Category Archives: Money + Budget

Couponing Made (Somewhat) Easy!

Four years ago, my husband and I PCS’d for the…’I-don’t-even-know-which’ time. We were newly married, and I had to quit my job to move across the country, but our money situation was alright. However, after 6 months of bad luck in the job hunt, I decided to go back to school. I started looking for every and any way to save money. That’s when I began couponing.

To start, no, I don’t buy items in extreme amounts. I don’t have a stock pile of 100 bottles of shampoo and 200 toothbrushes sitting around. Buying in bulk isn’t practical for military spouses who move every year and a half and are always lacking storage space. But I’m not going to lie, couponing takes time and it isn’t always fun. But I can help make it somewhat easier for you:

1-12-clipping-coupons

Online Coupons
The first thing any couponer will need is a printer. Printers are fairly inexpensive and are less than $100 at your base Exchange, or online. Printable coupons are one of the most popular coupons available. The easiest printable coupon site to use is Coupons.com, and I like Lozo because it’s the most comprehensive. For foods that are organic or non-GMO, there are sites like Common Kindness (which donates to your favorite non-profit each time you redeem a coupon!), and Mambo Sprouts.

Printable coupons give you the biggest variety of products because there are so many out there. But it is definitely more time consuming to sift through the coupons you don’t want just to find the ones you do want. Once you “clip” the coupons, print them out and cut. To save some time, enlist help for cutting coupons–I use my husband. I hear kids also work well!

Electronic or digital coupons are also becoming more and more popular. For military families, one of the best resources is the Commissary Rewards Card. Grab a card at the Commissary and sign up online! This is the easiest way to save money at the Commissary because you can go online and clip all of their coupons and just scan your rewards card at the checkout. The website also gives you options to send your coupons via e-mail, or download their mobile app so you can see what coupons you have while you’re shopping.

Many grocery stores offer digital store coupons. If you regularly shop at Safeway, Vons, Shaw’s, Wal-Mart, or any other store, check online to see if they offer additional savings. Typically, all that is required to redeem them is a valid email address. Once registered, you simply go to their website, clip coupons, and punch in your phone number at the checkout.

In-Store Coupons
In-store coupons are ones you’ll find at the grocery store, or placed on the products themselves by the manufacturer. For coupons placed by your local military installation, be aware that most can only be used on base either at the Commissary or the Exchange. Even though the Commissary and Exchange sell the same items on the same military base, they do not sell them for the same price. Check to see which one sells items at a lower cost. In my experience, the price is almost always at the Commissary. If you see coupons around the store, and you’re not buying that product on that day, grab one and put it in your coupon pile for the next trip.

1-12-service-members-coupons-commissary

Coupon Books
The last type of coupons to look out for are in the coupon books. These include ones that come through the mail such as redplum, SmartSource, and Proctor & Gamble, or that you find by the door at the Commissary. So when you get your mail and it looks like a bunch of sales flyers, STOP! That is usually where the redplum coupon book is hiding. You can usually find coupon book in your local Sunday newspaper, as well.

Tips for couponing
Overseas military families can use coupons on base that have expired up to 6 months after the expiration date. If you have clipped coupons you aren’t going to use, think about donating them to military families in overseas locations by participating in the Troopons®–Coupons for Troops program.

You will save more money on non-food items, so be more diligent about finding coupons for things like paper products, cleaning supplies, make-up, shampoo, razors, and deodorant.

The commissary will NOT double coupons. If you have clipped it on your rewards card, you cannot use a second paper coupon along with it.

Most civilian grocery stores WILL double coupons. Check your local grocery store to see their coupon policy.

Even though I hate not using a coupon, coupons do not always make a product the best deal. Always check to see if there is a better deal with similar products.

Get a second e-mail address! Whenever you need to “sign-up” on a product’s website in order to receive their coupon, they will relentlessly hound you with e-mails. Get a second e-mail account to give all of those websites so your personal account isn’t cluttered with junk mail.

