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By Barbara O’Neill, Ph.D., CFP®, Rutgers Cooperative Extension, [email protected]

One of the common financial concerns of military families is making ends meet. Each year, I conduct seminars about household cash flow and how to develop a successful spending plan (budget). A spending plan is a plan for spending and saving money and includes two components: income and expenses. Good spending plans use realistic expense figures that are obtained by tracking expenses for a month or two to make sure that every dollar spent is accounted for.

Cash flow is the relationship between household income and expenses. Earn more than you spend and you’ve got positive cash flow. Do the exact opposite and your cash flow will be negative. To succeed financially, positive cash flow is required. At any income level, if you spend more than you earn, you will go broke.

Developing a spending plan (budget) is a lot like practicing weight control by watching what you eat (diet). In each case, there are three things that someone can do to improve. In the case of dieting, one can eat less, exercise more, or do a little of both. In the case of budgeting, one can increase income, reduce debt, or do a little of both. Rutgers Cooperative Extension has a helpful Spending Plan WorksheetOutdoor Recreation Blog.

There are a variety of ways to increase income including: working overtime, working a second job, requesting money loaned to others, charging adult children room and board, having a garage sale, and adjusting tax withholding. Another way to increase income is to take advantage of free or low-cost services provided by government agencies, non-profit human service providers, and local service organizations. Benefits and services received are considered “in kind” income because you would otherwise have to pay for them out of pocket.

Some public benefits have age and/or income restrictions while others are not restricted. Below is a list of some common public benefits that military families can take advantage of:

  • Rabies clinics sponsored by municipalities that provide free pet shots that might otherwise cost $50 or more
  • VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) offered at various locations in partnership with community sponsors and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), if qualified by income and family size
  • DVDs, magazines, free educational programs, and Internet terminals are available at public libraries
  • Free or low cost mammograms, PSA tests, and other diagnostic screening tests are available at no or low cost through organizations such as county health departments, walk-in clinics, and other community organizations
  • Service clubs, such as Soroptimist and Rotary, that provide scholarships to eligible students
  • Free outdoor concerts and movies sponsored by municipalities, businesses, colleges, and other entities
  • Discounts for service members and veterans at restaurants, county fairs, theme parks, retailers, and more; a military ID may be required to take advantage of these discounts

For information about military family benefits that can help make ends meet, see and,13190,Spouse,00.html