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Home Ownership or Adventure?

Home ownership is the American dream for many military families. The idea of setting down roots, even temporary ones, can be incredibly appealing when you’re so often on the move. Also appealing is the idea of traveling the world—getting to decide where you want to go for a change, rather than being at the mercy of the military all the time. These two things—home ownership and traveling—are often seen as being in opposition to each other.

Were you to Google “home ownership or travel,” you’d find advice from a couple of different camps. Those in favor of travel suggest you can always buy a home when you’re older—that your youth shouldn’t be spent giving up on your dreams in the name of more adult responsibilities. Those in favor of home ownership argue that buying a home is a better investment than money spent on travel. Both camps suggest that you must pick one or the other, that sacrifice is a necessary evil of adulthood, and that you need to choose which of the two things you want is the more important thing and give up on the idea of having the other.

But what if that wasn’t really true? What if you could both be a homeowner and travel? What if you could proverbially have your cake and eat it too? That’s not to say it will necessarily be easy, dependent upon your financial situation, but it is possible if you have a plan.

Be very clear about your priorities. It is true that most people don’t get to have all the things they want, particularly the things that cost money. Military life isn’t often synonymous with living an extravagant life. And home ownership is a costly proposition—one of the biggest investments you’ll likely make in your life. But there’s a difference between blanket statements about what you can’t have and intentional decisions based upon your priorities. So, decide what is most important to you. If both travel and home ownership make that list, commit to finding a way to do both and then act accordingly.

Be smart about your house purchase. Take advantage of your VA Loan benefit if you’re eligible for it. Eligible home buyers aren’t required to have a down payment, aren’t charged with monthly mortgage insurance premiums, and often have lower-than-average interest rates compared to other loan types. Those benefits alone will reap financial rewards that can be applied to your goal to travel. Know your true budget for your home purchase—not what the bank says you can pay, but what you know you can pull off responsibly. And partner with a real estate agent who has expertise and experience in working with military families. Being smart about your home purchase leaves more money on the table for you to use to do other things that are important to you—like traveling.

 Create a travel fund. If it’s important to you to be able to see the world and you’re committed to doing that, decide what is less important and prune those things from your life. Maybe it’s a daily Starbucks habit. Perhaps it’s eating out often. Or that monthly subscription to the cheese of the month club, or whatever other things you spend money on that aren’t critical to your family’s health and general well-being. Those dollars are now your travel fund. Put them to work for you there.

If you want to watch that account grow exponentially faster, decide upon a set amount of each paycheck that goes to the travel fund once everything else that needs to be paid has been paid. You can start with a small amount and challenge yourself to increase it as you become more comfortable cutting out other expenses from your regular spending.

Take advantage of military discounts for travel. You can find military discounts for commercial airfare and baggage, rental cars, cruises, train and bus travel, and more. You can fly using Space A, rent an RV from your nearest MWR, and/or take advantage of military lodging around the world. You can find free entry to some of your favorite theme parks, museums, and the like. You’ll even find restaurants and businesses that will discount food and services for military ID card holders. If you do your homework first and avail yourself of these discounts, you’ll find that you can get a lot more travel bang for your buck.

Use that network. Military families are connected to each other—across distance and time—in a way that civilian communities typically are not. Between social media and friends who’ve become family from one PCS to the next, your network is large. Use that to your advantage. Let your military village know what you’re hoping to do—what places you’d like to go, the resources you have to work with, etc.—and solicit their feedback and guidance for how to do it in a way that doesn’t derail your finances. You might find yourself surprised by offers of places to stay, free tour guides, and more. And you’ll be able to return the favor in your new home, too, should another military family be hoping to travel in your neck of the woods.

You don’t have to pick one thing you love over another. You just need to be strategic about how to do both. With the right real estate agent and a solid plan to make it all happen, you can have your house and leave it to travel, too.

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