Tag: military spouse

Breaking the Bank

I look at social media and constantly say to myself, “How the f#$@ do these people afford that!?” I think comparing my situation to friends from high school and college is such a toxic thing to do, but I can’t help it sometimes. I am always left wondering how people, who are the same age as me, are affording cruises, tropical vacations, new homes, new cars, fancy gym memberships.

Deciding to be a teacher is not something I did for the money, thats for sure. My husband definitely didn’t choose to join the military for the lavish lifestyle either. We absolutely understand that our career choices mean we will not be “living the high life” any time soon, but we chose these careers out of love for kids and learning (me) and our country (him). Unfortunately, as a first-generation college student (whose parents had zero understanding of higher education let alone how to pay for it – I don’t blame them at all), I was left with a ridiculous amount of student loan debt. No one ever explained to me what it meant to take out a student loan. Sure, I obviously knew I had to pay it back, but it was never broken down for me. Had someone explained that the $25,000 I chose to spend on my first year of college at a big, out of state university would cost me over $60,000 by the time I was 30, I never would have done it. I’m sure there are people reading this thinking, “Wow, if you didn’t know that, you must be some kind of stupid!” You’re right. I was. Part of me regrets my college education every single day of my life, however, I could not be a teacher without it. I chose to go to graduate school and that added to my student loans, because in my career field, the only way to climb the pay scale is to get an advanced degree. So here I am, over $100k in student loan debt, not making much, married to a man not making much. But to me, getting to hang out with kids all day, show them awesome things about science, teach them how to express themselves through writing and art, find interest in great novels, crunch numbers and relate it to real life, and have my summers off..that is totally worth it.

So what does all of this mean? Well, I have had to learn how to “make it work” so to speak. I am by no means an expert, and I am definitely not debt free right now, but I am learning to make strides here and there. Here are my tips for low-income millennials (like myself) who feel crushed by crippling student loan, credit card, or medical bill debt:

Take Social Media Breaks

I think the best and worst thing about social media, is that it only shows someone’s highlight reel. We all like to post when we are at our very best, but that often leaves us feeling down and out when we see everyone else living the life we wish we had…or so we think. I take breaks from social media quite frequently. No, not the kind of breaks where I make some kind of big, dramatic status explaining my exit. I simply delete the app for a few days, weeks, whatever. If it isn’t there, I don’t think about it. Taking a step away from scrolling through my timeline and getting lost in jealousy and admiration of friends (and strangers!) is absolutely necessary sometimes.

Stop Using Credit Cards…Sort Of

Like so many other people, we have used our credit cards to bail us out more times than I can think of. It is so easy to swipe and not think about it, especially when you’re young. I got my first credit card at 18 years old, I was unemployed, and had a $2,000 line of credit. Who thought that was a good idea!? As we work to get those cards paid off, I stick them in a drawer and try to forget about them. Sure, its tempting when there is a HUGE sale at your favorite store and you know that money is sitting there, but it is NOT worth the financial burden it creates a month later.

I started poking around on Credit Karma back when it first became “a thing” about 6 years ago. I learned how store only credit cards don’t affect your score as much as major cards like Visa or Master Card. I also learned that, believe it or not, having more accounts is better than no accounts and keeping them for several years is important (sometimes its better not to cancel a card). One thing that blew my mind…I used the tool to estimate my credit score if I paid off all of my debt (it wasn’t much at the time) and my score went down! How is this possible? Carrying a small debt (30% or less of your limit) and consistently paying it off proves “credit worthiness” which is something you need to keep a high score. Installment loans (like personal, car, and student loans) have less negative impact than credit cards do. Also, understanding that credit checks can hurt your score is important. I went in to a car dealership just to price out a car and shop around…BIG MISTAKE. The dealership made 6 hard pulls on my credit score, causing it to go down quite a bit. Those pulls sit on your account for a few years. Better choice? Go to your bank and get pre-approved.

It is all a game. The best way I have found to increase my score (besides paying it off!) is to pay down major cards before store cards and before making big payments on loans, keep accounts open once they’re paid off (unless they have high interest rates or annual fees), and use one or two cards for small purchases I have cash for, such as gas or groceries, and immediately paying it off. Sounds like a no brainer to some, but being young and making financial mistakes early has caused me to dig a bit deeper into the credit score game.

