Married to the Military: Five Freebies for New Spouses to be Aware Of
Newly married? To an active duty military member? Feeling like you landed on another planet where they speak an entirely different language of alphabet soup? Military culture shock is nothing to laugh at. Neither are the budget adjustments you'll need to make as you hop from base to base, setting up new home after new home. This article, written in collaboration with Kate Kashman of Military.Com, features five frugal resources new dependent spouses might not know about. Read on.
Welcome to the first of what I hope will be an entire series of articles featuring budget and lifestyle tips for those individuals married to folks serving as active duty military members in our armed forces. It can be an entirely different world than one might expect. Kate Kashman, author of the Military.Com blog Paycheck Chronicles, agrees. We recently had a rather rowdy post-lunch discussion about the strains and strategies we've each experienced trying to maintain marriage, family, career and budget while married to an active duty spouse. For the purposes of this article however, we're focusing on five frugal freebies for those newly married persons to be aware of as they gear up for living on (or near) their first base.
The Self Help Store.
My Take: Not every single base has one of these, but many of them do. What they offer? Various DIY supplies such as duct tape, mulch, landscaping tiles, light bulbs, etc. The catch? You need to be living in base housing to take advantage of the free materials. This is basically a benefit that exists to sort of compensate those folks that have to move around frequently, constantly getting rid of those very items to keep their limited weight allotment within the required parameters.
Not exactly a free ride at Home Depot, but the basics are usually there so you don't have to buy your blue painting tape in bulk again only to give away most of the roll when you move before your next painting project gets done. We never lived on base, so I never got to take advantage of this. But if you are one of those couples that prefers base housing to purchasing or renting an off base house (or stationed someplace where you can't do that anyway), this is a way to get some help with those repeat startup expenses you aren't otherwise reimbursed for.
Kate's Two Cents: Why would the military do this? It’s easy – it’s a lot cheaper to give you the tools to fix your own window screens than to have the maintenance team fix them, or to write you “tickets” for having torn screens. (Believe me, it happens.) Ditto with the loaner lawn mower – do you really want to write a ticket to a pregnant woman whose husband has been gone for 6 months and her lawn mower has broken? By giving the folks who live in housing the tools and supplies they need to keep their housing in good shape, you’re preserving the value of the housing and keeping the bigger maintenance costs down. As military housing is being converted into PPV (Public/Private Venture) housing, the self-help stores seem to be disappearing. However, in places where the government housing is still owned by the government (often overseas), look for a self-help store!
The Legal Office.
My View: OK, you're probably not going to want to use this as a source for your dream team if you get caught up in the murder trial of the century. However, for basic legal advice and simple documents such as special powers of attorney, you should definitely check them out. The service is free, and even if you only use them for three-five fifty dollar items per year, that's still a few hundred bucks that won't have to come out of your pocket. The lower you are on the rank chain, the larger that amount of money is going to feel for you. Believe me.
Kate's Perspective: Another benefit is that these guys are professionals in the oddities of military life, such as when one spouses is a resident of one state and the other spouse has been the resident of three different states in one year, or how to write a will that won’t have to be rewritten every time we move. In addition, they understand when you call and say that you need X, Y and Z in two hours because some unexpected situation has just come up.
Base Thrift Stores.
My Two Cents: These are another resource that show up on most bases. Remember that limited weight allotment I mentioned in the first section? It's a serious thing. You definitely don't want to be going over and getting dinged for charges you weren't expecting. Which is why many military families are constantly downsizing before their next PCS. The result? Lots of cool stuff that folks can't unload at base yard sales winds up at these stores. Clothing, children's items, extra lamps and more will make their way to the shelves for your bargain shopping enjoyment. Some bases have more elaborate thrift stores than others, but they are always worth checking out even if it's for old T-shirts to snag for fifty cents and cut up for cleaning rags.
Kate's Take: Most thrift shops are run by either a spouses’ group or the service’s relief organization. Proceeds usually benefit scholarship funds or other family support activities. They are usually staffed by volunteers with one or two paid employees to be responsible for the finances and accounting.
Space A Travel.
My Experience: Space A stands for “space available”. This means whatever seats if any they have on military flights after all the cargo and big dudes in camo get on the plane, is available for the snagging. Catches? There are several actually. Probably enough for an entirely separate article at some point. The condensed version is that you will need to check current regs to see when you can fly on your own with your children, and when you will be required to fly with your spouse. For example, now that David is retired I have to fly with him in order to use this benefit at all. Inside info? These are far from luxury planes most of the time. (Here's a picture of David and I taking a C-130 from Okinawa to Bangkok.) Also, the flights are sort of hit or miss and the schedule is at the complete whim of the United States Government. If you have the time to spend nearly a week waiting for a leg of your flight to be rescheduled, and pay for the on-base billeting (sort of like a dorm style hotel) from day to day, go for it. If it's a fifteen hundred dollar flight, and it will only cost you a hundred bucks worth of hotel stays while you wait it out, you'll still come out ahead, providing you're not short on leave time. We used it for several legs of our around the world trip. Again, not fancy. But it did save us a couple of grand, so we were happy to suck it up and have a new travel adventure tale to tell. Another time I've seen this come in handy for folks is if there's a family emergency. They'll usually make a reasonable effort to put you ahead of that 14th pallet of bandages if the cargo was surplus anyway and someone is terribly or terminally ill on the other end.
Kate's Info: One thing I’ve found with Space A facilities – some are wonderful and some aren’t so great. In addition, your attitude can have a huge impact on the service you receive. Go in with a smile and a kind word for the folks trying to organize the Space A flights and you’re a lot more likely to get the most up-to-date information. Keep in mind that not all Space A flights fly out of military airports. For example, there are many flights that leave out of Baltimore-Washington International Airport in Maryland. The complete and current list is available at this link, but you must have a CAC card to access this secured site. The official gouge on Space A is available in a couple of PDF’s available at the bottom of this page. The army has a this online resource, and there are one or two others you might find of interest. Kate also recommended a couple of titles to further research this and other veteran benefits. The first is Lawrence Webber's The Complete Idiot's Guide to Your Military and Veterans Benefits. The other is The Military Advantage: A Comprehensive Guide to Your Military and Veterans Benefits, by Christopher Michel.
Free Resource Books.
My Input: Usually available through the medical clinic or the family support office, numerous resource books are made available for free to active duty families. First Aid resource books and copies of the pregnancy and toddler years editions of the “What to Expect” books are all ones I've seen available for the asking at numerous bases.
Kate's Two Cents: I would add that some bases have great libraries with a wide variety of resources. Here's one example.
There are other more detailed services, to be certain. But for those just starting out in the military system, these should get you started on figuring out your frugal path to stretch that military paycheck as far as possible. Stay tuned for the next installment, and feel free to add ideas in the comment section below.