By Amanda Mitchell, AFC® Candidate
One of the greatest gifts the crazy life of being a military spouse has given me is resiliency. Over the years, I have learned to have a backup plan for every situation, sometimes several backup plans. There is no doubt that the last thirteen or so months have been a challenge for us all, but seeing past hard times and discovering what I can them is a skill I will never take for granted. So, as we come to a close to the first quarter of 2021, I took some time to reflect upon the last few months, and here is what I have learned:
- Eating at Home More Isn’t All That Bad
Who knew that one of the hardest parts of being an adult was figuring out what to feed yourself and your family every day? I have a hectic schedule, and picking up dinner made my life a lot easier. Getting take-out was my “budget kryptonite.” I did not have to plan, didn’t have to get groceries, what was not to love? However, when the pandemic hit here in Germany, everything shut down. Even getting take-out was not an option for a while. With my easy-way-out no longer being an option and my workload drastically compounded with my children’s virtual learning, I was forced to find quick and easy meal options. I ended up falling in love with my crockpot and pressure cooker again. I realized that I could throw together a grocery list in about the same amount of time it took me to go pick up my take-out order, but I would be set for more than just one meal. I had lunch the next day too! Now I still love supporting local businesses and getting take-out, but now it is more of a treat than my backup, and I am no longer breaking my food budget. Here are some more tips to help you stretch your food budget:
- Make larger recipes, so you have enough for more than one meal.
- Make versatile things that you can make into more than one recipe. One of my favorite things to make is a large batch of shredded chicken. You can put it on salads, quesadillas, tacos, put BBQ sauce on it… Your options are truly endless, and you save a ton of time having it ready to go. Here are two of my favorite shredded chicken recipes:
Learn to reinvent your leftovers. You know how you turn Thanksgiving leftovers into the most delicious sandwiches? Use that same concept with your everyday leftovers.
- Emergency Funds Should Not be Considered Optional
While many service members felt like they were better prepared for the pandemic due to their training, it still caught many of us off guard. For me, seeing my friends and family struggle not only financially but psychologically because of lost wages drove home the importance of an emergency fund. Having an adequate emergency fund should be one of your top financial priorities because:
- It prevents unexpected events from becoming catastrophic
- It gives you peace of mind because you know you are prepared.
- It will decrease stress surrounding your finances because you know you have a safety net.
For more information about how to start an emergency fund, visit these helpful sites:
- Save for Emergencies
- How to Start Saving for Your Emergency Fund
- Building a Solid Emergency Fund and Creating Financial Readiness
- The True Definition of an Essential Purchase
During the strict lockdown, our area was only able to leave our homes for essential things. Grocery shopping and medical needs were among the very short list of reasons it was acceptable to leave your home. I realized the true difference between a want and a need. I found myself asking myself if I really needed what I was buying and if it warranted a trip out of my home. Most times, I could wait just a little longer. Now I am not advocating for doing away with things that bring you joy, like a trip to Starbucks or treating yourself, just that maybe they can wait a bit longer until you accomplish more critical financial goals, such as your emergency fund. Stopping to ask yourself if something is truly essential before you buy is a great tactic to prevent yourself from impulse buying. Visit Military Saves for more information on avoiding impulse buying.
- You Don’t Have to Spend Money to Spend Quality Time with Your Family
Being homebound made families get creative with how they spend quality time together and highlighted the worth of less expensive options. Here are some great ideas for things to do that are gentle on your budget:
- Nature scavenger hunts
- Good old fashioned board games
- Taking walks together
- *Pro-Tip* Get kids excited to go for a walk while playing games that reward their movement. Pokémon Go was a huge lifesaver for my kids and me during the lockdown.
- At home movie nights
- *Pro-Tip* My kids loved when we would make a themed dinner with our movie. For example, when we watched the new “Lady and the Tramp” movie, we made spaghetti and meatballs.
- Make your own sundaes together
- Do some baking
These alternatives made me see that my kids didn’t need me to spend large amounts of money on them to make them happy. With any luck, my kids won’t remember any of the pandemic inconveniences like being unable to be with their friends or go out to a movie. Instead, they will hopefully remember the hours we spent hunting down Pokémon or the time I let them make an ice cream tower.
- Realizing What is Important to You
Significant life events have this strange way of redirecting our focus to things that are the most important. For my family, it brought us closer together. When the operational tempo came to a screeching halt, my husband was home more than he ever has been in his military career. It was amazing having him home and reconnecting in a way that wouldn’t have otherwise been possible. Then after losing my father-in-law to COVID, the preciousness of life and the time we have left with our kids came front and center. We both realized that only taking leave during Christmas or a PCS would not cut it for us anymore. We needed time to unplug, be together more, and make memories. We then decided that we needed to change our financial goals to include saving for family vacations or to fund trips to see our own families more. Even though we are all not out of the woods yet with the pandemic, we are planning where we want to go and optimistically looking toward the future.
While everyone might not have experienced an epiphany during the lockdown, for me, a lot of learning happened. I think that it is crucial to search for the good things that came out of difficult times. I learned ways to cut spending in my grocery and entertainment portions of my budget while increasing my overall quality of life. These five lessons are things that will stay with me long after the pandemic is gone, and I am better for it. Even though these lessons may not be applicable for everyone, I encourage you to do some reflecting of your own and think about what you have learned through hard times. What lessons can you use to help you accomplish your future goals? What is most important to you? Where can you spend your money that will increase your overall quality of life? Adjust your financial goals to accomplish what is important to you because life is precious, and you should enjoy every second of it.