In 2017, my husband and I, recently newlyweds, faced his third deployment together. When we walk through season of times apart, we establish goals to work towards that help to find purpose and unity in hard circumstances. I recently became pregnant with our first child and carried a portion of my undergraduate student debt into our marriage. I was an Active Duty Army Officer at the time, transitioning to a stay at home parent in the coming June.

S.M.A.R.T Goals 

It is important to realistically assess your circumstances and capabilities when establishing a financial goal. At this time, we were a dual military couple, with access to dual incomes, facing the transition to one income in the coming year. We were preparing for our first child, a new financial chapter in our lives together. We sat down, prior to my husband’s departure, and wrote out our S.M.A.R.T. Goal.

Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-Bound

Evaluate, Consolidate and Eliminate Debt

First, we evaluated our debt and utilized resources available to United States Service Members and beneficiaries. The interest rates on my federal student loans were above the  Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) allowed maximum interest rate of 6%. I immediately contacted the federal student aid organizations and enacted my right to the SCRA.

Next, we contacted USAA to apply for the The USAA Career Starter Loan Program, offered to cadets and midshipmen commissioning through Army, Air Force, and Navy/Marines Reserve Office Training Corps (ROTC) or through Officer Candidate or Training School (OCS/OTS). This interest rate varies from 0.75% to 2.99%. We applied for this loan and once approved, immediately paid the federal student aid organizations, eliminating the 6% interest rate. Because of this consolidation and elimination, we were able to pay directly to USAA monthly, ultimately paying off the USAA Career Starter Loan. These resources available to us through USAA were vital to bettering our financial future.

Concurrently, we evaluated our lifestyle. We committed to living on one income, acknowledging we were in a season where this was realistic to our household, in preparation for our fast approaching transition to one income. We utilized the USAA free online budgeting tool, an actual life saver to tracking each dollar we saved versus spent!

I printed off free resources with graphics, hung them on our fridge. Each time we made a debt payment, I colored in a block! Finding what motivates you is key, I found motivation in seeing my small, steady results and this visual representation! 

Ultimately, we needed to eliminate wants in our life that directly contrasted our financial goals. We eliminated subscriptions, only temporarily, knowing once we were debt free, we could resubscribe. We came to learn about our marriage through these eliminations and found that a lot of subscriptions were not how we wanted to spend our limited time together. We utilized resources in our community, like thrift shops, libraries, borrowing from friends, trading on Buy Nothing groups, and ultimately learned to say no to say yes to achieving our financial goals.

I made our final debt payment two weeks prior to my husband’s return to the United States. We bettered our financial future and provided a purpose for us to work towards, even when apart.

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