|Courtesy of Impact Ministries|
Helpful Tips A-Z
Accounts & Authorization
Make sure you have any necessary authorization from your spouse to handle things like withdrawing money from jointly-held accounts, resolving billing or paycheck problems, etc. Make sure that your bank, credit card, and other financial accounts are held in both names, listed as "Sally OR John Doe" rather than "Sally AND John Doe." That way if there's a problem with the account you don't need your spouse's signature or authorization to solve it.
If you've never handled your family's finances, sit down with your spouse and discuss how he/she has done the bills up to this point. Begin by making up a list of your regular, monthly bills such as your mortgage/rent, utilities (i.e. electric, gas, water, phone), car payment, student loan, and credit card bills. For a list of other typical expenses and an interactive budget worksheet, click here for english, or click here for spanish.
Once you have a list, make sure that you've located your checkbook and have adequate checks (or know how to pay your bills online). Make sure that you know when your bills are due. Since you know you'll be under stress and have more to do managing what your spouse did or what two of you previously did together, don't try to rely on your memory. Write down the "due date" of your recurring monthly bills on your calendar and highlight to make sure you send your payments in on time.
If possible, you may want to set up automatic withdrawal from your checking or savings account for any recurring monthly expenses (i.e. mortgage, car loan). You can stop in at your local bank branch to set up automatic withdrawal. While you're there, you can meet with a bank representative to ask questions you may have about using checks, withdrawing or depositing money in your account; and loan or credit options. That will help ease your stress, save you time, and ensure that your payment isn't late.
Depending on your contract, canceling cell phone service can be costly. Some companies will allow you to "freeze" your account while your spouse is deployed and pay just a minimum monthly payment to maintain your account. Check with your wireless provider to see what help, if any, they can offer.
If you haven't been responsible for managing your family's finances it can be easy to misuse credit cards while your spouse is deployed. Before your spouse is deployed, ask what cards he/she used and for what type of expenses.
It's important to keep current on your bills, meaning that you send your payment in on time. If you're having difficulty paying your bills, contact your credit card company. At the very least you want them to know that you want to keep current on your bill, but you're having difficulty. They'll note that on your account and may offer ways to help you such as extending your payment date. Some companies will lower or waive the interest rate on your card if your spouse has been called up to active duty.
Try to keep a close eye on how much you're charging, and if you're charging things that you used to pay with cash. Using credit inappropriately can add up quickly and put you under a real financial strain. For tips on keeping your credit habits under control, click here.
The Department of Defense now requires families with two parents being called into active duty, and families headed by a single parent called to active duty, to have a family-care plan. The plan should outline specific directions on who is to care for the children, how children will be transported to their designated caregiver, and what financial arrangements are in place to provide for the children while their parent or parents are gone. In addition to regular expenses such as food, clothing, tuition or daycare fees, you'll also want to make sure to put aside money for any emergency medical needs and for transportation such as plane or train tickets in the event that you need to send your children to stay with designated friends or relatives while you or your spouse is deployed. If you or your spouse is in the National Guard or is a reservist, see "If Your Spouse is in the Reserves or the Guard" for more information on military benefits regarding child care. Stop by your base's family center if you need help in preparing a family-care plan.
Keeping In Touch
It can be logistically difficult and costly to keep in touch with your spouse while they're stationed overseas. Ask your family care center if you'll be able to send packages or mail and if so, how much will it cost? Will your spouse have access to email? Do you know his/her email address? If you want to talk by phone you have three options:
o Using your current long-distance service,
o Using a calling card, or
o Using a pre-paid calling card
Using your phone-based long distance service can be costly. Call your long-distance provider (listed on your phone bill) and ask if they provide military discounts for regular long-distance and overseas calls. Some long-distance providers are offering reduced rate calling cards. Calling cards enable you, or your spouse, to make calls from any location using a calling card number and PIN (personal identification number).
Prepaid calling cards allow you to pay upfront a certain sum of money for a specific amount of calling time. For example, you can pay $25 for 500 minutes of calling. You can obtain a pre-paid calling card at local drug stores, warehouse stores, or online. Check on the card to make sure you or your spouse can make international calls with the card.
You should also check with your base's family center to see if you can obtain a free "Operation Uplink" calling card courtesy of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (www.operationuplink.org) or other similar organizations that donate cards free of charge to service members.
Legal Assistance and Power of Attorney
GO GET a power of attorney document. A power of attorney document gives you, or somebody else that you designate, the legal authority to act on you or your loved one's behalf for financial, health-related, or other business matters. The legal assistance office on base should be able to help you with this decision.
Red Cross Assistance
The Red Cross provides assistance to all sectors of the military and their families, whether they are active, inactive, retired, in the reserves, serving in their local community or deployed. The Red Cross provides communication links, financial assistance and counseling. You can get more information on Red Cross assistance through your local chapter (listed in the phone book or by accessing their website at www.redcross.org) or by contacting your on-base Red Cross station or field workers.
Sources of Help
The military offers several sources of help for service member dependents during active duty including:
o Pre-deployment briefings. If you can't attend a briefing, contact your local family center for more information - they offer information and services by experts on a wide variety of topics to help you prepare.
o Employee benefits book.
o Financial counseling personnel. Most bases or posts have financial professionals on staff that can provide you with information about financial options and programs created specifically for military families.
o Your on-base community. Even if you're living off base, military spouses bond closely and can provide invaluable services and support.
o Your base's family readiness coordinator.
If you've never done your family's taxes before, you may want to get professional help. You may be eligible for a tax extension, or exclusion, depending on your spouse's orders. Check out the IRS' website for information on military exemptions and for online help in preparing your taxes. You may also want to consider using a tax preparation firm such as H&R Block or Jackson-Hewitt, or a smaller, local tax preparer. You can find a listing of local firms in phone book. Make sure you ask upfront how much they charge for their services.
While Your Spouse is Gone
Trying to maintain stability at home and work while your spouse is deployed is difficult. While your spouse is gone, you can avoid unnecessary stress by:
Sticking to a budget and keeping an eye on credit. When a spouse is deployed, you're now suddenly faced with trying to cope with things on your own. There used to be two of you and in some cases, there was more money, or at least fewer expenses, prior to your spouse being mobilized. Of course you'll encounter unexpected expenses while your spouse is gone, but keeping to a budget can help provide you with structure and help you resist emotional overspending, which will create greater stress over time. For more information on budgeting and an interactive, online budget worksheet, click here for english, or click here for spanish.
While you're managing the family's finances on your own, be careful about using your credit cards for items that you don't usually charge or writing a lot of checks without keeping track of how much money you're spending. Making sure that you record the checks you're writing, balancing your checkbook, and reviewing your credit card bill will help you keep track of how you're doing financially.
Although most families will be facing additional expenses and/or reduced pay, some service member's families will find that they have additional income. Think twice before spending it. Why not use it to pay off some debt or deposit it into your savings account? Depending on how much money you'll receive, you could consider opening a money market fund or depositing money in a Certificate of Deposit ("CD") with your local bank.
Staying connected to community. Seek out people in your same situation. These friendships can help ease the stress and provide you with help you might need, especially if this is the first time that your spouse has been deployed.
Seeking professional help. If you're having trouble financially, legally or emotionally there are resources you and your family can take advantage of. Contact your base's legal assistance office or family readiness office for help. Following is a list of additional websites that may provide you with help.
Courtesy of Tomorrow's Money