Separation is a constant fixture of military life. Whether it’s a deployment, extended temporary duty or advanced training, the requirements of a service member’s career lead families to adapt to long periods apart for months or even years. Being away from your loved ones never gets easy — my husband used to have a financial spreadsheet where he tracked the break-even point when he would have been with our daughters as many days as he had been away from them.
A little bit of preparation can ease a lot of the emotional and financial strain that comes from operating a household from two geographic points. Here are three ways to plan at all phases of the deployment process:
Before: Have a plan
Before your service member leaves, it’s important to have a financial plan in place. Hopefully, you already established a spending plan, but if you don’t, now is an ideal time to try and build one. It’s vital to make sure that each person has a clear notion of who will be paying the bills, what accounts they will be coming from and when they’re due.
It’s also a good idea to use direct deposit and automate bill paying whenever possible. The person who is managing finances back home should have a valid power of attorney.
See if any of the provisions of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act apply to you. Originally designed to reduce interest rates on loans taken out prior to active duty, many lenders will also lower rates for active duty service members who deploy. It never hurts to ask.
Be familiar with any special pay or entitlements that may apply to your situation.
Now is also a good time to discuss deployment goals that you can work toward together. For example, during my husband’s second deployment we made paying off our auto loan a goal. We threw any extra money we had toward the principal, and after 12 months, we paid off the note.
During: Communication is key
Keep open lines of communication, and I don’t mean just sending the occasional email or direct message. Monitor joint bank accounts and credit cards closely.
This isn’t about trust: you will each need to know when the other one is accessing accounts, otherwise you may not recognize suspicious activity or identity theft. And if both of you are using the account without communicating that fact, there’s a chance you may overdraw the account.
Take advantage of the Savings Deposit Program, which guarantees a 10% interest rate on deposits of up to $10,000. You won’t find a return on investment like that anywhere else.
Consider contributing to the Roth TSP while deployed to a combat zone. Because pay is tax free, your contributions, growth and eventual withdrawals will all be tax free!
After: Stick to the plan
Even though you tell yourself you won’t get accustomed to the extra pay and entitlements that deployments bring, you can’t help it, you still do.
Try not to make rash purchases in the first few days after reuniting. Your pay hasn’t settled down to its “normal” level and may not do so for weeks. Celebrate, for sure, but then get back to your routine.
Family separations are an inevitable part of the military landscape. Deployments can be difficult, but with proper preparation and some planning, you can use the time to set and achieve financial goals.Read comments