How to Replace Base Services Without Breaking the Bank

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When budget cuts close or greatly downsize your favorite programs you’ll probably notice that your own pockets seem a little lighter, too. Why? Because unless you decide to live without those things altogether, you’ll probably spend more getting them off base instead.

Here are some tips for getting the most for you money without letting go of any of the on-base services you love.

Groceries. If you don’t already, now is the perfect time start careful meal planning and couponing. With the commissary closed at least one day a week, you won’t always have the luxery of dropping by for that forgotten item. Careful planning of each meal throughout the week can help you avoid that problem. And since you may need to hit the grocery store outside the gate  – where you may find taxes and higher average prices – a few coupons will help cover the difference. You may even discover that couponing at civilian grocery stores results in lower bills than you’ve seen at the commissary. And no, you don’t need to get a Sunday paper to make it possible (although it would certainly help). I use Southern Savers, 5 Dollar Dinners and Abundant Food Savings (and, if you’re in the Pacific Northwest, Frugal Living NW) to match printable coupons with grocery store sales.

Childcare. We’ve already heard that the Army and Air Force are planning to make day care cuts. And while not many specifics have been released about just what those cuts will look like, I would be very surprised if hourly care centers escape unscathed – and even more surprised if the free childcare that comes with the Army Family Covenant completely sticks around.

Now would be the perfect time to organize a childcare swap with a few girlfriends. If you’re used to paying $4 an hour on an Army post for childcare (or $2 during deployments) and have only one or two children, hiring a regular babysitter probably isn’t more economical. Talk to your friends and neighbors and agree to swap care times. This is a great way to make sure you don’t have to take your child with you to the dentist.

If you have more than two children hiring a babysitter to stay at your home instead of taking them to hourly may actually save you money. I have used Sittercity.com to find a great babysitter that my kids love. The service is free for military users.

Gym. If you’re anything like me, the gym is not just for exercise – it’s a mental health tool. And if the one you use for free (or a small fee) on base closes, axes it’s childcare program or drastically reduces it’s hours, you’ll probably be willing to find an alternate off-base. Like so many other parts of the budget cuts, we don’t yet know how gyms and other MWR facilities will be impacted. However it’s unlikely they’ll escape without some changes.

Gyms off-base can be really expensive. Look first to your local YMCA. Most locations include a childcare option, a military discount or maybe even financial aid for those who qualify. If a YMCA isn’t an option, visit the private health club. Ask about military discounts or when their next sale will be that waves or greatly reduces their one-time joining fee.

About the Author

Amy Bushatz
Amy is the editor in chief of Military.com’s spouse and family blog SpouseBuzz.com. A journalist by trade, Amy also covers spouse and family news for Military.com where she is the managing editor of spouse and family content. An Army wife and mother of two, Amy has been featured as a subject matter expert on CNN.com, NPR, Fox News, NBC, CBS, ABC and BBC as well as in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post. Follow her on twitter @amybushatz.
  • mongolberry

    I’d like to see an article like this but for those stationed overseas. most of these solutions are only applicable in the US

    • Damsel

      I’m also overseas, and these DO apply. Meal planning would help, and there ARE ways to purchase food on the economy (much of it better for you and cheaper than what you’ll find in the commissary – fresh produce is a great example).

      The childcare swap idea is great! I know a couple of other moms that would appreciate it, as well.

      The gym WON’T close because there are no other local options.

      • mongolberry
        • Amy_Bushatz

          You know I’ve never been stationed overseas (sadly … sigh) so I’m going to be personally short on ways for help OCONUS. However! If you (or you, Damsel!) are interested in submitting a guest post on this subject specific to the OCONUS folks, we’d be happy to consider it!

  • sabrinacking

    I can’t say enough about the Y. We have belonged in several states and the Y has given consistency to our lives, when there was no other consistency. It’s also a great replacement for arts/crafts in most areas and also summer camp and knowledge camps, sports leagues etc.
    I’d feel remiss if I didn’t advocate people growing some produce in place of their grocery bill. If you don’t have a yard, look for a community garden or use containers. At some installations you can still garden in quarters, but not many, so check with housing…when all else fails, you can grow almost anything you could grow in a container inside your house in a window, or with some inexpensive lighting. No one should ever buy lettuce or herbs, they are ridiculously easy to grow indoors.

    • Amy_Bushatz

      If the Y was closer than a hour round trip drive we’d be members there in a heart beat. That’s too far for the daily gym thing, though. I’m with you — we love the Y!

  • mongolberry

    also, any idea about how to replace tuition assistance?

    • Amy_Bushatz

      If you mean for servicemembers that’s not really my speciality — but I can refer you to plenty of grant and scholarship awards for spouses!

      • mongolberry

        Yeah, for servicemembers, I see a lot of Veterans scholerships but very few for current active duty soldiers :(

  • Steve Spann

    In Colorado I have found that weekly sales save a lot of money, and the fact there are no sales taxes the cost of driving 38 miles to the base does not justify commisary purchases. a freezer helps. Now if I planned for about 2 months of a food supply, I think it would be about a wash. Should I need to buy alcohol that is a different matter. So an every 6 month jouney is OK.. Tricare for life really makes it worth while to stay in the service for a career.