I’m neither a financial advisor nor a financial wizard. I don’t have a degree in business, accounting, or anything requiring large amounts of math. The word “fiduciary” means nothing to me without a dictionary. But I do know calendars and I do love a plan; and today, my calendar is telling me that we’re roughly five months and some change away from April 15th, better known as your IRS Tax Deadline.
If you just had a sinking feeling and the need to sit down (or grab another handful of Halloween candy), you’re not alone.
Conversations about money and finances are intensely personal. When you talk about money, you aren’t just talking about dollars and change. Instead, you’re talking about family dynamics, values, spending history, debt and credit (good or bad), honest conversations (or lies told to keep the peace), plans for the future, and trust.
1. When I was single and living on my own, I had an appointment with my accounts every Friday. I was the college student balancing her checkbook in her dorm, and I had an itemized budget for each semester.
2. When we prepared for my husband’s first deployment, we had a binder that held all the things, including our financial information. I knew the important dates, numbers, passwords and deadlines, and if I had any questions, I knew where to get my answers on my own.
Whether you’re gearing up for a deployment, planning for a season of transition, or simply trying to figure out your holiday finances, it never hurts to be deployment binder ready. When you create that binder or file, you create a plan that you can execute, re-evaluate, and build on for years to come as your finances and needs change.
Before you get started with any kind of financial planning, it’s crucial to do this work with your spouse. Both of you will need to buy into any goals or plans for the future you might be saving toward (or paying off), and both of you should feel good about the decisions you make (that’s the only way they’ll stick).
With that being said, here are five tasks to get your finances deployment binder ready, whether you’ve got a deployment on the horizon or not.
To make any kind of plan for the future, you need to talk about where your finances are now, and what your history looks like.
This is the time to talk about your credit score (or lack of credit), debt, and any feelings finances might bring up. Maybe you grew up in a household where spending was normal, and credit card bills stacked up. Maybe you grew up without a lot of money, so any kind of debt makes you feel intense anxiety. If you explain where you come from, your reactions, hesitations, and inclinations will make more sense to your partner.
Once you’ve had this talk, go ahead and set an appointment in your calendars to get together to talk finances. You can make it a monthly meeting or a quarterly check-in.
This is a time to talk about plans you’ve made, how those plans are stacking up in real life, to pay your bills, and to readjust as needed. You can have this talk on the phone, via Skype, via email (watch what you put in print for security purposes), or in person. The important thing is that you keep talking.
Maybe you have a running budget, maybe you’re still looking for a budget that you can keep up with, or maybe it’s time for Budgeting 101. Wherever you are in your financial journey, there’s a budget for that.
How you budget will depend on what system makes the most sense for you and your partner.
- Do you do well with spreadsheets? Good news, there are all kinds of templates and software tools online.
- Do you hate spreadsheets, but keep a Bullet Journal? Good news, there’s a method for budgeting that aligns with the Bullet Journal system.
- Do you just want someone to give you a ratio to start with? You’re in luck, there’s a method called the 50/30/20. While it’s not a forever method, and doesn’t factor in things like debt, it can be a handy way to track and modify your spending.
- Do you wish there was an app for that? This is your day and age, my friend. There are tons of budgeting apps out in the world, and you can find the one that is right for you.
- Noting your net income after taxes (you have to know what you’re working with, and remember to take out those other deductions, like Social Security or a 401(k) if you have one).
- Identifying fixed expenses (like rent, bills, car payments) and variable expenses (groceries, gas, subscriptions, entertainment, etc.)
- Acknowledging how much you owe, what the interest rates are, and where you are in your payment plan (or if you need a new payment plan). All debts are included here—your mortgage, student loans, credit cards, car payment. If you owe it, write it down.
- Tracking (and modifying) your spending habits—your bank statement, credit card bill(s), and past Amazon orders are a good place to start tracking this data.
- Revising areas where you’ve set up (or need to set up) automatic payments. Make sure you’re listed under your most recent address, and make sure your payment information is up to date (debit and credit cards expire, and you can miss a payment accidentally).
