. Here’s everything you need to know about deciphering Leave and Earnings Statements.
5. Get rewards
While credit cards aren’t a good choice for every military family, if you use them, there are steps you can take to make sure you’re using them well. The basics: make sure that you never charge what you can’t pay off on your next statement, and if you do have to pay off in installments, ensure that your card has a low interest rate. What you don’t usually think about? The extra bells and whistles your card can provide like cash back and rewards.
And let’s talk about one of those cards: The USAA Cashback Rewards Plus American Express credit card. This card is a little different than others because it prioritizes purchases that are made on military bases. In fact, you’ll receive 5% cash back on military base and gasoline purchases (on your first $3,000 spent annually), 2% back on grocery store purchases (also on your first $3,000 spent annually), and 1% back on all other purchases with no annual cap. There are absolutely no annual or foreign transaction fees (which is awesome, especially if you’re living or traveling abroad frequently).
Apply by August 31 and earn $150 as a bonus when you use your card to make $500 in qualifying purchases during the first 90 days of having the account. For more details and to apply, check out USAA’s website..
6. Use MWR services
Dude. If you’re not using Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) services, what are you waiting for? While services may vary depending on your installation and branch of the military, MWR’s basic function is to add entertainment and resources to military families’ lives for free or for a nominal price. Looking for a get-away with your family? MWR rents cabins and campsites for a fraction of the off-base cost. Looking for bounce houses, kayaks, or grills? Yep, you can rent those from MWR, too. MWR runs camps, leagues, golf courses, and all kinds of other programs too. Instead of hitting off-base movie theaters, save money at your installation’s theater. Don’t buy books; borrow them from the on-base library, too.
7. Spend your BAH wisely
Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) is an allowance given to military members based on pay grade, duty station, and dependent status. When you’re looking to either buy a house or rent or live on- or off-base, make sure you’re doing it in a financially savvy way. Remember that if you live off-base and do not spend all of your BAH on rent or a mortgage, you can use it to cover other costs of living, like electricity or garbage collection. Or you can simply save it. If you live on-base, you will use all of your BAH on on-base housing. There are so many other things to take into account, too. Here’s what John and I kept in mind as we made decisions with our BAH.
Of course, these aren’t the only ways to save big in small, but impactful, ways… but they’re a good (and pretty easy!) start. How do you save money in military life?