My name is Robina Wahl, and I am a military wife and a veteran. Although I am fairly new to the Military Saves Campaign, the message to “Build Wealth, Not Debt” reassured me that my husband and I were on the right track and doing the right things.
I have always been pretty responsible when it comes to saving and living within my means, but I was not prepared for the unpredictable employment lifestyle of being a Reservist and military spouse.
While I was activated in the National Guard on ADOS (Active Duty for Operational Support), I put a portion of my income into an emergency fund every month because I was always unsure how long the employment would last. Well, the budget eventually called for a cut in a large portion of ADOS orders. We were faced with our income being cut in half and had to make a quick decision on how to proceed.
I thought a Bachelor’s Degree in the liberal science field would land me a decent job, but with the rocky job market, we eventually decided it was best for me to take the time and go back to school to learn a portable and marketable skill – accounting. This is where our saving habits became tremendously useful; however, we knew it still wasn’t going to be enough so we had to make changes. We made a commitment to living below our means by cutting all the non-essentials such as cable TV (Netflix is a great alternative!), my haircuts, eating out, and shopping only when necessary and always using coupons. We hardly ever go to the grocery store without a book of coupons. Instead of racking up more student loan debt, I used my resources as a veteran, spouse, and student to find scholarships and grants to pay for school. We also decided to consolidate our revolving debt into a personal loan, which saved us thousands of dollars in interest over time. Our debt payment is now a fixed monthly amount and we do not accrue any new debt by only buying things we can pay for with cash. While we did make some cuts to our lifestyle, we continued to save for what we thought really mattered: retirement and our children’s education. We continued to invest in our retirement by automatically putting a small portion into our individual ROTH IRAs and TSP as well as investing in our children’s future by automatically depositing money into their college 529 funds.
Our commitment of continuing to build wealth rather than accumulate debt eventually paid off. I was hired by a public accounting firm as a healthcare auditor. Even though we started making these commitments when I became a student, we have decided to continue living within our means by not buying anything we can’t pay for with cash, to continue saving for retirement and our children’s college, and most important, to rebuild our 3-6 month emergency fund. I also will still clip coupons because who wants to pay full price for things anyway?
I have learned there are so many resources out there to help people pay for education, and you don’t necessarily have to take out loans. While trying to get back on track isn’t always easy, it is as easy as making a commitment to living within or below your means and sticking to it.