Rewards & Perks Cards

Right now, I am not really in the position to open another credit card, but I have been shopping around looking for the right rewards card. Living across the country from our family means we fly A LOT. I have been looking into cards that offer airline miles. The tricky part is looking for ones that avoid black out dates (we travel during high traffic times like holidays), don’t have crazy annual fees, and still have low interest rates. I’m still on the hunt for the best deal. I love my Amazon credit card! I earn points with every purchase that turn into cash back on Amazon purchases. Nothing is better than going to check out and seeing a “$13.58” reward I can use!  My Old Navy/Gap credit card works similarly, awarding me after purchases with cash off coupons. If you are not interested in yet another credit card (trust me, I get it), the Target Red Debit card is fabulous! You get all the same perks, such as 5% off and FREE shipping, without the stress of a credit card. Be warned…sometimes it takes a day (or more) for your purchases to actually come out of your bank account, so watch carefully.

Mediocre Couponing

Not going to lie, I watch “Extreme Couponing” and it brings me life. I WISH I could dumpster dive for coupon inserts, have family and friends come over to help cut them out, shop around for store deals, sit down and crunch the numbers, and leave with a $500 haul of groceries for 12 cents…but its not going to happen. I work full time, have a crazy two year old, and honestly, do not have the brain power. I can, however, scroll through an app and digitally clip coupons! Many of the stores we frequently shop at have apps that tie coupons to your store rewards card. Fred Meyer (or Kroger), Safeway, Walgreens,  and Target are my go to apps (even though Target is RUDE and only allows Cartwheel offers in store) In all of these apps, you can check the weekly store circular for sales and clip coupons (store and manufacturer) to use right away. I have been known to park my cart in the bakery section, shove a cookie in my kid’s hand, and add coupons before I check out. Believe it or not, I have saved quite a bit. Some people say, “Yea but its like 25 cents here or there” which is true, but it adds up quickly. I think my greatest “haul” thus far included both paper coupons from the Sunday paper and digital coupons on my Fred Meyer app, which saved us over $30 in one shopping trip! That is a win for me!

Cashback or Scam?

I have always thought those cash back apps and websites were a scam…until a friend of mine introduced me to Ebates. Living on an island means we are limited in the stores we have around us. Sure, I could drive 45 minutes to an hour to get to more stores, but who wants to waste the time or gas doing it? So yes, online shopping is my jam and Ebates has already earned me over $20 in just one week on purchases I had already planned on making! All you have to do (after you make your account) is go to the Ebates website, or open the Ebates app, then shop your favorite stores through their site. You will see what percent cash back you can earn, for example – Walmart was 10% cash back for me this week. They even show coupon and promo codes for the stores you are shopping at. How awesome is that? A new discovery is that you can use Ebates in store as well. This may be a deal breaker for some people, but if you add your card info, Ebates will automatically track purchases you make in store (be sure to swipe as credit even if it is a debit card!) and give you cash back. Some people may find this sketchy, but if you follow my advice on using credit cards for cash purchases, then the risk is low if your information were to be compromised. Your cash back can be sent to you via check or deposited right into your PayPal account! There are a lot of other cash back options, but this has been the easiest and most legitimate I have found so far. Use my referral link to get started >>> Ebates

Check Your Bank Statements

My bank (Navy Federal) offers this cool feature online where you can see exactly where your money is being spent each month. Purchases are broken down into categories such as entertainment, household, clothing, etc. You can create your budget for each category and set an alert when you approach and/or exceed it. This is a super simple way to start budgeting!

Student Loan Repayment Plans

I was SHOCKED to hear that a friend of mine was not taking advantage of income based repayment on her student loans. Depending on how much debt you have, this may be the best option for you. If you have a relatively small debt, then your minimum payment is probably small (since it is spread out over a ridiculous number of years), in which case making a larger payment to pay off your loan faster is a much better idea. When you are tens to a hundred thousand dollars in debt, with a minimum payment equivalent to a mortgage, you might not be able to afford it standard repayment. You can always make more than your minimum payment even on income based repayment plans, but this can be a life saver for anyone going through unemployment or a rough financial patch. If you are a public service employee (such as a teacher, nurse, etc.) then Public Service Loan Forgiveness allows your loans to be paid off after 10 years (120 payments) on time and in full. Here is the great part, income based repayment is accepted, so why pay $700 a month when you could pay $350? Paying more when it will be forgiven anyway is pointless and actually could throw off your 120 payments. I am not sure about new legislature and if this program is being stopped for current or future borrowers, but for those who took out loans from 2007 through 2017, you should still qualify. I was just introduced to this forgiveness plan recently and am working on my applications now. There are other forgiveness plans, you just have to dig deep and find them! Also, watch out for “Student Loan Consolidation Loans” that are not suggested through student aid.gov. The reason being, if you consolidate and refinance through some of these companies, you now have turned your federal debt into private debt, which disqualifies you from federal student loan forgiveness programs.

