The Government Shutdown for Military Families

It’s a very bad thing to have all your eggs in one basket, so to speak.  I’ve been warning David about our precarious position forever, and here we are now, two weeks into a government shutdown, approaching the middle of the month.  Many military families receive an advance on their end of month pay this week, and it seems that should go through with no issues, but there’s a real possibility that no monies will be flowing come November 1.  We do not expect at this time to receive David’s retirement or disability payments.

So.  First things first.  Implement a spending freeze.  We have not made any unnecessary purchases, which is to say, we paid our bills and bought what foodstuffs we were out of, but nothing else.  Even things we need, like warmer clothes for the children.  We can limp along for a while on what we already have.

Next, prioritize those bills.  The Treasury Department can’t do it, but we can.  I went through our accounts and figured out exactly how much money we will owe people next month.  We already cut all unnecessary expenses when David retired, so we don’t have a lot of bills coming in (to match the not-a-lot-of-cash coming in), but most families will have expenses that aren’t really necessary.  See what you can do to eliminate, minimize, or postpone those bills until we’re getting paid again.

Check with your bank.  We have our direct deposit with USAA, and they are offering a 0% loan to all military customers in the event we don’t get paid on the 1st.  You must have had direct deposit with them for at least 60 days and it will be for the amount usually deposited by the government.  When you do finally get paid, they will automatically withdraw it to pay back the loan.  If you don’t bank with USAA (an excellent company), check with your own establishment to see if they have a plan in place for military/government employees.

Plan your meals.  Nothing wastes money like grocery shopping without a plan.  Figure out how to use what you already have at home.  Plan two or three meatless meals a week.  Bean dishes and pasta dishes are very economical.  Most people enjoy pasta, but beans are a little more challenging.  I’ll teach you how to cook dried beans from scratch next week and share a couple of recipes that we really enjoy.  Soups are also nourishing and economical, even if you use some meat.  Cooking from scratch is always more cost-effective (and nutritious) than pre-packaged items.

Stay home.  Use up some of those craft supplies you’ve been collecting to make Christmas presents.  Check out some books from the library and do some reading.  While it’s not impossible to spend money from home (thank you very much, internet), you’re almost certain to buy something if you’re going out – a cup of coffee, a meal at McDonalds, that amazing something on clearance at Target.  Stay home and remove temptation!  Also, maybe avoid Amazon.

In the future, and when the cash is coming in again, consider building an emergency fund, if you don’t already have one.  Now that you know exactly what your real expenses are, you can start to build up a little hedge against things like government shutdowns.  Wouldn’t it be nice to know you could weather this for a couple months without worrying?

Also, start building a pantry.  When the things you normally buy go on sale, buy some extra.  With or without government shutdowns, this will save your family a lot of money in the long run, and also give you a lot of peace of mind.  Because of our pantry (and the cows that keep the milk coming), I don’t expect to need to spend more than $200 a month, mostly for produce, for the duration of this shutdown in order to keep my family of nine well fed.  And I really believe in being well-fed.

Do you have any other tips or ideas?  Are you prepared for a loss of pay?

15 Comment

  1. Copy everything you said. So happy we with bank with USAA! My two biggest non-essential expenses are music lessons for the kids (and other kid activities like Scout camping) and the gasoline to ferry them around to these non-essential activities. Since they charge a registration fee if you drop lessons (as I learned after this summer), I’ll continue to pay for November, but should, heaven forbid, it go on longer, I will drop them all. I’m already carpooling to activities and/or combining trips as much as possible, and have been telling my kids for months now that errand day is Friday so whatever they think they need can wait until then when I go out on one big circuit with the cheapest milk and gasoline at Sam’s Club at the far end of my loop. The government had been paying for bus passes for military from my area to commute – saving gas and tolls…at least $4 a day in tolls. They quit funding it with the shutdown, so we have that additional expense, ugh.

    The easiest thing to do is to limit grocery purchases to fresh produce and milk and eggs and to eat what’s in our pantry and freezer. I think we could go a month that way, probably longer, but we would be getting creative then. Everything hinges upon how long this goes on. And of course it hinges upon the promise that we will eventually get back pay. I can’t seriously imagine the government defaulting…but I can’t seriously imagine the government rounding up everyone of Japanese descent and putting them in a concentration camp either, and we did that. So, I won’t buy Christmas presents early and we may not go on a little family camping trip the week of Thanksgiving…but come December 1st if we still have no pay, I think I’d have to go into crisis mode and radically reduce our budget to the true essentials.

    1. I’m glad you have a plan! So many military families live paycheck to paycheck, with nothing put by for emergencies, and unless you’re a PFC with four kids, that’s really not necessary.

    2. Alas, we’re $8,000 less prepared than a few months ago because we finally replaced the 16 yo Honda civic with a 6 yo Honda civic. Although it felt great to pay cash for a “new” car, that $8k was a nice security blanket…buys a lot of groceries!! Still have an emergency fund, but it’s much thinner.

      Every now and then, a civilian friend will ask me about some article talking about military families getting food stamps. I explain that the pay is adequate, generally, if you join as a single young person, then you get married, and then you have children 1 or 2 at a time. But if you join when you are 26, married, with 3 or 4 kids, it’s going to be tight for a long while. What gets me is when field grade officer families live paycheck to paycheck…and they have never owned a house and never put an extra dime into a retirement fund because they were counting on the pension. And then there’s my sister, married to a WO, who just got a new car loan and still has student loans from over a decade ago, despite all the Dave Ramsey info I’ve given her. frustrating.

