By Amanda Huffman
Contributing Writer

The beginning of a new year is a great time to revisit your budget, especially for military families. Often, military families receive a pay raise to help keep up with inflation, and depending on where they live, they may also receive a housing allowance increase. 

Any time there are changes in your income and/or expenses — be it the start of a new year, when you or your spouse get a raise, after a move or any new life event — it is a good idea to revisit your budget to figure out what is  working and where you can make changes., You’ll want to find ways to make your dollars go further.

This year, military families are receiving a 5.2 percent raise, which is the largest raise in two decades. Also, the military has allocated for a 3.9% raise for BAH. Both of these income streams can have a huge impact on your budget so it is important to take time to look at how those changes can help your family.

It is always good to look where you’ve been  to help determine where you want to go in the future. Whether  you PCS’ed or stayed in place can really affect your budget. If you have been in your location for one year or more, were there unexpected expenses that you can plan for? 

Start looking at past bills to determine your expenses. Items to check include the following:

  • Was your gas or electric bill higher or lower throughout the year than you expected? 
  • Were there things your family wanted to participate in the community that were an additional expense that you could plan for? 
  • How did childcare look and has it changed over the year? 
  • Did you go on a vacation? How did that affect your budget?

Answering these questions and taking a hard look at your expenses not only will help you prepare for the new year, but can also allow you to see what things  you can omit from your budget and also to  plan for the unexpected. Military families across the country are struggling to find  ways to make ends meet. You can find great financial tools and resources here.

Since military families are getting a pay raise, assess how you were doing on your budget last year.. If you were okay before the raise, where is the best place you can put that extra money? Can you use it to pay down debt, or save for retirement,or add to or start a children’s college fund?  want to plan a trip either at the holidays or throughout the year? 

It often feels hard to plan for the future in military life.  you are aware of upcoming changes such as  an upcoming PCS, deployment, or life event (e.g., having a baby), you can start planning for them,  no matter what time of the year it happens. 

If you are PCSing there is so much you have to do to physically move, but it’s important to focus on your finances first. Many  military families struggle with each move in search of affordable housing and childcare needs. Having money saved away can make your move go more smoothly from the financial side.

When you are planning for the future you can also envision your dreams. And even if your dream can’t happen this year, you can start planning for it. If you want to take a family trip, figure out if some of the pay raise can go to cover the cost of your  travel. If you want to fly home for Christmas, start planning in January for the cost of airline tickets. If you know that you will have  a big expense, start planning now to make it easier to afford.

Another planning tool t is setting financial goals. Once you have a firm goal you can create a plan to achieve it. One good example is getting rid of credit card debt. One recommendation is to pay off the smallest card first. It can feel overwhelming and discouraging to start with the largest debt. So set a goal to pay off one credit card debt in a month, quarter, year, whatever works for you. You can also call credit card companies to see if you can get a reduced interest rate, and some companies even have programs for military families who have moved to drop the interest rate to zero for a set period of time. Use  these tools and resources to help get your finances in line. 

Military life and finances can be very challenging. But creating a budget and working to plan for unexpected expenses while also reducing debt can help make things easier and allow your dollars to spread just a little bit further. 

Amanda is a military Veteran who served in the Air Force for six years as a Civil Engineer who served on a combat deployment with the Army in Afghanistan. She traded in her combat boots for a diaper bag to stay home with her two boys and follow her husband’s military career in the Space Force. Amanda is the host of the Women of the Military podcast. There she shares the stories of women who have served or are serving in the military. The podcast has over 200 episodes and over 100K downloads. Amanda is also an author and has published two books. Her first book, Women of the Military tells the stories of 28 military women who served in the military. Her second book, A Girl’s Guide to Military Serviceis the IBPA Benjamin Franklin Gold Winner for Teen Non Fiction. It is a guide for high school girls considering military service to help them build a strong foundation for their future career. She also works as a freelance writer and has been featured in a number of military publications including The War, Military Families Magazine, Clearance Jobs, Military Spouse Magazine, and more. 

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