Another Tuesday, another kids-eat-free night at the local pizza place.
My young boys were building their own pizzas at the table while I sipped a local craft brew (at happy hour prices). I must have looked funny with my big digital SLR camera, taking so many pictures of two kids sticking cheese, pepperoni, and olives on raw pizza dough.
My wife was on an aircraft carrier, literally on the other side of the world, gone for months already. I brought along the camera to show her we were having fun, and how fast the boys were growing.
Pizza night had become one of our deployment rituals. Sometimes we went to the burger place instead. It was a change of pace, something to break up the chicken nuggets/hot dogs routine. It was a splurge to eat out so often, but I considered it a good investment for my sanity.
By definition, a splurge is something you wouldn’t normally spend money on. It’s an indulgent expense, usually for yourself. Many families find out they can save a whole lot of money during a deployment, one of the upsides of this perennially challenging part of military life.
Splurges to keep the blues away
Deployment is a challenging time for the family at home. Besides worrying about your service member, gone for who knows how long, the routine at home can become a slog. The occasional splurge might be just the thing to fight back against the frustration, antipathy, and boredom on the home front.
Besides eating out more often, I had my other splurges while my wife was deployed. Making lunches for school is always a drag for me: another tedious, thankless, mindless task. What could I do to speed things up in the mornings? Pre-packaged snack-size Goldfish, raisins, and fruit saved me a few minutes each morning. Sure, they cost more than the bulk-size packages, but for me it was another victory against the banality.
Not a big victory by any means, but you take them where you can.
Splurges that are “the little things”
I love cooking for the family, but you know what I hate? Doing the dishes. It’s not even so much cleaning up that bugs me; I really hate emptying the dishwasher. Deployment splurge that was worth it to me: paper plates and cups.
Ok, stop laughing at me.
Yes, the extra $2 a week I spent on paper products was a deployment splurge that was worth it.
Splurges with “big people”
Spending less time emptying the dishwasher only went so far towards improving my mental health though. I needed to get out of the house and talk to someone taller than a kitchen chair and older than my socks. A “Parents’ Night Out” at the YMCA was just the ticket.
For quite a bit more money than some paper plates, I dropped the boys off for the evening at the YMCA (they were the first ones there) where they were fed and entertained for a few hours. In the meantime, I got out of the house and met up with another veteran and his wife at the brew pub. Telling some stories and having some laughs made all the difference. By the time I picked up the boys from the Y ( and they were the last to leave), I was in my best mood in weeks.
Totally worth it.
Getting out of the house with the kids was great, too. Without having to worry about Mom’s schedule, we could go camping in a National Park any day of the week all summer long. Jetting off to see family gave the boys a chance to be spoiled and gave me a chance to take it easy.
Worth it and…worth it.
Deployment pay changes
Where does the money come from for these deployment splurges? You can still spend within your budget on a few tactical splurges that are strategic wins during deployment. Just calling it a ‘splurge’ is not license for a spending free-for-all, however. You need to take a look at what you value, what you’re willing to work for, and what you’re willing to give up.
Service members will see several changes to their pay during deployment, depending on the location, type of unit, and time away, among other things. For the most part there are increases to your net pay in the form of additional pays and allowances or reduced taxes.
The most common allowance a family will see is Family Separation Allowance which is $250 per month. Officially, in the regulations it’s called “Family Separation Housing Allowance”, so it shows up on your Leave and Earnings Statement as “FSH”. It was meant to cover those extra expenses around the house that occur while the service member is deployed. Paying someone to cut the grass because dad usually does that when he’s not deployed is one example.
Then there are things like Hostile Fire Pay/Imminent Danger Pay, Flight Deck Pay, Per Diem, Sea Pay, and the Combat Zone Tax Exemption. They can all add up to paychecks that are quite a bit bigger during deployment. Be sure to take advantage of the opportunity to save for your goals and pay off debt. Then you can feel good about a splurge here and there to maintain morale at home.
When is it worth it to splurge on something?
First, it should be something you can afford. Charging something to your credit card that you can’t pay off is not worth it, even if you call it a splurge.
Second, the thing you splurge on should be more valuable to you than what you’re giving up. Is skipping 2 forgettable fast food meals worth it for you to afford a special bottle of wine with a friend? Only you can answer that question.
For me, those kids-eat-free pizza nights were certainly worth it. We still saved money during the deployment, too. My boys and I still talk about the fun we had together while Mom was gone, and we have the pictures to show it. Find your special deployment splurge, big or small, that will put will put a smile on your face. And make sure it’s worth it.
Rob Aeschbach is a financial planner helping young service members and their families make sense of their finances. Before becoming a financial advisor, Rob served in the U.S. Marine Corps, both on active duty and in the Reserves; he is also a Navy spouse. Rob is a candidate for CFP® certification, and a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. He is the owner of The Military Financial Planner LLC, a Virginia registered investment advisor firm based in Norfolk. Find him on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Pinterest. Join the conversation in the Facebook group: Personal Finance for Military Service Members and Families.