(NBC) – Like many military families, the Wanners are used to bouncing around. They’ve moved four times in the last 12 years–most recently to Fort Meade in Maryland, all while raising a family on a single military income.
“You’re trying to provide for more than one person,” said US Army Sergeant First Class Eric Wanner. “You have to furnish a house. You have new bills.”
Some of those bills have been costly.
“When we came back from overseas we had to rent a car for two months while we waited for our other car to get shipped,” said his wife, Jana Wanner. “That was a massive expense.”
Nearly 11,000 active duty service members and their families shop at the Exchange at Fort Meade. Like many in the military, they may deal with unique challenges when it comes to managing money, such as long deployments, moving expenses, cost of living adjustments. And, one of the biggest hurdles facing military families today, tackling debt.
Eric and Jana got into trouble when they started spending extra money they received from Eric’s deployment bonus while he was serving in Afghanistan.
“We got comfortable with it so when it ended all of the sudden its like taking a big pay cut,” Sgt. Wanner said.
Marine Corps veteran and financial adviser Rene Bruer says low starting salaries and the structured world of military pay makes it difficult for service members to dig themselves out of debt.
“Once you get promoted you get a pay raise, but if you need to make up a 20-thousand dollar difference in a year its not like another service is going to say ‘let me take you in and move you up three rungs,'” said Bruer.
Today, most military families are more worried about money than going into battle. In a recent survey, service members and their spouses ranked financial stress as a greater concern than even deployment. For military spouses, it was the number one worry, with 49 percent saying it’s their top concern.
“It was a struggle,” Jana Wanner said. “We were moving things around trying to figure out what do we pay now, what do we put off.”
But Bruer says, like being a good soldier, it takes financial discipline to turn it around.
“You really want to throttle back lifestyle if it got out of control and get yourself on the right path,” Bruer said
That’s exactly what the Wanners did.
“We sat down and made a budget together,” Jana Wanner said. “We stuck with it. We didn’t do anything fun because we figured it was less fun to be deeply in debt.”
A valuable lesson they’re hoping to pass along to their children and share with other military families.
And there are resources offered to help, but the troops need to ask in order to make use of them.
Most military installations have personal financial counselors who can help to craft a plan.
These are offered without cost by financial organizations, in an effort to help out those who serve.