MFAN is proud to offer VetCents – a resource designed to help military and veteran families navigate and understand financial topics like budgeting, credit, homebuying, investing, and savings.
Three Money Moves That Will Get You on Santa’s ‘Nice List’
In a perfect world, we’d all go into the holiday season with a plan we’ve been following all year long.
Maybe we had a predetermined budget and had been setting aside money each month to prepare for the onslaught of spending from November through December. Or maybe we decided to purchase gifts throughout the year, checking off each person on our ‘nice list’ gradually versus all at once. Maybe we had a big, fat holiday bonus we’d been anticipating, like Clark Griswold from the classic holiday movie National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.
But we don’t live in a perfect world.
What if that savings we’d been building ended up going toward a car repair that took priority over presents? What if we purchased a home earlier this year before interest rates soared but had to use our holiday savings to help cover the down payment? Or what if we received a subscription to a “Jelly of the Month” club (like ill-fated protagonist Clark Griswold) in lieu of the windfall we were expecting?
As the old proverb goes, “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” When it’s December and your holiday savings have gone awry, what do you do? At risk of giving out “misery loves company” vibes and using an overplayed phrase, know that you are not alone, and the research tells us so.
MFAN’s 2021 Military Family Support Programming Survey found that military and veteran families struggle to save the 3-6 month reserve for a comfortable emergency savings fund. Many respondents reported that they have less than $500 in an emergency savings fund, or no fund at all – including 22.4% of currently serving families, 16.5% of military retiree families, and 38.4% of veteran families.
While these findings do not paint the most positive picture, it does help to normalize this very real challenge that many families face. Sometimes it’s just comforting to know that there are other people walking in your shoes and that there are thousands of military and veteran service organizations to support you.
1. Seek help
At MFAN, we envision a world where all military-connected families are empowered to thrive. In the same way your freshly cut Christmas tree was soaking up water and nutrients in its environment, military and veteran families should feel empowered to leverage the resources around them so they can thrive too.
One resource I love is Operation Homefront. OH is a national nonprofit whose mission is to build strong, stable, and secure military families so they can thrive — not simply struggle to get by — in the communities they have worked so hard to protect. They have a variety of programs that help military-connected families during the holiday season and beyond.
Their Holiday Toy Drive program helps bring holiday cheer to veteran, wounded, and active duty military families. They have partnered with Dollar Tree for more than a decade to provide military families with recurring support during the holidays.
Additionally, their Holiday Meals for Military program provides meals for deployed, wounded, and veteran families. Some of our current and former Advisory Board members even met in December 2022 to support military families at an event in Springfield, Virginia (pictured below).
And we all know that emergencies can arise no matter the time of year. Operation Homefront may be able to assist if you are experiencing a financial emergency and are active duty, deployed, a veteran, or are a wounded, ill, or injured service member or veteran with a service-connected wound, illness, or injury. If you meet their criteria, you may be eligible for assistance from Operation Homefront’s Critical Financial Assistance program.
Seeking help from available resources is a great way to help minimize some of the added expenses of the holidays, allowing you to continue to build your savings.
2. Be Economical
Cheap. Frugal. Thrifty. Whatever adjective you prefer, embodying an economical mindset during the holiday season can help you score points with Santa. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Commissary Shopping: If you have installation commissary access and aren’t taking advantage of that benefit, you may want to start making your grocery list and checking it twice! Commissaries allow military families access to significant savings on groceries compared to local grocery industry competitors.
And the good news is that commissary shopping will continue to become more affordable. In September 2022, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin shared his “Taking Care of our Service Members and Families” memo which revealed that the DoD will fully fund commissaries to cut prices at the register, with the goal of achieving at least a 25% savings on grocery bills compared to the local marketplace. Knocking 25% off your grocery bill helps make it “worth the trip!”
Couponing and Rewards Programs: Regardless of where you shop, try couponing! Clipping coupons, whether physically or digitally, is an easy way to reduce your expenses this holiday season. Have you ever wanted to save money on an online purchase but didn’t have a coupon handy at checkout? If so, you may want to check out Honey. One of our MFAN Advisory Board members uses it all year long to find coupon codes for thousands of different stores.
3. Leverage Technology
Speaking of procrastination, I’ve been hearing about Rakuten for years, but I never signed up until recently.
To get the inside scoop on how it works, I spoke with MFAN Advisory Board alumna Lacey Langford. Lacey is an Accredited Financial Counselor (AFC®) and has over 15 years of experience in financial planning, counseling, and coaching, so I knew she was the perfect person to ask!
Lacey uses Rakuten for a lot of her online shopping for Christmas, birthdays, clothes, makeup, and even groceries! Once Rakuten is attached to your browser, it alerts you if you can find your item at another online retailer for less, helping you save on your purchases without having to do as much legwork.
“I make between $10-$50 per month based on my spending and the cash back percentage for the places I’m shopping at,” shared Lacey. “You only get a check every 3 months, but the dollars add up over time. You can use the “Big Fat Checks” you receive to build up fun-money savings or for an extra debt payment.”
Another option recommended by one of our MFAN Advisory Board members, is Fetch. She uses it all year long to earn rewards to her favorite stores – from shopping she does at the commissary to filling up her gas tank and more. You will have to keep track of your receipts to use this tool, but what a great way to track your spending and help you save this holiday season and beyond!
Avoid the Post-Holiday Budget Blues:
If you find yourself experiencing post-holiday budget blues, start the new year right by speaking with someone who can help you get on track.
- Visit Military OneSource or your nearest installation’s Military & Family Support Center to speak with a financial counselor or planner who is there to help you achieve your financial goals.
- Among many other services and programs, the Wounded Warrior Project offers financial education for veterans through qualified, knowledgeable professionals.
- And did you know that the Veterans Benefits Banking Program (VBBP) gives you access to one free consultation with an Accredited Financial Counselor (AFC®) or NFCC® Certified Credit Counselor?
- Start your VetCents journey today to find valuable personal finance information, best-in-class resources, and advice from financial experts.
From all of us at MFAN, we wish you a happy, healthy, and budget-friendly holiday season!