Times of separation are hard on a family and relationships in many ways. One of the most challenging aspects of separation is how to handle the finances – how to budget and continue to make progress toward your financial goals. Service members (SM) experience this challenge on a regular basis which is why it is vital for couples to work together on a financial plan and budget to ensure progress is made and setbacks do not occur during periods of separation.
According to a 2014 article in the Journal of Financial Counseling and Planning (JFCP), regarding stress and financial well-being of SMs, the amount of debt SM’s carry is greater than the general public. In the study 27% reported having more than $10,000 in credit card debt, versus 16% of the general population (Bell, et. al., 2014). The challenge is how to tackle the debt and avoid accumulating more during times of separation.
Budgeting while separated can be difficult. Here are 6 things to consider:
- Create a solid budget prior to the separation. Every dollar of income needs to have an assignment. There are even apps available that allow both of you to view the budget from your mobile device and always be on the same page.
- Consider the amount of money the SM might spend while away on the mission. These expenses can be a budget killer. To solve this, predetermine a dollar amount as part of the budget that the deployed spouse is allowed to spend. It might be helpful to simply pull this amount out in cash every month and that is all the money the SM has available for the set period. The same could be said for the discretionary spending for the spouse and family back home as well. An envelope system is a great way to budget everyday spending.
- Set financial goals together! This is very important. A time of separation, while stressful, can also net some extra income and it should be decided ahead of time how that money is going to be used. For example, separation pay should have an intended purpose, like to provide child care, lawn maintenance, debt reduction, etc. If you use this “extra” money for frivolous purposes, when a genuine need arises, then the money may no longer be available.
- Decide how financial decisions are going to be made during a separation. Communications may be limited and as a couple you may not always be able to discuss financial decisions. Put a plan in place to handle these occurrences. For example; how much is one person allowed to spend on an emergency without discussing it first?
- Don’t let emotional spending derail your progress toward financial goals. If emotional spending is an issue for you, please discuss these feelings with a friend or professional before going on a shopping spree to make yourself feel better. A lot of poor financial decisions are made during deployments and these decisions can have lasting implications.
- Set financial goals together and stick to them. It is, when one spouse acts without consulting the other during a time of separation it can be very stressful on the relationship. Whether the goal is to save or get out of debt, be sure your financial goals are aligned.
This article focuses on members of the armed forces, but these six considerations can be easily applied to any couple who finds themselves in regular periods of separation. While it can be challenging to get out of debt, don’t let a separation slow your momentum!
Guest Contributor: Susan Pascoe, AFC®
Bell, M. M., Nelson, J. S., Spann, S. M., Malloy, C. J., Britt, S. L., & Nelson Goff, B. S. (2014). The Impact of Financial Resources on Soldiers’ Well-Being. Journal of Financial Counseling and Planning, 25(1), 41-52. Retrieved from http://afcpe.org/assets/pdf/volume_25_1/04088_pg41-52.pdf