Besides a halted PCS, canceled childcare, locked-down bases, and unusual deployments, COVID-19 has proven significant in yet another facet of military life: the financial habits of its families.
Navy Federal Credit Union (NFCU), the largest credit union in the world, released survey findings on July 13 detailing how the past 16 months have affected the way veterans, military members, and their families handle money. NFCU, one of the few financial institutions exclusively geared toward the military, surveyed more than 1,100 active-duty servicemembers, veterans, and military spouses to find out how finances have changed for its members since COVID-19 arrived.
The gist? Nearly every military-connected family cut expenses in 2020, and the vast majority adopted at least one new financial habit.
“It feels good to know what your fellow veterans and military family members are doing, knowing a lot of them have built good financial habits through the pandemic,” said Clay Stackhouse, a retired Marine Corps colonel and regional outreach manager at NFCU. “The good news is they plan to stick to those habits. Maybe I’m being overly positive, but our members have looked at their credit and spending and become more responsible, and I think that’s a fantastic outcome.”
Becoming more responsible with money was a definite reality for Army veteran and current Fort Bliss Army spouse Mylinda DuRousseau. After working in Army Public Affairs, she got out in February 2020, fully expecting to land a new job. Then the lockdowns hit, with no jobs in sight. DuRousseau, her husband, and their daughter downsized to a condo to save money. They also stopped going to movie theaters and learned to perform esthetician services at home, among other cuts.
“I have discovered Walmart pickup can be a money-saver, because you only get what is on your list!” DuRousseau said. “But we both have a lot of uncertainty about post-pandemic life, because of all the change we are facing at once.”
That’s a fear that 81 percent of active-duty spouses share, according to the survey. Nicole Valley, another Fort Bliss spouse, still worries about sticking to a food budget for her six children.
“I am going to pick up a part-time job very close to home for nights and weekends so that we can get back to feeling like we can afford basics without stressing about every dollar,” she said.
Thankfully, Stackhouse says, people are furthering their financial education and learning to invest. DuRousseau and her husband, for example, have begun buying and selling stocks. Valley and her husband, meanwhile, saved their tax return and stimulus checks for the future.
It’s a future that is not all bleak, according to the survey. More than two-thirds plan to do just as much this summer as in previous years, including vacation.
“I don’t want to be too Pollyanna about it, but I think there’s a lot of good news you can carve out of this survey,” said Stackhouse. “The great news is that it’s never too late to get yourself a solid budget, stick to that budget, start to put your money away, and begin investing. There can be a financial plan you can apply that will yield positive results for all military families.”