Life in the military doesn’t always move in formation.
Known as the Military Spouse Coach, Krista Wells often works with clients who are in the midst of a career transition: After all, active-duty military families relocate 10 times more often than civilian families (they do so, on average, every 2 to 3 years). This can make it tough for the people left at home (spouses and/or children) to find continuity of any kind.
“[Spouses] might have had jobs but no career direction,” says Wells, a therapist, coach and speaker based in West Hartford, Connecticut. “Some of my clients have moved so much, and have so many gaps in employment that I say their resumes look like Swiss cheese.”
While figuring out work is vitally important, conversation often turns to equally profound questions about “health, wealth, or relationships,” says Wells, who is herself married to a Marine.
Many military families start out on relatively small incomes, says Wells. “But there is real power in a consistent paycheck if you’re smart and if you have your spouse on board.”
Deciding to save the $100 that you’d otherwise spend on alcohol can be transformative, if you put it in a mutual fund.
“It builds momentum: All of the sudden, you have $150,” she says. “Then, all a sudden, you have a nest egg.”
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Regular deployments can be tough on a couple.
“It can become a big, negative cycle, especially if you don’t have an eye on planning,” says Wells. “He could come home with a mentality of ‘I want to be rewarded,’ and go out and buy a car you can’t afford.”
Active-duty military families relocate 10 times more often than civilian families
It’s an example that shows that the financial challenges faced by members of the military are universal: So many of us, at every age and income level, struggle to know what to spend and what to save.
Continuously review your accounts—and your spending.
“Sometimes, the more you make, the more you spend,” says Wells.
Strength in numbers
There are loads of available resources to help you answer this question, both on and off duty. Military families can go to their base for help.
“Ask, who do you have to help me understand pre-tax savings?” suggests Wells. “Or to help me understand my health care?”
Active-duty families and veterans alike can also contact USAA (the United States Automobile Association), which provides a range of financial and banking products for military families.
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Money may be tight, but you can have a great Christmas—you can even go to Disney World, says Wells, who recently returned from traveling there with her husband and four kids.
“It’s about finding the balance of what you want to spend and what you want to use—and knowing that you can still put money into your savings and 401(k),” she says.
For Wells, there’s one sure sign that you’re in over your head: “If the fear of the credit card bill is greater than the fun of seeing the joy in your children’s eyes,” she says.
“The frustration shouldn’t override the fun.”