How to Enjoy Life When You Are Stationed in a High Cost Area

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Well, it’s happened. You’ve moved to a high-cost area and your bank account is deflated. From the crazy price of milk to the insane price of gas to the whacked price of movie tickets, you’re feeling a little defeated and deflated yourself.

Especially for enlisted military families, getting orders to an area with an exorbitant cost of living can be frustrating.

Add in student loans or other debt and it can be a cocktail for serious financial concerns. If you find yourself in an expensive area with a dwindling budget, this article is for you. Here are 10 tips for making the most of your money and having fun on a shoestring.

How Military Families Can Enjoy Life When Stationed in an Expensive City

Create a realistic budget

It’s really tempting to create a bare-bones budget. Unless you’re a monk or an ascetic, creating a life based on bread crusts, water and the cruddiest apartment in the scariest neighborhood isn’t useful. It’s better to create a realistic budget—one that takes into account all facets of your family’s life, including entertainment and fun.

…And use your budget

A budget isn’t much good unless you actually use it. If you’ve budgeted one weekend a month for pizza delivery, stick to it—your pizza delivery guy shouldn’t know your usual, your name…and your kids’ names. Make sure that you have all aspects of your budget covered—from bills to your savings to your retirement—before you reach across the counter for that Frappamochalattachino.

Search out free opportunities

With a few taps of your phone or clicks of your mouse, you can unearth a ton of free events and opportunities in your area. You can find websites full of free events in high-cost areas like San Diego, D.C. and Hawaii.

Mine organizations for information

Don’t forget to follow organizations like Blue Star Families and National Military Family Association on Facebook—they often post amazing events that are free to military families.

Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, Blue Star Families sponsors Blue Star Museums where admission to hundreds of museums around the country is waived for military families. Last year, my husband and I saved at least $150 in admission fees using the Blue Star Museums program.

Related: Military Discount–Don’t Vacation Without It!

The National Park System also offers a free annual pass for military families—make sure you have one, especially if a National Park is in your area. If you are stationed in the D.C. area, sign up for the USO’s Ticketline. Free or discounted tickets to local concerts, theater and sporting events are distributed through the USO Ticketline.

10 Ways to Survive Financially When You're Stationed in a High Cost City

Rent from MWR

You know that MWR has a ton of opportunities on base for discounted rates, right? Bowling alleys, swimming pools, rental equipment…Yes, all kinds of rental equipment—from kayaks to camping gear to inflatable lawn games. Basically, if you can’t find fun around your area for a price you can afford, MWR can help you make your own fun.

Use military services and benefits

Some bases have their own private beachfront. (Yay for avoiding crowds and not having to pay parking fees!) Others have picnic areas and playgrounds. Know what the bases in your area offer and make use of them. If you live close to amusement parks, you’ll want see what military discounts they offer. Some, like Busch Gardens, even offer free admission.

Use transportation wisely

Believe or not, a car can cost the average American family $7,000 to $11,000 according to AAA. In some cities, parking costs can take a huge chunk of cash. Consider alternatives to your car—whether that’s walking, biking, taking the bus or rail system or simply consolidating trips so that you use your car less.

If you work from home, think about becoming a one-car family. Not only is it friendlier on your wallet, it’s kinder to the environment. Win-win!

And I’m not just preaching an empty doctrine. My husband and I are a one-car family and although it took some getting used to, it’s saved us thousands of dollars and helped us get on strong financial footing.

Be a savvy shopper

Know what the average price is on- and off-base for your family’s staples like bread, milk and produce. When you know that, you can make smart decisions about where to shop for what. Depending on specials, coupons and rebates, the commissary might not always be the cheapest place to buy certain items.

Save by refusing

If you’re looking to save a ton of money fast for some summer fun, lose your vices. Americans spend a ton of money on cigarettes, alcohol and coffee. Get rid of your Starbucks addiction and you’ll probably save about $20 a week. Ban soft drinks and alcohol from your house and save more. Purchase a reusable bottle and forego disposable bottled water. (Again, great for your budget and even better for the environment!)

Participate in the community

Often military families feel estranged from their off-base communities. Become familiar with your city’s business association, the community calendar, and non-profits. Chances are, there is a wealth of activities happening every day in your community from First Fridays to kids’ playgroups to book clubs to park clean-ups. You just need to look for them.

Being stationed in an area with a high cost of living can be concerning at first. However, so many of those areas also play host to a huge number of military families, so resources are more than likely plentiful. Make sure that you use all of your resources as you save and have fun this summer!

Are you currently living in a high-cost area? Have you in the past? What tips can you offer military families looking to maximize their paychecks and fun?

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