Deployments, geographic bachelorhood or TDYs can make managing your finances complicated. There are several strategies that can help to make the situation a little better.
- Sit down and have a thorough conversation about your finances before the separation occurs. Identify your long and short-term financial goals together, and figure out how you are going to make them happen. Frankly talk about wants and needs. Every person has wants that aren’t essential for their family, and it is good if you can indulge those wants within your budget. If you find that you have a lot of disagreement, consider meeting with a financial counselor to find some common ground.
- Get overdraft protection on your checking accounts. In theory, you will never use it and it won’t cost you a dime. However, better to kick in your overdraft protection than suffer bounced check fees. Overdraft protection on your bank accounts is credit, just like a credit card, and needs to be used appropriately. The idea isn’t to have a perpetual balance, but rather to protect yourself from extra costs when you miscalculate or make some other mistake. (I once paid for expensive house repairs with the wrong checkbook – no fun!) How do you know if you are still using it appropriately? A good rule of thumb is that if you dip into your overdraft protection more than twice in a calendar year, you might need to figure out the problem.
- Consider separate bank accounts for the duration of the separation. Have a pre-determined amount transferred from your main account to the separate account, and never, ever use money out of the other account without talking to your partner.
- Utilize one of the many online apps available to keep tabs on your bank accounts.
- Have a plan for certain events. What if the car breaks down? What if the landlord says you have to move? What if the hot water heater dies?
- Have an emergency fund.
- Designate a certain amount of free money (we call it an allowance) that each person gets each month outside of the budget, and decide what needs to be paid for with that money. It might be buying lunch at work, or manicures, or lottery tickets, or whatever. Having some money that doesn’t have to be accounted for makes everyone feel happier.
- Communicate! Just because you’re not living in the same house doesn’t mean that you can’t talk. Don’t make any large financial decisions without talking to the other person, even if that means that you have to postpone a purchase for a bit.
Mastering your money when you’re not physically together can be a little more difficult than regular money management, but it certainly can be done. Communication and pre-planning will ensure that you don’t have any major issues while you are apart.