Working out a budget may not sound like the most romantic way to spend an evening, but togetherness in financial planning is an important investment in any marriage, says Marine spouse Lizann Lightfoot, author of Open When: Letters of Encouragement for Military Spouses (Elva Resa, Fall 2021). Making financial decisions together can be challenging for military couples, because events that cause financial flux—deployment, training, temporary duty, and moves—sometimes also require spouses to be apart.
That’s why Lizann, The Seasoned Spouse, advises couples to be proactive and set aside time for financial planning when they are together. Good planning includes a budget for the present, setting long-term goals for the future, and recognizing how military life may affect spending and saving needs.
“A budget is a snapshot of where you are right now, as well as a schedule for where you want to be next month, or even a year from now.”
— Lizann Lightfoot
“A budget is a snapshot of where you are right now, as well as a schedule for where you want to be next month, or even a year from now,” says Lizann. “Think of it like a puzzle to solve, or a treasure hunt where you find all the hidden drains on your bank account. You can redirect that money from the drain into savings that could reduce stress during a move or deployment.”
A budget should balance income, expenses, and set aside money for unexpected expenses or emergencies. For military families, it’s especially helpful to have savings to bolster the budget during a move.
“Military couples can get thrown off their budget by a PCS,” says Lizann. “There are a lot of out-of-pocket expenses associated with moving, so having some money set aside is helpful. Even if you do a military-funded move, you may still need to transport pets or a second vehicle. Big expenses can throw off your usual spending plan for months afterwards.”
Also, every move brings plenty of smaller expenses that add up. Some of those may be reimbursed, but still require money up front.
Deployment can also disrupt a military family’s budget, even if the deployment results in additional pay rather than additional expenses.
“Deployments involve a lot of changes and stress, for both the service member and the spouse,” says Lizann. “Financial difficulties add to that stress, so it’s important to get on the same page before deployment begins.”
Decisions about how to handle pay increases are easier to make when a couple can speak face to face, she says. It reduces the chance for disagreements about spending when separation makes communication more difficult. Another part of planning for being apart during deployment is deciding who will pay bills and how to handle unexpected expenses or financial decisions that arise between departure and homecoming.
Similarly, it’s good to have a plan for how to handle any pay increase, whether from a promotion or a bonus.
Even for young couples, it’s not too early to plan for retirement, says Lizann, whether or not they plan to stay in the military. Military members are eligible for different types of retirement and savings plans depending on when they began their service and how long they serve. Couples should find out what plan or plans apply to their family and decide how much to set aside for retirement planning or for college savings.
Financial planning, says Lizann, is not a one-time event. It’s an ongoing conversation and requires regular check-ups together. New babies, deployments, career changes, and moves will all require adjustments.
So make a date, light the candles, and get out the spreadsheets. It may not sound romantic, but togetherness in financial planning is a relationship investment that will pay off—not only with money in the bank, but also with confidence in each other—for many years to come.