      I admire you so much, Jennie. You are raising a large family on a very limited budget. My husband plans to work after he retires (in 9 years), but our goal is to be able to live on that pension. We’d have 4 adult children by then, so it shouldn’t be too hard. Might have some parents to support at that point, though.

    3. Our fund is quite a bit smaller, too, as outgoes have exceeded incomes by a few hundred to a thousand dollars each month since Davey retired. He gets disability in addition to his pension, and we have a small income from the cows that at least covers the monthly feed bill, but we have made a decision to avoid any expansion of our farm activities next year, beyond finishing up projects already begun. Only the cows are profitable, and we need to make a little money off the pigs and chickens as well. And we got ducks. A free gift, but one that has to be fed. 🙂

      We’re waiting for his disability to be reevaluated, but of course, with the shutdown, the expected completion date of April-to-August 2014 (from a submission date of April 2013) will likely be pushed back. Along with my application for that caregiver support program and whatnot. Small sacrifice, I think, if anything good comes out of this shutdown.

      Adult children. Gosh, I hate thinking about that. I’d like to keep them forever! (And oddly, they mostly want to stay!)

  2. You do most of what I do food-wise. You don’t need to stretch milk, Jennie, but you can by adding water and powdered milk. I already buy the lowest-priced brand of everything, but check labels and as long as you’re not buying filler, buy the cheapest. Buy canned goods and frozen instead of fresh. Make everything that can be made with basics. One night a week is “picnic night” which is sandwiches or even leftovers eaten on a blanket outside or on the living room floor with a movie. Tea is the house drink (or milk if you have a cow), and popcorn, bought loose in bags and cooked on the stove is the house snack. Gravy bread was a favored food by children in my family when I was young — yup, leftover beef gravy heated and served on bread. Pancakes was a favored dinner, too. Look up Depression cooking and find some recipes. Potatoes and hot dogs — recipe on my food blog is an example.

    Cancel cable/netflix/ any entertainment expences and use the library. Cut gas consumption, natural gas and electric. Teach the kids to dress for the weather — indoors, too.

    Talk to children who are old enough to understand. Without scaring them, explain the situation. Children must know what’s happening because they are the future leaders and citizens. If we protect them too much, they won’t know history — we all know how this period will be reported in history books.

    Pray. Pray as a family for government leaders.


    1. We chat about the latest shutdown news every evening at the table, which is amusing, because my husband is quite the democrat. I, on the other hand, am looking forward to debt ceiling “crisis”. Bring it on! Betcha NOTHING HAPPENS. And I am certain that this is the only way for a budget conversation to happen. So, the kids are privy to our views (both sides) and the news, and I’m not worried, so they’re not worried. We have cash enough to carry us into us into January or February, and then, we’ll see.

      It’s funny you should mention the potatoes and hotdogs… I was telling the kids the other night that my mom had quite a few hotdog recipes when I was growing up. One we called Thwackers, which was a pile of mashed potatoes with a hotdog nestled into it and a slice of cheese over the top, baked until hot and melty. The recipe got its name because the only way to get it off the flipper neatly was to “thwack” it onto the plate. 🙂

    2. Beckie R. says:

      I so completely forgot about thwackers! We’re not really hotdog fans around here, so I don’t think I’d ever make them, but I remember liking them!

  3. Jessica says:

    Thwackers were always my favorite! My family likes them, too! 😉
    Haven’t eaten them in a long while, though!
    What about skillet supper? Meat, potato, and vege all in one pan?
    Beans and pea soup or lentils are a good, filling, easy meal that is super budget friendly, as well.

    1. Due to the high concentrations of chemicals and other nasties in hotdogs, we eat then very sparingly, and then I usually pay for the slightly less unhealthy “natural” dogs, so hotdogs are not particularly frugal for us, and my kids have never had a thwacker. I never really liked them anyway. 🙂

    2. Beckie R. says:

      I remember them being an invention of Daddy’s, not Mommy’s as I can’t ever recall Mommy actually cooking them. Beans and Franks were Mommy. And I absolutely abhorred skillet supper. Of course, I was never a sausage fan (though I now love it) and can remember sitting at the table for at least 3 hours after everyone else had finished because I wouldn’t eat my sausage. Perhaps I exaggerate…but perhaps not 😉

    3. Ha! At the same time I told the kids about thwackers, I also told them of the horrors of Skillet Supper. 🙂 Sorry, Mommy!

    4. I always LOVED Skillet Supper. 🙂 They always made it with sweet corn and I loved the salty sausage with that juicy pop of sweet! I think I might make some soon! lol Thwackers… well… they were, I suppose, an invention of necessity and though they weren’t terrible, (in fact I remember loving them) I probably wouldn’t make them anytime soon….

    5. To be fair, my kids eat their fair share of weird foods. Tongue, anyone? How about some heart, then? No? I’ve got a fresh turtle! I can’t stand to let anything edible go to waste around here. Turtle is actually pretty good, in case you find one. Kind of like poor man’s sea food. 🙂

  4. You girls are cute. We eat oosher beef dogs, which are not “cheap” but can be had on sale for less than a pound of another meat, and then cut in coins to stretch.

    1. I do that with sausages, but they aren’t all that cheap. I don’t go to the store often enough anymore to catch the good sales, sadly. We just live too far out to make it a weekly trip. 🙁 Oh, and in case you haven’t figured it out in all these years, Beckie, Jessie (Jessica) and Sandie are my sisters!

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