 

There is no simple fix. I am certainly not a billboard for a debt free life, but I am working on it. I mean, we are young, made mistakes, made moves out of necessity, and now are working our way out of it. It is life. My goal from this was to share some of the easier ways to tackle some of the overwhelming burdens of financial stress. What are some other ways you pinch pennies and make financial moves?

The Mother of All Competitions

I was scrolling through my Facebook feed one night and stumbled upon an article posted by Scary Mommy. The article (blog really) was by a single mother who was explaining why she felt it is not ok for married women to ever refer to themselves as “single moms”. Naturally, I cruised on over to the comments section and to my HORROR the women were being absolutely awful to each other. Now, whether or not I agree with the blogger is not the issue…the issue is what women were saying. Suddenly life has become a mom competition. Every married woman who tried to relate to parenting alone was attacked by a single mom saying there is no way their life was harder and married woman telling single moms their lives weren’t really all that hard. The single moms were offended that anyone used the term “single mom” if they were not legally SINGLE. Ok, I get it. The next claim was that any woman who is married, instantly has it easier because they have a second income and someone there for emotional support. Well, that was met with resistance as some pointed out that not every married couple has two incomes or that some men are just not supportive in the least bit. Some argued that single moms can have boyfriends who provide emotional support but just because they aren’t married doesn’t mean anything; a partner is a partner. Then some argued that even a married woman whose husband is constantly away (hey military spouses, we’re talking to you!) have much easier lives because they can e-mail their husbands for emotional support and are still getting a big fat pay check. It went on and on. I felt some comments had merit, but some were just downright nasty and absolutely absurd. I may or may not have taken a bit of offense when anyone tried to tell me that my life was a cake walk when my husband was gone *insert emotionally triggered, pissed off face*

WHY? Why did it become a competition of who has it worse? The argument was no longer about a term…SINGLE MOM…it was about women tearing each other down and belittling their struggles because “My life is harder than yours!”

I don’t always comment on things on social media….but I just couldn’t keep my mouth shut any longer. Read on…

Oh hell…this is a ridiculous argument. Some single moms make as much or more than some married couples. Not all, but some do. Some single moms make next to nothing but live with their parents to help make ends meet. Some single moms get alimony and decent child support in addition to their own income. Some single moms have nothing but are able to receive some assistance through certain programs and, if they’re lucky, get a bit of child support. Some get nothing at all. Some single moms live close to family, friends, or have significant others to provide emotional support/emergency help/child care and some don’t. There are married women whose military husbands are gone 90% of the time, but get financial support by means of a shared income, which may or may not make ends meet. These women may not live anywhere near their families and friends, so they may not have any physical means of support in terms of child care or emotional help when times get tough. They have the added stress of not knowing if their spouse will make it home alive or not. Some get to talk to their spouses while deployed and receive that emotional support of “doing it together” but some don’t hear from their spouses for months at a time. Some women’s spouses come back from war completely changed and empty, unable to provide emotional or financial support due to physical or mental disability. Some women have spouses who are chronically or terminally ill, who lose their second income and second set of hands due to hospitalizations or physical handicaps. These women have the added burden of being a caretaker to their spouse and worry about the day their spouse dies in addition to being a mom.

So…case by case, this is apples and oranges.

Single mom, living with her parents, making an ok wage, dating a guy but isn’t married vs. married military spouse whose husband is gone for 9 months who together make barely enough to get by, and live in a different country than their families…which is worse?

Married woman whose husband is gone for business a lot, makes decent money, and lives near family vs. single mom who fled abuse and is working her butt off trying to keep a roof over her kids’ heads…which is worse?

Single mom who works full time making hardly anything, getting a little bit of child support, and emotional support from family and friends vs. a married woman whose husband has stage 4 cancer and physically cannot do much, who are about to lose their house due to the loss of income, and have minimal family support…which is worse?

It’s about the situation and it’s effects emotionally, not finances, not support, not anything else.

I have tons of respect for women who are unmarried or divorced and are doing everything alone…but I also know what it’s like to do it all alone while my husband is gone for almost a year at a time.

No matter what money is coming in and no matter who you have supporting you emotionally…waking up alone being the only one to get the kids ready, watch the kids or drop them off at child care, work full time or 2 jobs, coming home alone to be the one to cook dinner, clean the house, do the laundry, to be the only one sitting there in front of a pile of bills wondering how to make it work without someone there to make decisions with, being the only one physically responsible for your child so you have to miss work and wages when your child is sick, having no one to give you a break to go out with the girls or get your nails done or go to the dang gynecologist…(I could go on and on) it is NOT easy and quite honestly it freaking sucks.

