Life is a little easier when you have extra money – especially when you’re trying to reach a financial goal. It would be fantastic if extra dough just dropped in our laps, but I can’t think of a time when that happened to me or anyone I know. Which means we have to go out there and find it for ourselves.
The good news for the military community is, you have an advantage when it comes to saving money ... your military service. You can save extra money through services the military provides, military discounts businesses provide and resources available to only military Servicemembers. You just have to find them and take advantage of them to save money.
Here are seven hidden ways military members can save money to put back into their budget.
These days, cell phones are something many of us cannot live without, but they can take a huge chunk out of your monthly budget. The good news is, many cell phone companies such as AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon provide a discount to the armed forces community to help you save money. Many also allow active-duty members to suspend their cell service when they deploy.
Your provider not on this list? Check their website or give them a call to see if they have any special discounts available or would be willing to work something out.
A major selling point for military service is education benefits. The most popular being the GI Bill, which gives a qualified person 36-months of free education benefits. Depending on the GI Bill, you could also save money on housing and books. You can even get free training to become an entrepreneur!
Here are some other ways to reduce your education expenses through the Veteran’s Administration:
An apprenticeship is typically a job certification program that involves training for a set period of time with a specific employer or union. Most of the time, these programs provide a salary for the Veteran, as well as a job certificate or journeyman status at the end of training. As your skills increase, your salary will most likely increase also.
Some common examples of apprenticeships include: Union plumber, hotel manager, or firefighter.
Under the GI Bill, tests for certification in certain fields may be eligible for reimbursement. These could include certifications for jobs as a mechanic, medical technician, therapist, computer network engineer, and other professional.
They’ll even pay for tests if you fail them, so there’s no harm in trying.
Advancing your education sometimes requires costly testing. The VA will reimburse all mandatory fees for national admission tests, tests for college credit, tests that evaluate prior learning, and tests that provide an opportunity for credit at an institute of higher learning.
A few examples of reimbursable tests include: ACT, SAT, GRE, MCAT, among others.
If you’re a enrolled in a college degree, vocational, or professional program for at least three-quarter time, you could receive a VA work-study allowance. Be sure to check the eligibility requirements prior to enrolling though.
A lesser known way to save money on education when you’re in the military is through Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support, better known as DANTES. DANTES provides free education and career-planning to U.S. military members. One major way to save money through this program is college credit by examination.
No matter where you’re at in your education, be sure to check out all the resources that are available to the military, which include programs for spouses and family members. Not only can the VA help you save money on education, the right education could help increase your salary, too.
The typical American household spends over $7,023 per year on food, according to a survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which can rival a mortgage payment in some areas. While there’s no getting around needing to eat, you can control costs by shopping around and using resources such as coupons. And if you’re in the military, another great place to start your food savings is at the commissary.
The commissary is the grocery store on military installations. Not only can you save money compared to what you would spend at a civilian grocery store, but it’s also close to either home or work so you’ll save money on gas too!
If you aren’t sure how your grocery spending compares to the national averages, check out this resource from the USDA to help you set your food budget.
Don’t forget to ask for discounts at restaurants either! Many restaurants give a military discount and sometimes even free meals for the military. You just have to ask.
Sometimes a restaurant might not offer a discount but the manager has the discretion to discount the meal. One time, my husband and I went to eat at Fleming’s and they paid for my husband’s entire steak dinner because he had just returned from the middle east. Pretty cool right?
It’s often overlooked but a hidden way to save money on investing when you’re in the military is through the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP). The TSP is the government’s version of a 401(K), which is a way to save for your own retirement.
The money savings comes from the extremely lost cost of the TSP’s expenses. The expense ratio for the TSP is around .040% which is a cost of $.40 for every $1,000 you invest. That’s far less than the average for index funds of around .15%, according to a study by Morningstar, which would be $1.50 per $1,000 you invest. That means you can save plenty of money over the course of your working years using the TSP.
To start saving money with the TSP, go to MyPay to start making payroll deductions.
Since moving is what most military do for a living, the travel savings are legit. Yet many members aren’t aware of just how many ways they can save when they travel. Here are just a few of them:
Save some cash by staying in one of the many military installation hotels, AKA billeting.
There’s low-cost Department of Defense lodging all over the world too, including hotels, cabins, and campgrounds. When you’re planning your trip, try to add in military lodging where you can to further reduce the cost of your travel.
While you’re at it, don’t forget Space-Available travel – a privilege afforded you for your military service. Space-A flights allow you to take a military aircraft to an installation close to your desired destination, including during international travel.
While it’s low-cost to take one of these, you have to be flexible and prepared to make changes to your itinerary when Uncle Sam changes his. Be sure to budget in the cost of civilian hotels and airfare in case your Space-A plans fall through.
Whether you’re flying, renting a car or getting a hotel, there’s money to be saved in your travel budget. Again, you just have to ask or research. While most airlines offer discounts for active-duty Servicemembers, most hotels and rental car agencies offer military discounts to all military dependents.
Asking for a military discount is a great way to keep your travel expenses low. Plus, you might just get some added perks like upgrades when you show your military ID!
There are a ton of ways to save money in your entertainment budget. Military discounts can be anywhere from movie theaters to resorts to concerts. And if you’ve ever been skiing or to Disney, every penny counts when you’re spending that kind of money.
Check out the location's website or call to ask for military discounts. As is the case for many discounts, you often have to show your military ID in person to receive the discount. Another great resource for saving money on entertainment is Vettix.org. Vettix provides free event tickets for concerts and races to help military families.
The number one hidden way to find some extra cash each month as a military member is to simply ask for a military discount everywhere you go.
You never know who might have a military discount. So the lesson here is, always ask for a military discount and research free or discounted resources for the military community! Finding hidden ways to save money is only going to help your wallet now and in the future. There are many ways to save but sometimes you have to go look for them.
Lacey Langford is an Accredited Financial Counselor® and a candidate for CFP® certification with over ten years experience in financial counseling and coaching. She served four years in the U.S. Air Force and holds a B.S. in Business Administration with a concentration in finance as well as an Executive Certificate in Financial Planning from Duke University.
Photo by David Poe. This image depicts army combat veteran and avid community volunteer Kennedy Corichi in his den in El Paso, Texas.
The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.