Money issues tend to be a major source of stress for many Americans, and military families are no exception. Service Members identify financial issues as one of their top concerns. Poor money-management skills and lack of financial resources can lead to stress that spills over into your relationships, wearing you down. The good news is, smart spending and saving can help you cope with stress and feel more in control. Good saving habits, in particular, can help reduce financial unpredictability—and help lower your stress.
Money, stress, and your health
Financial stress can increase your risk of poor health and negatively impact your productivity and mood. People who report high debt (compared to assets) also are likely to feel greater levels of mental stress and depression. They tend to have higher blood pressure too. Owing debts other than your mortgage might be particularly stressful, especially if you have credit card debt, personal loans, and more. On the flip side, saving money is associated with better mental health and well-being.
Money, stress, and your relationships
Stress over money can affect your relationships too. Finances are one of the top issues that lead to frequent disagreements among couples. And couples who are under financial stress are more likely to be hostile and aggressive with each other and less secure and happy in their relationships. If one or both partners value materialism and purchase expensive items, this can lead to financial strain, which can impact your ability to save for retirement.
Your spending and saving habits are likely to be influenced by the company you keep. Overspending on credit cards is linked to what your friends value and how (or how you believe) they financially handle themselves. If your friends overspend and think it’s okay, you’re more likely to as well. But what you might be neglecting to consider is the long-term consequences of carrying that debt.
Tips to get ahead
The key to reducing expenses in order to save is relatively easy: Spend less. Many people, however, have a hard time cutting back on their spending. So it’s important to stick to a budget that can help keep things on track. Saving money takes effort, but it’s worth it for your financial future. Try these tactics to get ahead.
- Track your spending daily. Create a budget and use it to track what comes in (income), what goes out (expenses), and what’s left over (your savings) each month. It takes some effort in the beginning to set up a budget, but once it’s done, it’s easy to update. And make a financial plan for you and your family to help create financial security for every stage of life.
- Reduce some of your spending. Once you have a solid understanding of your spending habits, it’s time to act! Simple and small changes can really add up. For example, before making a purchase, ask if the item will be on sale soon. Also, use coupons, buy in bulk (check the price per unit to find the least expensive option), and evaluate your subscriptions (for music, movies, etc.).
- Figure out a plan for paying off your debts. There are several strategies to managing debt; some involving professional help and others you can do yourself. For example, consider calling your creditors and letting them know you might be late or miss a payment. Also, consider paying down those debts with the highest interest rates first.
- Plan a family meeting. Discuss your financial dreams, how you and your partner will plan to make money decisions, and who will manage money matters in your family. Service Members don’t always have access to accounts, banking institutions, or bills while on duty or when deployed. Even if one of you takes charge, consider having regular check-ins so you’re both on the same page about your finances.
- Set up an emergency fund. Ideally, you want to have at least 6 months’ worth of your income to cover total monthly expenses or for emergencies. But it can take time to save that much, especially when small emergencies inevitably pop up along the way. Set small goals at first, such saving a little bit (more) each month. Then, slowly ramp up as you’re able. Remember: Focus on saving consistently, even if it’s not as much as you’d like.
- Check your credit once a year. Knowing your credit history and credit score can help you spot identity theft and motivate you to stay (or become) more responsible.
Use your resources
Military OneSource offers free financial counseling in person, over the phone, and through video chat. Some Military Family Life Counselors offer free personal financial management (PFM) services too. They’re also familiar with the financial challenges of military life. Most banks offer tips on how to save and manage debt on their websites, and your local branch might offer free financial seminars as well.