The bottom line is, single mom or someone who feels like they’re doing it alone, either way, no one has the right to tell you that your situation isn’t as hard as someone else’s. At the end of the day, we love our kids and we do everything in our power to provide for them and make them happy with or without a spouse.

Single mom, military spouse, domestic abuse survivor, Mom with a terminally/chronically ill spouse…wear it as a badge of honor and keep pushing forward. Sitting and comparing situations does not change your life and certainly doesn’t make it any better.

Shout out to the moms who physically, emotionally, or physically and emotionally do it alone. You’re doing great.

 

Deployment Woes Then & Now

During our first deployment, we were still young (21 to be exact!) and had only been dating for about six months. We went through a lot…and when I say a lot I mean…A LOT. We didn’t have a super strong foundation as a couple seeing as we were long distance for those six months, his mother absolutely hated me and caused an unGodly amount of drama, and it was his very first deployment which is going to be tough on anyone. I documented a lot of how I felt, what I was afraid of, things I wanted to say but couldn’t, in a private blog that somehow got passed along in the young Navy girlfriend community (unbeknownst to me at the time). Its funny how I can look at those blog posts now and remember those pains and feelings so strongly, but I also am a bit ashamed of some of the things I wrote. There is a certain level of maturity one must have to successfully survive a deployment (let alone a military relationship), and needless to say, I did not have it.

The first time around I can tell you the hardest part was simply losing communication. Talk about privilege…we are so used to being able to call, text, Amazon Prime anytime of day or night, so when it is taken away from us, all hell breaks loose. I never remember having any kind of attachment to my phone until that deployment. I could go to class or work without it and be just fine. I never slept with my phone in my bed, never worried if it was on silent when it was lost, never worried about who needed to contact me. In my mind, it couldn’t be that important that it couldn’t wait…..or could it? Knowing I had very few opportunities to talk to my boyfriend meant that phone was attached to me 24/7 just waiting for an e-mail. When he was in port? Forget it. I got no sleep, I slept with the phone laying on my chest, and I would have given up my left arm to Skype with him.

Now? Meh. At the risk of sounding cold-hearted, its not that I don’t WANT to talk to him, its about time. Before, I had time to kill. I could sit up all night waiting for an e-mail or stop everything I was doing to Skype. Not so much anymore. I work full time teaching elementary school, so there is no way I can say, “Oh kids, hold on just a second, I need to go FaceTime my husband, you just work on those fractions for an hour or so, ok?” HA. I can’t stay up all night, not only because of work, but because my child requires a whole lot of attention that I simply cannot give properly if I am exhausted. I am finally old enough to realize that giving up my social life to sit around and wait for a call is unhealthy, let alone unfair, so thats not happening anymore either. I think now I know that although conversations are precious and important, we WILL hear from each other eventually and that radio silence doesn’t mean “its over” or something terrible has happened. He knows that my world has to keep spinning even if he isn’t around and that means that my identity is not “wife of a deployed service member” so I will go about my daily life. Do I want to hear from him? Of course! I obviously still miss him. But what I am saying is, it is not “life-or-death mass hysterics” if I don’t respond to an e-mail within 3 minutes or miss one video chat request. Life will go on. There will be other opportunities. (And before anyone says, “But what if he dies?! Then you’ll regret that!”…you’re right, if my husband dies in combat I will definitely just focus on the fact that I missed an e-mail…NOT. You can’t think like that…ever)

Last time, port visits were exciting and stressful at the same time. I was so happy for him to get off the ship, see new places, try new things, find wifi to video chat with me all day, and report back on everything. But on the other side was my worry. Young + American + probably (definitely) shit faced + pay day = nothing good at all. So yes, while I was happy he was able to see Paris, I was also quite concerned when he was doing shots of Absinthe in the Red Light District of Paris before going MIA for about 8 hours. Again, being young and in a different country with more money than you’re ever used to having with zero financial responsibilities back home? Sure sounds like a recipe for success to me! *insert overly exaggerated eye roll*

Seven years later and we have both grown up a lot. Port visits now consist of me telling my husband how much I’ve budgeted for him to splurge in port, him finding somewhere quiet to FaceTime while drinking a beer or two, and calling it a night at a decent hour for each of us. BORING. But I love it. I love that he wants to sit in the corner of a coffee shop and talk to our son or tell me how much he missed wearing sneakers for the past few months. I love starring at each other and talking about how tired we are. I wish I was kidding you right now, but this is the part of getting older that I really have grown to appreciate.