These tips have helped my family, and with a little patience and persistence, I think they’ll benefit your family, too!

Do you have some must-share couponing tips and tricks? Leave a comment and share the wealth!

Posted by Katie Swogger, military spouse and NMFA Volunteer

Military Money Matters: 5 Simple Financial Goals for the New Year

Ringing in the New Year is a great time to set financial goals and reflect on how you managed your money last year. It’s not always a “fun” task, but it’s a vital one. This year, relax and have a “financial readiness” date night to focus on a few specific goals for 2017. Here are a few to get you started:

Spend Less: We all have essential monthly expenses we focus on, like rent, mortgages, car payments, groceries, child care, and others. But, how much are we spending on these items? If your budget requires more than 50% spending in this category, it’s time to set a goal to reduce these expenses. How do we make that happen when some of these expenses are “fixed?” Clip more grocery coupons, turn your thermostat down a few degrees to lower the bill, ask for discounts on cell phone plans, and bring your lunch to work. These small changes add up, and over time, can bring these regular expenses below that 50% mark!

Save More: Once we’ve reviewed our expenses, the next step is to set a goal to save more. Often times, we look at saving money in a pretty unorganized way–like simply committing to put an extra $50 in the bank here and there. But this often yields unorganized results. So, take a look at your budget and commit to a monthly or bi-monthly savings goal that works for you and your family. Don’t set a goal that’s too strict or large to stick to, simply focus on one that works within your budget and schedule regular automatic transfers from your checking account into the retirement or savings account you select. If you don’t see it, you’re much less likely to spend it!

12-14-saving-money-rolls

Pay Down Debt: Most of us have a variety of debt, like student loans, car loans and credit-card balances. Don’t get overwhelmed as you make your monthly payments on these, and commit to a new debt payment goal for 2017. Simply start with the debt payment with the highest interest rate first. Attacking that will pay dividends because it will save you precious dollars in interest each month!

Set Aside Money for Emergencies: This goal sounds straight forward, but many of us fail to plan for flat tires, broken water heaters, and larger, unplanned emergencies. Commit to setting aside money for emergencies each month and aim for a cash reserve that covers three to six months of expenses. It sounds like a large chunk of change now, but if you chip away at it by saving money each paycheck, it will add up quickly!

Create a Budget and Stick to it: Navigating your finances without a budget is like finding your way to a new duty station without a GPS. Prevent a series of financial wrong turns by creating a financial roadmap that works for you. Analyzing every penny isn’t necessary, so just focus on essential spending (housing, groceries, etc.), savings, and debt reduction. That’ll give you a great start and over the course of the year you’ll build some confidence in your budgeting savvy too!

No matter where 2017 takes you, your financial goals should come along, so taking the time to create ones that work for you is truly priceless!

Are you planning to tackle your finances in 2017? What tips do you use?

meredithPosted by Meredith M. Lozar MHR, AFC, Youth Initiatives Director

 

“Tis the Season to Spend Money, fa, la, la, la la…”

In case you missed it, the holiday season is upon us! Cue the cookies, carols, decorations, and, unfortunately, the long list of family and friends to buy gifts for. If you are like me, the idea of spending hundreds of dollars for just one day might bring on a sudden onset of hives. But, save the antihistamine and follow a few key tips to keep your holiday spending in check and maybe even have enough left over for a trip to the Class Six before the in-laws arrive!

According to the National Retail Federation’s 2016 study, American consumers plan to spend an average $935.58 during the holiday shopping season this year. However, that just covers gifts and not the typical other costs such as travel, parties, and other indulgences (like a Venti peppermint mocha with lots of whipped cream).

11-16-military-money-matters-holiday-spending

Here are a few ideas to come out debt-free in the New Year!

