Lin's Tips: The Military Spouse’s Guide to Sticking To a Strict Budget

Mother with child reviewing budget

Learning to stick to a strict budget is important for anyone who is trying to pay off debt, plan for retirement, or save for a vacation or big-ticket life purchase. This can be especially true if you are a military spouse trying to make the most out of a servicemembers' salary. 

To get back on track with your spending and establish healthy personal finance habits for the future, consider incorporating some of these tactics into your financial planning.

Always Ask Yourself These Questions Before Any Purchase
Do I need this? Can I do without?
Why am I buying this? Is it to fulfill a need or because I am feeling emotional or bored?
Do I have this? Is it buried in a drawer somewhere?
How often will I use this? If only a few times a year is there someone I can borrow it from?
Can I get this for a better price elsewhere? Is there a more affordable brand?
Can I return this if I change my mind?

Stick to Your List
When you go to the grocery or shopping, make sure you have in mind what you need, and that you make a very specific list. Even if you are going shoes shopping, write down which type of shoe you or your family needs, and stick to your list. 

While it can be tempting to make impulsive purchases, making a list helps to keep you focused. If you find you need some extra support, try writing a motivational reminder of why you are saving at the top of your list to keep your financial goals top-of-mind!

Buy in Bulk and Use Coupons and Discounts
When you are on a strict budget, it can pay off big-time to shop sales, buy large quantities of items you know you use often, and use military and veteran discount memberships like VetRewards to save every penny possible. 

The most important thing to remember is to not buy items just because they’re on sale! If you know you and your family hardly ever eat health food, don’t buy it hoping that you will have a change of heart. Invest in bulk items like toilet paper, meats and veggies that can be easily frozen, and staples like rice, pasta, or bread. If you won’t use it all in 6 months, don’t buy it.

Keep Receipts and Make a Weekly Report
A great way of keeping track of your progress towards your financial goals and holding yourself accountable is to make a weekly report of your spending habits. This can also help you, over time, identify in which areas you tend to overspend and where you can make the most impactful improvements. 

While you can certainly do this the old fashioned way with a pen and notebook, there are also plenty of handy apps and online services that are free and will help you automate the process. We recommend Mint or Wally.

Eat In for at Least 2 Meals a Day
One of our favorite ways to save is to make it a goal to prepare at least two of your meals daily, instead of eating out or grabbing fast food. This adds up especially quickly if you have a large family! You can easily achieve this goal by picking one day of your week to meal prep - putting together all of your weekly meals assembly-line style so you don’t have to worry about putting together a meal when you are tired, stressed, and starving.

Not only will meal prepping help you manage your grocery budget, it will also be much, much healthier for you and your household. Home cooked meals generally contain more nutrient-dense ingredients. To get started with meal-prepping, check out this helpful guide and start browsing Pinterest!

Use Cash When Shopping
When you use a credit or debit card to shop, it can be hard to visualize how much you are spending, and how close you are to reaching your allotted budget. Instead, try withdrawing exactly the amount of cash that you have to spend and challenging yourself to buy everything you need without having to put anything extra on your card. 

Similarly, you can take out a specific amount of money each week to help you stick to your weekly budget. If you know spending $30 on fast food means you can’t afford to put gas in your car to get to work, you’ll have much more incentive to stay in!

Only Charge Credit Cards What You Can Repay in 1 Month
While it can be necessary sometimes to use credit cards between paychecks, if your goal is to pay off debt and save, then credit cards can be your enemy. A good rule of thumb is to never charge up more than you can pay off in one month, or with your next paycheck. 

Also, look into finding a credit card that actually rewards you points for spending - as long as you know you can promptly pay off your balance, you can actually come out ahead with these types of cards by earning flight miles, bonus cash, and other rewards!

Cut Down on Waste
One of the easiest ways to make more wiggle room in your budget is to be more conservative with what you are consuming on a daily basis and buying intelligently to avoid waste.

How many times have you thrown away spoiled food or dropped off a box of clothes that you’ve only worn once to a local charity? Do you buy disposable convenience items like paper plates, paper towels, and plastic cups? While it may not seem like it, the cost of these things really adds up. According to a survey from the American Chemistry Council, the average American throws away $640 of food each year! Another source estimated that the average household spends $110 on paper towels yearly!

Take Advantage of Free and Discounted Entertainment 
Does your community offer free theatre performances, movie screenings, concerts, or game nights? Not only does attending free neighborhood events help you save money, it also helps you meet other budget-minded individuals in your area! Sticking to your budget is always a little easier when you have the support of others.

You can also get deals on things like discounted movie tickets, theme park admittance, sporting event tickets, and free admission to museums with your VetRewards Card!

If you are still struggling to put together an actionable budget and plan for your financial future, please consider taking advantage of our free Financial Planning Services, included in your VetRewards CarePackage! Work with one of our skilled counselors to put together a realistic budget, as well as plans to meet goals like saving for retirement, to buy a home, sending the kids to college, or a family vacation. 

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