For most military families, keeping a close eye on finances is essential. According to CNN Money, the Defense Department places the average junior enlisted member's annual income at slightly more than $40,000 per year, while those who are married with two children make approximately $52,000 per year.
Trying to stretch those modest sums to cover food, clothing, utility bills, school fees and supplies, and other essentials can be a challenge, but it's an important part of a well-organized household. Maintaining healthy finances can not only keep things running smoothly but can even make it possible to afford a few extras like a weekend vacation or electronics.
It doesn't take an degree in economics to keep your family's budget in top shape. Here are a few key financial tips that every family should know.
1. Make a budget
This should be priority No. 1. Creating a family budget can give you a clearer picture of how the money comes and goes in your house. It may assist you pinpoint how much you spend on regular living expenses, areas where you should cut back and how much you might save if you reduce your spending. It can also help you plan for the things you'll want or need in the future, from new clothes to a college education. There are computer programs and websites where you track your spending.
2. Create a rainy-day fund
Unexpected expenses – a broken appliance, a car that suddenly stops working, even an unexpected medical issue – could create an instant financial hardship. It can impact even the most precisely managed household budget. An emergency fund can help you weather the storm of uncertainty that comes from a sudden incident. Forbes magazine recommends saving whatever you can per month – even $25 is fine – to build up to the equivalent of several months' take-home pay.
3. Avoid easy credit offers
As a member of the military, you receive a government-backed steady paycheck, which may lead to a lot of offers from companies that want to extend your credit to purchase everything from a big-screen television to a new car. However, many times these deals come with high interest rates which can make that great deal turn out to be a huge burden. Refrain from taking on additional debt no matter how good the offer may appear to be. It not only helps you cut expenses but keeps your credit score in good shape for when you really need to use it.
4. Cut your spending
Everyone can afford to trim the fat somewhere in their budget and there are many ways to do it. Reducing your cable subscription to the basic services, cancelling seldom-used memberships to gyms, selecting a less expensive cell phone package for the family, shopping online for items before heading out to the store, and planning your grocery shopping in advance rather than impulse-buying can help keep you from overspending. Looking for the best deal, as opposed to purchasing the item you want at the first place you find it, can help you reduce your expenses.
5. Entertain for less
Going to the movies or amusement park is fun, but it can also be expensive. Finding low-cost entertainment alternatives could help keep your budget intact while also bringing the family closer. Playing board games, a home movie night with popcorn or even a trip to a local park can be fun replacements for more costly activities. Or try a "staycation" where you and your family explore the interesting locations in and around your city. Many museums and historic sites have reduced admissions or even free days that can be fun for everyone and a money-saver as well.