Military Saves Week: How to Stop Living Paycheck to Paycheck

Living paycheck to paycheck is no picnic. Yet many military families face this financial hardship due to frequent relocations. Many dual-income families face this financial challenge when military spouses are forced to look for new employment after each PCS; oftentimes searching for months to no avail.

Military Saves Week, happening February 26 - March 3, 2018, encourages service members and their families to dive deeper into their financial situations by assessing their financial habits and making a pledge to start saving money.

But how are you supposed to save money when you’re already struggling to make it to the next pay period? 

Create a Budget

Knowing where your money goes, and when, is the most important part of creating a budget. It can be tempting to estimate expenses based on a ball park figure, but you probably already know this isn’t a great way to manage your finances. Some of your expenses will be a fixed amount each month, such as rent, or insurance. But you should also budget for variable expenses, like groceries, or utilities.

You’ll also want to pay attention to your spending habits. Begin by asking yourself some important questions. What does your family spend money on? Do you shop when you’re bored or upset? Do you shop around before making a purchase? Being aware of how and why your family spends money is an important part of the budgeting process.

Plan for Unexpected Expenses

Living the military life means eventually, you’ll be facing off with Murphy’s Law. What will happen if your car breaks down unexpectedly, or you need to take emergency leave due to a family member’s illness or injury? Even if you have a rigid budget that you adhere to strictly, if an emergency arises, you could be just one breath away from financial ruin.

One of the best ways to combat unexpected expenses is to prepare and plan ahead of time. That means having a back-up plan. We realize it’s difficult to maintain a savings account when you’re already living paycheck to paycheck. But even putting away $50 a month could help ease the burden of Murphy’s Law down the road. Having a baby will also result in additional daily, weekly, and monthly expenses. The costs of formula, diapers, clothing, and equipment can all add up. Even if your family isn’t planning to have a baby any time soon, preparing ahead can be helpful if there’s an “unexpected surprise.”

Pay Down Debt

Debt is something everyone will have at some point in their lives. But when your debt outweighs your income, it can become detrimental to your family very quickly. If your family’s income isn’t enough to cover that debt each month, it can have catastrophic consequences that can seep into other areas of your life. An overload of debt can compromise your service member’s security clearance, cause relationship issues, or even prevent you from certain job opportunities.

There are several methods and resources available to help your family take control of your debt and stop living paycheck to paycheck.

  • Snowball your debt – Begin by paying as much as possible on your smallest debt while paying the minimum payments on the rest of your bills. Once the smallest bill is paid off, put that payment towards your next smallest bill. Continue doing this until you’re able to pay off each bill every month. Snowballing your debt is a great way to keep yourself motivated because you’ll actually see that your efforts are paying off (pun intended).

  • Avalanche your debt - If interest rates are a problem, you may want to consider the avalanche method. This method is similar to snowballing, only instead of concentrating on eliminating your smallest debt you’ll be focusing on high interest rates. This method may take a while, but you’ll be paying more money to your principal balance and less towards interest.

  • See a Financial Counselor – Civilian sector financial counselors typically charge anywhere from $200-$400 an hour for their services. Military families have a host of financial management options that are FREE of charge. Certified financial readiness counselors can be found at virtually every installation, or through Military OneSource. These personal financial management programs offer one-on-one financial counseling, help creating budgets or debt-reduction plans, and provide advice on how to reduce spending.

Posted March 1, 2018


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