Growing up, I hardly knew anyone whose parents were in the military. We didn’t live in an area with a large military presence, so it was understandable. After moving to Maryland as an adult, though, a mere handful of miles away from Fort Meade, I found myself living in an area with a large active and retired military population.
I once worked at a defense contractor that hired a lot of retired military. I also worked with people who were reservists. Being around these individuals (as well as their spouses, who themselves are also often active or retired military) taught me a lot about how to be more cost-effective in my own life.
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One thing that often stands out is how military service members are often very disciplined and practical. Many of the lessons I’ve learned from them don’t rely on that discipline; they’re simply practical ideas that work for anyone. It’s often about awareness, in fact. And, if you think they’re all serious and no fun, trust me, they know how to have fun on a budget.
Lesson No. 1: Things Should Serve Multiple Purposes
You only have so much space when on duty, so it’s natural to want to maximize your space as much as possible. To accomplish this, everything needs its purpose — and often they have two or three. For example, let’s say you’re really into digital books. Instead of purchasing a separate reader, download an app to your phone to read those books. This way, you’re not spending money on a tablet you don’t need and having it take up space when it can only do one job.
Lesson No. 2: Sharing Is Key
Limited resources also mean items get shared. Much like you’d bring your cooler to an afternoon barbecue to share beverages with your friends, items like chairs, pop-up tents, tables and more are communal. In a group of friends, you may only have one or two pop-up tents. Not everyone will have one, but since the group socializes together, you only need one or two among all the families. This saves space for other resources the group may need.
When you have to carry everything with you, you only take the essentials, and the essentials often play many roles and for many people.
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Lesson No. 3: Respect Limited Resources
Active and retired military get access to quite a few free or discounted items but it may only be on a certain schedule. If you get a discounted tube of toothpaste every month, but only once a month, you need to make it last. You don’t want to waste it just because it was discounted.
Further, service men and women get access to tax-free shopping at the commissary on base. If something is on sale, they don’t buy too much of it, unless they need it. It’s cheaper, yes, but it still costs money.
It’s important to understand that it’s beneficial to make your limited resources last, even if the personal cost was minimal. Waste not, want not.
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Lesson No. 4: Evaluate Needs and Wants
Unfortunately, military pay is not as high as you’d expect, given what they do for us and our country. Military spouses and their families being on the food stamp program is not rare. When you’re forced to live with the bare essentials, you get a very clear idea of the difference between a need and a want, because being frugal is not a choice.
If you want to save money or make a limited budget stretch as far as possible, it’s crucial that you only spend money on your needs. From time to time, it’s OK to spend on your wants, yes, but making it a daily practice could lead to ruin.
Though we’re not all going to serve our country or be in situations that force us to do these things, this is valuable advice for anyone. These lessons will help you budget and manage your finances that much better. Try following them and see how much more money you’ll have left in the bank at the end of each month. My guess is that you’ll have yet another reason to thank the amazing military folks out there for their service.
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