The last woe I remember being pretty big back then was, as much as I hate to admit it, the fear of infidelity or breaking up. Think about who you were dating at 21 and really, truly try and picture yourself going through something like a deployment together. (All you veteran military couples who were high school sweethearts need not participate in this exercise!) This is not something normal “kids” go through, so naturally it is tough thinking, “Are we going to make it through this?” “Is he still going to want to be with me?” “What if he meets someone on the ship?” “What if he meets someone in port?” “What if he gets drunk and cheats on me?” Although these could be fears for any young couple, they get amplified by ten when you are in a deployment situation. Right now, I am sure there are lots of readers thinking, “Uh uh not my man, I knew he wouldn’t do any of those things because I trust/ed him 100% so this girl has to be out of her mind…” OK. Again, six months into it, I was not stupid. I knew that six months wasn’t a marriage, it wasn’t some whirlwind romance, it was six months of fun and “lets see where this goes”. Sure, we loved each other, but was that enough? I had no idea. I had never loved someone like I loved him. It had nothing to do with trust, insecurity, or any of that. It had everything to do with fear of the unknown and deep down just wanting things to work.

Fast forward through love, marriage, and the baby carriage…I don’t even think about these things anymore. I’ve learned a whole lot about the different kinds of women in the Navy (shout out to all of you hard working, intelligent, fabulous Navy women!) and about what happens mentally on deployment (have you ever heard of “deployment goggles”? They’re real. Don’t ever get a pair. They lead to poor decisions), so I think I….WE are better prepared this time. We are much better at communicating and expressing our feelings, even when those feelings aren’t easy to vocalize. I know that not every woman on that ship is out to be a home wrecker (even if a few still are…don’t think I forgot your name Jessica…*cough* bitch *cough*) and he knows that no one stateside is ever going to lead me astray. We have a relationship that has history, a commitment, a future, something tangible that is not as easy to destroy as our relationship was last time.

I’m writing this all thinking, “How do I sum this up into one thing I have learned?”

MATURITY.

Like a fine wine, some relationships get better with age, and we are an example of that. Think about this for a minute. Most men and women who join the military do so at the age of 17, 18, 19…and they’re all hitting their first deployment either immediately or within a few short years. Who in the hell thought it was a good idea to let these children have significant others?! I mean really, we are BABIES being shipped off to God knows where to do Lord knows what, but they are leaving huge pieces of their hearts back home. I’m not saying this isn’t true for those without significant others, but leaving momma is a different feeling than leaving “the love of your life”. Being 19 and freshly in love may seem great, but throw deployment in the mix and its going to be a lot more difficult than your standard freshman-year-of-college-romance. Sure, there are some couples who get through it just fine, and I say, applause for you, because I sure as hell didn’t do too well. I like to assume most young couples struggle a bit during that first deployment. The good news is, it may not get easier, but you do get used to it and things are just…different.

My suggestion to any young couple going through their first deployment is to live each day with intention. We went into that deployment completely blind, not knowing what our relationship would be, if there would even be one in the end. Being with someone in the military is a commitment unlike any other. You may be married, but if you don’t have the intention to stay married, grow in your love, and/or make upward movements as a couple/family, then you may find yourself in the same place as an unmarried couple. Having goals and making sure each decision you make is purposeful and helps you attain those goals is extremely important. Maybe you’re not married but want to get engaged after deployment. What can you do as a couple to strengthen your bond while he/she is away so that you are 100% ready for that next step? Maybe you are engaged and planning a wedding. What can you do to keep your relationship strong through the added stress of wedding planning during deployment? How can you save money? Maybe you’re married and hoping to start a family after deployment. In what ways will you ensure you are ready for that change once he/she gets home? I could go on and on with examples. I guess my point is, unless both people are on the same page and going in the same direction with the same enthusiasm, it is very easy to derail your relationship when you throw deployment into the mix. The distance, the stress, the uncertainty, the lack of reliable communication, it all makes every little thing 300 times more difficult. Since it is pretty much impossible to expect the unexpected, instead be prepared for the journey toward a common destination as best you can, think two steps ahead, keep your eyes on the prize, and deal with small set backs as they come.

To any of my young, newbie girlfriends/wives out there, stay strong. You will get through it, and as long as you are both in it for the long haul together with the same goals and drive, it will be worth it. I promise you it will be worth it.