  1. Set limits and budget based on your own finances. Now is not the time to keep up with the Jones’. True friends and family will understand that your financial security is more important than a $300 game system. To help visualize your own holiday budget, check out this free calculator.
  2. Santa brings gifts so you don’t have to. Parents, kids, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbors, hair-dresser, babysitter, post man, bus driver, oh my! The list goes on and on! Or, does it have to? Is it really necessary to provide gifts for every single person and end up in debt in the process? Perhaps your family will consider drawing names; they may be struggling with holiday spending too!
  3. Shop Smarter. Spread your shopping throughout the year and not just during the peak season (we keep an Excel sheet of what gifts were bought so that we won’t forget). Look for special “savings days” at your favorite retail stores. Use coupons from your newspaper, online or in-store. At the store, use your phone to see if you can get a better price elsewhere. If your favorite store has a price-match policy, you can cash in on savings right there. FYI, the base/post exchange will price-match AND you won’t pay tax (see store for exclusions). Plan your shopping trips by making a list and sticking to it to avoid impulse spending. Buying gift cards? Watch for fees or terms of usage that could erode the value of the gift. Buy directly from the store as bulk gift cards tend to be targets for scammers. Coordinate family gifts for the kids, so you don’t have to do it all yourself.
  4. Go online. Search for coupon codes. Take advantage of free shipping with coupon codes. Speaking of free shipping, December 16 is free shipping day at participating retailers. So make sure to ask if the store you’re shopping will honor that savings. What’s better than free shipping is that the gift is sent directly to your loved one! It will save on wrapping paper and shipping costs. But, you might want to let them know that a gift is on the way so that they can keep an eye out for it and not open it until the big day.
  5. Channel your inner Martha Stewart. Pinterest has TONS of great DIY tutorials that would be sure to please your loved ones. Homemade shows that you took the time to really create something that they would enjoy.
  6. Shop small. Support small businesses to include your fellow military spouses. Watch out for Small Business Saturday that comes the day after Black Friday for even more savings.
  7. Earn some green with credit card rewards. Utilize your credit card for extra rewards during the holiday season. Just remember to stick to your budget and pay the bill on time! Our family saves our rewards for the year and exchange them for cash and gift cards for travel and other unexpected expenses used for the holidays.
  8. Put aside money throughout the year. See if you can send automatic saving withdrawals to a separate savings account each month. Most accounts with online management will let you start a separate account with no changes or fees. Take your budget and divide it by 12. Save that money and, next year, you will be more than prepared to tackle holiday spending!

What holiday shopping tips do you swear by? Share them with us!

robyn_headshotPosted by Robyn Alama Mroszczyk, AFC, NMFA Volunteer

Dear President-Elect Trump,

dear-trump_550x350

On November 8, 2016, Americans took to the polls to cast their votes in what many call as historic Presidential election. As results trickled in Tuesday evening, candidates Donald J. Trump and Hillary Rodham Clinton were neck in neck for the White House.

After a long, sometimes catty and upsetting year watching the campaigns unfold, Americans have chosen Donald Trump to be the 45th President-Elect of the United States of America.

Now that the votes are in, military families have some things they want President-Elect Trump to know.

See what they’re concerned about, and read the letter to President-Elect Trump.

Military Money Matters: 3 Resources to Encourage Financial Readiness

Did you attend the 2016 annual Association of the United States Army (AUSA) Meeting & Exposition? I had the chance to be there and I thought the family forums were a great way to learn about resources and topics of concern for service members and their families.

Preparing for a Life in or Outside the Army through Financial Readiness, Military Spouse Employment and Entrepreneurship” was a forum where various speakers touched on the importance of financial readiness within the Army.  There are three key resources that I would like to share with you, regardless of your branch:

10-17-mil-money-matters

  • Command Your Cash Microlearning Center

The USAA Educational Foundation’s simple purpose is to lead and inspire actions that improve the financial readiness for the military and local community. The Command Your Cash Microlearning Center consists of tools, tips and tactics to help military members develop sound financial habits and take control of their personal finances. These courses can be used to support your financial decision making and improvement by taking one or all four of the following areas: build your credit, manage your debt, save your money, and control your spending. Sign up and get started and make sure to follow them on social media and use #CommandYourCash to share what you have learned.

  • Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB) Financial Coaches

CFPB launched 60 financial coaches throughout Department of Labor job centers and more than two dozen non-profit social services providers across the country to provide one-on-one coaching to help service members and their families plan for financial success. These financial coaches are free, trusted and certified AFCPE professionals ready to help your military family. Check out a list of financial coaching delivery sites, or visit the CFPB website for more information. A telecoaching function has been added for those service members and their families that are not near any of these centers. You can also look into On Demand Virtual training forums and tools through the CFPB website.

  • 2018 Blended Retirement System

Mr. Steve Hansen from Army G-1 briefly spoke about the blended retirement system that will take effect January 1, 2018. Those currently serving will have the choice to opt into the system, and there will be online training and resources uploaded to the Joint Knowledge Online system, as well as one-to-one opportunities if the service member still has questions and/or concerns. It is imperative more, now than ever, to begin planning whether it is beneficial for the service member of 12 years or less to opt into the new system. Has your family started planning for retirement?

Take this information and tackle your own financial challenges and turn them into successes. Are you educating yourself in the upcoming retirement changes and the long term positive affects it can have in your retirement portfolio? There is still time.

Share with us if you have used any of these programs already and how they have helped you and your family!

cynthia-gPosted by Cynthia Giesecke, NMFA Volunteer and 2012 Military Spouse Fellow candidate for the Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education (AFCPE) and part of the NMFA “Military Family Matters” blog team

Pay With Your Phone: Trade in Your Leather Wallet for a Virtual One

Mobile pay is the new “it” thing. But if you’re skeptical, you’re not alone. Research shows 46% of consumers have concerns about the security of paying with their mobile device. So what are the facts, and is it safe?

Apple was one of the first to develop the mobile pay system technology and now Android, Samsung, retailers, credit cards, and your bank are even getting in on the action. Check out these frequently asked questions and see if it’s time for you to trade in your leather wallet for a virtual one!

9-13-pay-with-your-mobile-phone

How do I use mobile pay?
To use, you simply hover your phone over the payment terminal where you’re purchasing goods or services, and verify the transaction on your phone. And unfortunately that means, for now, paying at the pump with your phone is out. To use mobile pay, your phone must be associated with an account at AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, or Verizon Wireless. In addition, Android Pay will only work on devices that run the KitKat version of the operating system. Apple Pay is available on iPhone 6 and newer, or the Apple Watch.

Who’s doing what?
Retailers are also getting in on the action. The Starbucks app allows customers to load money onto a digital gift card and to pre-order so your coffee is ready when you arrive at your local Starbucks (how awesome!). The Paypal app allows you to also pre-order and pay for food at participating restaurants.

Banks, credit unions, and credit cards are beginning to utilize the QR code as means to pay. Chase Pay is working on technology that will allow you take a picture of your receipt to pay the bill.

Another program incorporating mobile pay is CurrentC.  Many large retailers are collaborating on this project, like BestBuy, Target, WalMart, Kohl’s, Shell, and Wendy’s, just to name a few. This program allows you to save all your store loyalty cards and coupons electronically in one place.

Is all this mobile pay safe to use?
Risk and security experts suggest protecting your device by locking it when not in use, using a password or fingerprint access point, and only utilizing secure Wi-Fi connections that require a password. The Apple Pay, Android Pay, and Samsung Pay systems all use a Tokenization system to protect you and the transaction. This means your real credit card numbers are never associated with the sale, thus making the transaction more secure. Many in the industry feel mobile pay is safer than using the microchip credit cards, because those cards still contain your credit card number on the front.

Faster than we know it, we’ll all be using virtual wallets, but that doesn’t mean you have to be in the dark about whether your personally identifiable information is secure. Try it out for yourself and let us know what you think!

Do you use any of these mobile pay options? Are they more convenient? Share your experience in the comments! 

