Saving money on a military budget is about knowing and using your resources. Whether they’re new to the military or been in it for years, some service members and families can be oblivious to the great deals and offers around them.
Personally, I probably wouldn’t have known about such resources until I worked on a base. On top of that, we were living in Hawaii and the cost of living was RE-DONK-U-LOUS. So I had to play detective and find all of the ways I could to save money and I definitely found a few gems. Here are 10 ways for military families to save money.
Base movie theaters are always cheaper than civilian theaters. They may not have as many selections, the newest movies, or the most comfiest seats but if you’re just interested in seeing a movie, base movie theaters are a great option.
Speaking of movies, skip the redbox and borrow movies from the base library. Depending on the library, they can have quite a good collection of good movies to watch (for FREE!).
Price-matching at the Exchange/NEX/BX/MCX
The military stores do price match when you bring in the advertisement from a competitor. And they’re tax-free. If you’re good about using credit cards, the Military Star Card can also save you some money as well.
Gas on base is generally cheaper than those off base. HOWEVER, one thing I learned from living in Hawaii is that they operate within the 5 mile range. As in, they mark their prices down compared to commercial gas stations within a 5 mile radius. Therefore, say you live in the suburbs and the base is in the city, it may be cheaper to get gas near your home than on base. This is because the base that’s in the city marks their prices down compared to other city gas stations (which generally tend to be more expensive).
Shop with Discretion at the Commissary
The commissary may not be the cheapest route for your groceries. Price items at local grocery stores and big-box stores like Costco or Sam’s Club before you commit to buying everything from the commissary. Keep a log of where you get the items for the cheapest. If you’re buying a few items, do self check-out or tell the cashier you’ll bag them yourself if you don’t have the money to tip the bagger. (You should always tip the bagger for good service)
If you’re looking for a used car, check out the lemon lots on base. They may or may not be lemons but some owners may need to PCS soon and are willing to sell great cars for a great deal. In terms of maintenance, some bases have an auto shop where DIY-ers can work on their own cars with lifts. These auto shops may also provide discounted safety inspections and a car wash station as well.
Check your local MWR sites and magazines for cheap to free events and offers. When I worked on base, there was always a special deal for entertainment such as bowling, arts & crafts, golf, and at events. The MWR ticket office also features great deals on local attractions. Some can even plan your whole vacation for you.
You know that you can use the base gyms for free/or low cost. If you live in military housing, see if they offer any fitness classes which are free to residents. If you’re one for group fitness, join the intramural leagues on base: softball, volleyball, flag football, etc. Their fees are usually much cheaper than you would get out in town. If you like to fly solo, ask around your military community for a military-affiliated personal trainer. They often have great discounts and access to base.
Military Housing/Civilian Housing
Depending where you live, it make be more cost effective to live in non-military housing and pocket the extra BAH money. However, if you have a big family and live in a high cost area, it may be more cost effective to live in housing. Really, truly think about the costs of either option before you commit to a long lease.
For basic shots and routine services, check out the base veterinarian. The costs are much lower than a civilian veterinarian. Speaking from experience, it may be tough to get an appointment, but that’s the sacrifice you make to save some dollars.
*This is purely from experience. Holiday Brunches/Buffets at base catering halls just always tend to be cheaper:Easter Brunch, Mother’s Day Brunch, Thanksgiving dinner. I know at the bases I’ve been at, they’ve also let families into the chow hall for Holiday dinners. Look to see if they offer the same deal. It’s like a buffet for $5-$10!
If you must spend, spend money to earn money back. Having a credit card if a necessary evil to me. You need it in order to establish good credit but they can easily be abused. If you pay it off every month (or at least pay a decent amount of it off every month) you will do fine with getting a credit card. However, don’t get just any credit card, get a cashback rewards card. USAA offers one that has NO LIMIT on your cashback rewards and you can earn up to 1.25% cash back on your everyday purchases.
Be sure to add your tips to save money for military families in the comments!
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