Preparing Your Family’s Finances Before a Deployment: Five Essential Tips
Planning for a deployment can be hard on the entire family, as there is a lot that needs to be done to help the transition go smoothly. One major factor to consider when preparing for a new deployment is the family’s finances. Often, the military spouse handles the majority of the family’s financial decisions; and this is especially true during a deployment when they take on the day-to-day responsibilities as sole head of the household.
For these reasons, deployment preparation is a good time to assess and bolster your family’s finances. Below are a few tips that will make the process easier:
- Get ahead of the game by building up a “rainy day fund” – Depending on your family’s average spending, you should aim to should save a portion of each monthly paycheck to attain four to six months’ worth of expenses. Place it in a joint account that both the spouse and servicemember can access. This way, if an unexpected expense should come up during deployment, the family can cover it without going into debt or other savings to make ends meet. Additionally, make sure both the spouse and the servicemember know the location of important papers such as powers of attorney (highly recommended), mortgage documents, insurance contracts, bank statements, and investment account statements and that spouses are added as authorized representatives on those accounts.
- Take advantage of resources available to you – It can be hard for many military spouses to find consistent work due to the tumultuous impact that frequent relocations cause. For those spouses looking to reenter the workforce during a deployment to bring in more income, there are several great resources out there to help you on your way. The Department of Labor Veterans’ Employment and Training Service has information to help spouses find employment. You may also want to consider joining a Military Spouse networking group, many exist on Facebook and sites like SpouseLink, where spouses can connect with others in their area to discuss job opportunities and provide support during stressful times.
- Make a plan to use deployment savings wisely – As the spouse prepares to take on the responsibility of making the day-to-day financial decisions, they will need the support and trust of the servicemember. It can help to discuss how you will handle various financial challenges ahead of time and come up with a plan you both agree upon to avoid any surprises when the servicemember returns. With additional income generated by entitlements and combat zone tax exclusions, it may be tempting to splurge a little. Some may be guilty of “retail therapy,” or excess spending to cope with the stresses of a deployment. This extra income is great, but it’s a good idea to create a plan for how to make use of it. Certainly, some can be set aside for fun – maybe a well-deserved family vacation following a deployment – but more importantly, this money should also be considered a resource to pay off any debts or add to emergency savings.
- Look for places where you can cut costs – take the time to look over the family’s monthly expenses and spending to see where certain costs can be cut during a deployment. For instance, altering your car insurance plan or suspending cell phone service for the servicemember while they are away is an easy way to save a little money. Just don’t forget to notify these companies when the spouse returns to restore service!
- Protect your family’s future with life insurance – One aspect of a financial plan that is often overlooked is protection in the form of life insurance. There are two reasons for this: first, most servicemembers are enrolled in Servicemembers Group Life Insurance (SGLI). Second, it is easy to overlook the financial value a spouse’s contributions bring to the household – a value that is often difficult to determine. When it comes to SGLI, don’t assume that the coverage, even at the full amount of $400,000, is sufficient. If the servicemember is the primary income earner and were to pass away, the costs of a mortgage, children’s college, medical expenses, or other big-ticket items would quickly exhaust those funds. Additionally, regardless of whether the spouse earns income or not, they contribute significantly to the family’s financial security. In caring for family members, maintaining the home, providing transportation, errands, shopping and more, he or she provides very real and valuable services to the family. If the spouse were to pass away, the survivor might need to pay for these services outright. The additional finances required to do so should be obtained through a sound insurance policy, thereby covering another gap. On a related note, a family may want to consider coverage for children. Doing so can lock in low premiums while the child is young, ensure eligibility for additional coverage in the future and defray funeral costs in case of an unthinkable loss.
Separation due to deployment can be difficult. Ensuring that you are financially prepared before a deployment is a must-do for the sake of your family’s financial security.
About the Author
Carlos Perez is the Assistant Secretary of AAMFAA, the longest-standing not-for-profit association empowering military families with affordable financial solutions. A retired Army colonel, Carlos joined the AAFMAA team after twenty-six years of active duty Army service, which included a variety of command and staff assignments; deployments to Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan; and teaching economics and national security at West Point and National Defense University. He holds a B.S. Degree in Economics from West Point and an MBA from the Stanford University Graduate School of Business.