Posted by Carla MacDonald, NMFA Volunteer

Preparing our Military Kid (and Our Bank Accounts) for College

This month, my family will reach a milestone: our last first day of school with two kids at home. Although it’s hard for me to believe, our oldest will be a senior in high school and this time next year we will (hopefully) be preparing to send him off to college. Like rising seniors across the country, he is already busy completing the Common Application, working on his essay, and researching colleges. Meanwhile, his dad and I are trying to figure out how to pay for it.

It’s not that we haven’t saved for our kids’ college education – we have. In fact, we’ve been contributing to our state 529 plan for years and have accumulated what we thought was a good-sized nest egg for each of our two kids. It’s just that college costs are going up faster than we can save. According to the College Board, a “moderate” budget at a private college averages $47,831 annually. Multiply that by four years and two kids and you arrive at a figure that exceeds some people’s mortgages.

9-1-college-move-in-day

Luckily for us and other families, there are options to make college more affordable. One is to attend school in a state where we qualify for in-state tuition. Because my husband is still active duty, our kids will be eligible for in-state tuition in the state where he is stationed, as well as the state where we maintain our permanent residence. In-state tuition at public colleges is often less than half of what is charged at private schools, making it a great option for many families.

Many military families are also able to use the Post-9/11 GI Bill to help pay for their kids’ college tuition. The GI Bill provides up to 36 months’ tuition at the in-state rate, as well as a stipend to cover housing and books. It’s an incredibly valuable benefit that has the added bonus of being transferable to a spouse and/or kids. There are strict rules covering transferability, so it’s important to read the fine print and make sure you meet all the requirements. Most significantly, the service member must have been in the military for at least 6 years before transferring the benefit and must agree to serve an additional 4 years. Service members can transfer all or part of the benefit and can divide the benefit among a spouse and children. Just remember the service member cannot transfer the benefit after leaving the military and transferring the benefit does incur an additional service commitment.

If you are using the GI Bill to pay for your child’s education, it’s important to know it covers tuition at the in-state rate. That’s great if your child is attending a state school in a state where you qualify for in-state tuition. If not, you may be in for some sticker shock. My son, at one point, considered applying to a school in North Carolina. However, the GI Bill will only cover the in-state tuition rate, leaving us to cover the difference between the much higher out-of-state rate – in our case, that would have amounted to more than $25,000!

If your child’s heart is set on an out-of-state or private school and you are using the Post-9/11 GI Bill, you should know about the Yellow Ribbon Program. Under the Yellow Ribbon program, schools award additional funds to help offset the difference between tuition and what the GI Bill will pay. Those funds are matched by the VA. Not every school participates in the Yellow Ribbon program, and the number of awards and the amount awarded varies by school.

9-1-college-student

In addition, the Veterans’ Access, Choice and Accountability (Choice) Act, passed in 2014, mandated that public colleges and universities charge in-state tuition to “covered individuals” using the Post-9/11 GI Bill. However, the law defines “covered individual” as a veteran or dependent using the benefit within three years of the veteran leaving the military. That means currently serving families are not covered by this law; nor are those using their GI Bill benefits more than three years after transitioning out of the military.

Of course, there are other ways to make college more affordable. Your child may be eligible for loans or grants from his or her college. In order to be considered for financial aid, you must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Even if you think your student will not qualify for financial aid, experts advise completing and submitting the FAFSA.

Finally, there are dozens of scholarships available to military kids heading to college. Many local spouses’ clubs offer scholarships. The Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) operates the Scholarships for Military Children Program, which awards hundreds of grants annually. You can find a partial list of scholarships available for military children at Military OneSource. While the amounts of individual scholarships may seem small, they add up quickly and every little bit helps!

The process of applying to (and paying for) college can be overwhelming at times, at least to this stressed-out mom! There are so many details to manage and forms to fill out. With luck and a little perseverance, though, I’m hopeful the effort will pay off and my son will be able to attend the college of his choice.

Have you sent your military kid to college? How is your family paying for it? Share your stories and tips below!

eileenPosted by Eileen Huck, Government Relations Deputy Director