Yes, you can do it – here's how
In the military, compensation comes in a variety of forms. Every two weeks – or every month – you receive a paycheck. You're given a place to live or money to pay for a place to live. You receive a stipend for food or a meal card to eat at the dining facility. Enlisted service members receive an annual clothing allowance. Health insurance is a few dollars a month. Since the basics are generally covered, there should be something extra that you can put towards an emergency fund each month.
Every family is different — some may be able to save hundreds at a time, while others may only be able to save $10 a month. That still counts. Horrell strongly recommends making it a habit — no matter what you do, do it consistently.
One strategy is to base your budget on less money than you make. “Build your budget around the lowest increment you know your paycheck will be," she suggests. “If you know you'll receive $1,353 every paycheck, build it off of $1,300." Then put the rest away. Some months you may be putting away $200 and some months you may only put away a few dollars, but you're creating a habit.
Many families take a short-term approach to building up an emergency fund, like picking up temp work or selling things at a yard sale. One Coast Guard family, who found themselves in crushing consumer debt, did a combination of odd jobs to build an emergency fund quickly. “Wrapping Christmas presents, selling plasma, yard work, and babysitting were some of the ways we made extra money," they said.
Army spouse Jackie Toops stresses the importance of having an emergency fund, and how her family got there. “We tapped into our emergency fund when we moved from Germany back to the States because we realized that our house and new duty station would require some purchases," she said. “We were happy and relieved to have our emergency account, and then gradually paid it back and built our total back up over time."
It's clear that having an emergency fund is important for military families, and how overwhelming saving for it can seem. But it's worth it for the peace of mind that comes with knowing you have cash on hand to conquer an emergency.