Former Military: Transitioning from a Military Budget to a Civilian Budget

I was a military wife for several years. I was also a military daughter for my entire pre-married life, so I was used to a military budget. Nothing shocked me in the cultural reorganization of my life when my husband left the military like the changes in our budget. Not moving from Tidewater, Virginia where I’d spent my formative youth and entire adult life. Not moving to Utah where the attitudes and climate were so very different than the military towns I’d lived in forever. No, the one aspect that shocked me the most was the fact we had to pay rent every month, and we couldn’t shop at the package store, the commissary or the PX.

My daughter is on the cusp of her new life with her Army man. She will be a fourth generation military wife, and I’ve already prepared her for the changes she will see financially when she and her new husband move to his next duty station. Currently, he is the local Army recruiter for our small, Utah town, so she doesn’t have all of the benefits they will have when he is reassigned. Because the transition to civilian was so shocking to me, I thought I’d give her some advice about when she and her husband are no longer active duty and what that will mean for her.

But my daughter’s isn’t the only family that is facing change. With the number of people serving in the armed forces due to wars on several fronts, the impact that this transition has on families is increasing. My advice to these families is pretty simple.

Budget. Drill. And Budget Again.

While your spouse was serving on active duty, the one left behind can easily get used to certain benefits. Free medical care at installation medical facilities, for instance. Once you transition to civilian life again, this will no longer be the case. Even if you or your spouse finds a great job with excellent medical coverage, you’ll still be financially responsible for a percentage of those costs plus a deductible. Be sure to plan for those midnight trips to the Emergency Room when your child has a wicked fever. They won’t be as affordable as they used to be.

So how does a family conduct a Budget Drill?

The best advice I can give to any family making the transition back to civilian life is to start banking a percentage of your paycheck and live on the remainder. Since you won’t be able to shop at the commissary anymore, you can add at least 6% to your food budget each week. This is the sales tax you haven’t been paying, but you will be paying once your leave the base. On top of that 6%, I’d take out an additional 5% to make up for the increased civilian prices.

Will you need to pay rent of a higher amount once you’re living off base? If you’re already living off base, you paycheck has included a housing allowance, so the answer is probably a resounding, “Yes.” Civilian employers don’t pay you extra simply to provide for your housing.

Start saving now for your first and last month’s rent, plus a security deposit in an amount usually equal to one month’s rent. By putting those funds away, you’ll not only be training yourself to live on less income (something that may be crucial if you have any trouble finding work in today’s downtrodden job market), but you’ll have one less financial burden to worry about when you do exit the military and need to find a place to live.

If you’ve made the decision to leave the military for one reason or another, planning and preparation can make the transition easier, and save you the same culture shock I experienced not so very long ago.

Tennille Webster is the great-granddaughter, granddaughter, daughter, former spouse, mother, sister and cousin to proud Soldier and Sailors who have sacrificed for our country. She is incredibly proud of all of them.

Sources: Personal Experience

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