Having a spouse away on active duty is already difficult emotionally, but many people do not realize it can be difficult for your budget as well. Whether you have debt, or have no debt whatsoever, tracking your household finances when your spouse is gone is a challenge. Here are a few tips for how to stay on budget while your spouse is away:
Set aside money to spend time with friends
When making your budget for the time when your spouse is away, make sure to include a hefty line-item to ensure you are setting aside money for activities for you (and your kids), to surround yourself with friends and activities. The easiest way for the time to pass is to stay busy – active in your community and connected with your friends and family.
You shouldn't be accepting every invitation, especially if it is a detriment to your budget. But you should be cutting back in other areas to ensure you do not get lonely. By planning for this expense, you'll be able to incorporate it into your budget without too much trouble.
Keep communicating about your budget, even though things have changed
People often abandon their budgets because they no longer have partners present who are holding them accountable for that budgetary "line in the sand." Just because your spouse is away doesn't mean you should act as if your budget is on a time-out as well.
Set up a plan to e-mail your spouse once a month about the budget. Or, if time permits when they call in, have a quick discussion about it. Let them know it is OK to ask questions about where the money is going while they are away serving the country. If your spouse doesn't have the emotional/mental bandwidth to hold you accountable from afar, enlist the help of a trusted friend or family member to help keep you accountable for your budget and financial goals.
Take advantage of utility savings
Being away from your spouse is miserable, but with one less person in the house there is room to save money on your utilities. Particularly if you are a person who enjoys it warmer at night, or likes to keep the lights off. Funnel the decreases in utility charges into your savings or, better yet, "social" budget (see above.)
Don't go overboard on eating out
Especially if you are a couple without children, it can be tempting to eat out more when a spouse is away. Cooking for one is often difficult and, let's face it, boring. This is often the biggest budget-busting item, as eating out at a restaurant usually entails a big markup compared to eating at home, depending on where you eat and if you consume alcohol. Instead, use this opportunity to invite friends over for dinner or organize a potluck.
Don't forget to budget for the unexpected
Unexpected events and gift-giving occasions will still creep up on you, even when your spouse is away on active duty. While it may have always been your spouse's job to remind you about Sally's birthday party, or the office charity event, don't forget to keep putting these line-items in your budget so you'll be prepared. You can always budget for what you know about. And that's really the key. Even though it may be hard to budget alone, being prepared will help you meet the challenge head on.