NO TWO DEPLOYMENTS ARE THE SAME!
Sorry for shouting, but I’m saying it loud for those of you in the back! Depending on your servicemember’s branch, job, and location, a deployment means different things to different people. Not everyone will receive special allowances, tax-free income, or reduced expenses at home when a spouse deploys. Deployments come in many shapes and sizes, so keep that in mind when comparing your situations to others’ experiences.
Below are five possible ways to save money while deployed and five examples of expenses that can unexpectedly creep up on you during deployment. Above all else, the best advice for controlling your finances during a deployment is to communicate with your partner!
For all the pain that deployments cause, they sometimes offer a unique chance to take advantage of some special benefits and opportunities to really boost your savings. Whether it’s tax-free status, additional special allowances, or just the simple fact that there is one less person at home consuming food, energy, and stuff, there is often an opportunity to build your family’s savings during a deployment.
Have a Budget Game Plan
Before your spouse deploys, review (or create one if you don’t already have one!) your budget and monthly bills together. Make sure you both agree on who will manage the finances while one of you is away. This includes paying bills, hitting savings goals, and even estimating normal monthly expenses.
Having a plan upfront will help eliminate going into panic mode when you realize you forgot to pay a bill your spouse normally paid. Not having to worry about missed payments, late or overdraft fees, plummeting credit scores, and money argument is priceless. Deployment causes enough stress on your lives, don’t add it to with unnecessary fees and arguments over financial matters!
Activate “Storage Coverage” on Your Deployed Spouse’s Vehicle
If you are a two-vehicle household you might consider putting the vehicle that your spouse typically drives on “Storage Coverage” with your auto insurance provider while they are deployed. If you won’t be driving one of your vehicles (motorcycles included) putting it into “storage” will allow you to enjoy drastically (ours was 80% reduced) reduced premiums. Most insurance companies will still allow you to keep it at your house and drive it within a few miles of your home for maintenance to avoid tire rot or a dead battery. Call your auto insurance company to find out what types of reduced coverage or discounts apply to your situation.
The Savings Deposit Program (SDP)
The SDP is administered by the Defense Finance and Accounting Services aka DFAS for service members who are deployed to designated combat zones. DFAS offers a guaranteed 10% annual return, compounded quarterly on up to $10,000 when servicemembers save with the SDP. Not only will you earn that coveted 10% return on your money, but your savings will also be out of sight while they sit in the SDP account during deployment and if you wish, up to 90 days after leaving the combat zone. Your spouse should contact their finance office for more details.
Invest Tax-Free with the ROTH Thrift Savings Plan (TSP)
It’s always a smart move to invest with the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), the DoD’s version of a civilian retirement savings plan. However, for service members who are deployed to designated combat zones and enjoy the benefit of tax-free income, the ROTH TSP option gives them an additional benefit of tax-free investing. Normally, contributions to the ROTH TSP are taxed upfront and then pulled out tax-free in retirement. However, when deployed, a service member is able to contribute their tax-free income to a ROTH TSP, which means more money is invested! The elective deferral limit for ROTH TSP contributions in 2018 is $18,500.
*Bonus: For servicemembers deployed to eligible combat zones, they can contribute an additional $36,500 to traditional TSP savings while deployed. This additional amount includes (tax-deferred, after-tax, and tax-exempt), Agency/Service Automatic (1%) Contributions, and Matching Contributions.
Invest Tax-Free with a ROTH IRA
If you and your family are really on-board with maximizing your servicemember’s tax-free income during deployment, you may consider maximizing your investments with a ROTH IRA. Similar to the above ROTH TSP, a ROTH IRA is a tax-advantaged individual retirement account. Normally ROTH contributions are made after-tax, so there’s no upfront tax benefit, but your earnings grow tax-free. However, when you contribute tax-free combat deployment earnings to a ROTH, you receive the tax-free benefit on both ends.
Although there are some great ways to save money during deployment, there are still many unexpected expenses that can creep into your budget too. When a service member deploys, life on the Homefront still goes on and that means bills and expenses do too.
Limit Unnecessary Purchases
Are you or your spouse emotional shoppers? Do you shop when you’re bored, sad, or lonely? Being separated from your spouse during a deployment isn’t a cakewalk. Don’t let any of these feelings creep in and affect your spending habits.
When my spouse was deployed, I found myself trading in our Saturday morning hikes for random hikes through Target instead, buying stuff I just didn’t need. Shopping temporarily took away the sting of missing him but it was only a temporary fix. Keep busy with a hobby, learn a new skill, or grab a friend for a chat, just don’t get caught up with emotional shopping!
Expensive Deployment Add-ons
It’s a misconception that deployed service members don’t have any expenses during their deployments. Although it’s true there might be fewer places to spend money while deployed, depending on where they are stationed there might be unexpected costs you should include in your budget.
Depending on where your spouse is deployed, they might have the option of purchasing a Wi-Fi service or even a cellular plan which can get quite costly in some locations. Don’t forget that frequent trips to the coffee shop, fast food joints, the PX/BX, shore trips, and even the bazaars while deployed can add up big time in your monthly budget.
Hiring Out Help
When your spouse is deployed that means you have one less set of hands, but life still has to go on. If your spouse used to handle a specific household chore, you might find yourself wanting or needing to hire out that job simply because you don’t know how to do it or don’t have the time. Lawn care, vehicle maintenance, cooking, cleaning, or even childcare are all things you might find yourself needing help with.
Who doesn’t love to get mail? When your spouse is deployed, you’ll definitely want them to feel loved with care packages and mail. However, don’t let the costs of sending care packages get out of hand. The cost of shipping and all the goodies you put inside can add up each month. Make sure your treats are within your budget and stick to things they really need or special treats they can’t get while deployed. Remember that deployed service members don’t usually have a ton of storage space anyway, so there’s no need to go overboard with sending stuff just for the sake of sending stuff.
There’s not need to go overboard with sending stuff just for the sake of sending stuff.
Extreme Pre and Post Deployment Vacations
Pre and post-deployment, you might feel the urge to take a vacation of a lifetime before or after your spouse deploys. Spending time as a family and doing something special together is a definite YES, but going into debt over a vacation is a definite NO. If a big vacation is something that both you and your spouse want, plan it into your budget and your savings goals. Bon, voyage!
Christine is a wife, mom, and, finance professional. She has over ten years of finance experience working with companies like Boeing, The US Army, and the University of Virginia. As a proud Army spouse, she is passionate about making personal finance straightforward for military families. Christine dishes out real talk on her experiences with budgeting, savings, investing, retirement, and even real estate on her blog, Her Money Moves. When she’s not geeking out about personal finance, she’s living her best life at her OCONUS assignment with her husband and pre-schooler son.