- Examining how much you really use the services you pay for each month. Do you use any subscription services? Are there some that you use more than others? Consider where you can make cancellations and save some money.
- Considering where your money comes from. If you’re a salaried employee, you have a regular income, however, if you’re working as an independent contractor or freelancer, there are specific financial considerations you should make.
Once you have this information in hand, you can work to set short and long-term financial goals. These goals will then be reflected in your budget, and will dictate where you allocate funds to save, funds to spend, and when to pay down any debt you have.
Your budget is a template to revisit. Some months, you may find you spend more than others in different categories (e.g. I allocate more money toward gifts in February because most of my family has birthdays in March). The important thing is that your spending is mindful and part of a larger plan, rather than a big surprise when you open your account statement.
**If you’re planning for a deployment, make sure your budget includes lines for where that extra pay will go. You may also find that some of your variable expenses decrease (e.g. gas money, groceries) while others increase (trips to see family).
Depending on where you are in life, your financial team may look very small—or it could be due for an expansion. Three people you should consider include:
- A lawyer is useful for crucial items like a will (final will and living will) and power of attorney. Make sure you have legal protections in place for your money and who has access to it.
- Your insurance agent will help you to make sure all of your policies (home, auto, renters’, life, disability, etc.) are up to date. This is particularly important to revisit, as military families undergo so many address changes.
- You may or may not have a financial planner (I’m not here to tell you whether you need one or not). However, if you have someone who handles your investment portfolio, if you’re a landlord thanks to a house in another state, or are working toward retirement funds, you may have someone who occupies this role. Make sure you get together with them to talk about where you are, and how you can best meet your future goals. If you’re looking for a financial planner, check in with the resources offered at your installation or check out the National Association of Certified Financial Advisors.
Other quality resources to check out include Military OneSource and this list of tips from Forbes that specifically deals with the military, education, debt relief, and investments.
While you hope there isn’t ever an emergency, you always want to know where your important documents are. There’s nothing worse than being in a panic and having to find that piece of paper you stored in a Very Important Hiding Place that you can’t remember.
Get a binder with clear sleeves to store all of your crucial documents, and place that binder (and anything that won’t fit in it) in a fireproof document safe. If you ever have to evacuate due to flooding, make sure to put those documents in a waterproof bag and take them with you.
Documents of note to include are:
- Bank account information, passwords and pins required for use
- Any important files/receipts
- Wills (final and living)
- Powers of attorney
- Birth certificate(s)/Adoption records
- Burial and funeral instructions
- Copy of Emergency Data Card (DD Form 93)
- Court orders of documents (Divorce, Child Custody/Support)
- Social Security cards for all family members
- Marriage License
- Copy of Driver’s Licenses
- Tax Records (especially if you’re filing alone while your spouse is deployed—make sure you know the basics ins and outs)
- Passports/Citizenship Papers
It never fails. When you’re on your own, things have a way of going awry. Every time my husband has deployed, I’ve been in a fender bender. The only time the dog got fleas… you guessed it.
Call it Murphy’s Law, call it bad timing, call it whatever you want—things happen, and it helps to have the ability to pay for whatever issues arise. When you’re making your financial plans, make sure to budget for:
- Travel plans (to escape the issue, to recover from the issue, or just in general)
- Unexpected job loss
- Repairs (car, home) and replacements (appliances, etc.)
- Gifts (for some reason, weddings and baby showers seem to come in clusters and they can break your budget)
- General emergencies (have at least $500 to start with, and work toward being able to cover 6 months of expenses)
However, there is good news.
You don’t have to tackle all of these points at once. In fact, I’m going to demand that you don’t. That’s no way to live.
Even if you tackle only one of these per month, by the time April rolls around, you’ll be done.
You’ll have a budget, a plan to pay off debt, know where all of your documents are (and that they’re safe), and will be able to walk into tax season with a lot of the heavy lifting already over and done with. Money can be scary, but only if we don’t talk about it and bring it into the light of day.
Story by Emilie Duck