The United States is fortunate to have a strong, volunteer military, and its citizens are forever grateful for the sacrifices made by both active duty military members and their families. As a show of gratitude, many companies and destinations offer discounts for these military families on items ranging from experiences to products. Today we’re talking to Christina Painter, wife of an Army officer, who has mastered the skill of finding and utilizing discounts for her family of four young children.
Tell us a little about yourself and your family.
I am Christina, and I met my husband on a blind date back in 2004. Jeff has served as an Army officer for the past 15 years. He deployed two months after we met, and our adventures started during his mid-deployment two week break when we toured Germany and Italy together. When he came home, we married and started moving every two years. My 9 year old son was born in Wisconsin. My 7 year old daughter was born in Amberg, Germany. My 5 year old daughter joined us in Williamsburg, Virginia. Our final little girl is a Florida girl. We are currently living in Seminole, Florida. Jeff is stationed at MacDill Air Force Base. He has deployed to the Middle East four times. His last deployment was February through August 2017.
I know that you are amazing at both finding and utilizing military discounts. Especially with a large family, I would imagine that these deals enable you to do things with your kids you might otherwise skip. Let’s start with the basics…how do you find discounts? Is there a website or way to search for them?
There is no one website that I have found that gives a comprehensive list. That should be created! I have nearly eleven years of experience as a military spouse. Things have become so much easier as organizations have improved their Facebook and Instagram pages. I follow the pages for all of the on post organizations. Any time that we want to go somewhere, I search the destination website, then google, and finally, I just ask. I ask everywhere: outlet malls, hotels, theme parks, clothing stores, restaurants. Jeff is also always watching and listening at work. MWR (morale, welfare and recreation), the chaplains, ITT (the travel agency on post), and various other groups are always giving out discounts or tickets. Jeff knows to be on the lookout for things we will enjoy.
Once you’ve found a military discount, how do you go about utilizing it? Does the active duty member have to be with you?
There are two categories of discounts: discounts for active duty service members and discounts for military dependents (the technical term for a military spouse or child). Websites usually tell you the requirements for receiving the discount and whether dependents qualify. Your military ID is the key to proving your status. Most discounts are good for family members without the active duty member because there are so many times when active duty members are separated from their families.
Have you encountered any problems using these programs? Are the people at the ticket desks usually well informed?
I treat military discounts as a gift and not a privilege. Discounts given directly to Jeff as the active duty service member are earned. The discounts given to me and my children are truly gifts. I try to research the discounts and have the necessary documentation. However, if there is a problem in receiving the discount, I don’t freak out. Most ticket desks have been well informed. I have never had a problem, but I approach the ticket desk with gratitude rather than entitlement.
I’m guessing that many discounts are at local attractions and experiences. What types of places often offer a discount to military families?
Theme parks, museums, hotels and professional sports teams almost always offer discounts. Attractions located near a military installation are most likely to offer discounts, but we have found great deals nation wide. One of the best discounts we found was at a ski resort in northern Idaho far from everything! Seasonal discounts are common, too. Check around Memorial Day, July 4th, and in November.
What about on a more national level? Are there any companies that offer a great military program?
Here are a few of my favorites:
National Park Service: Military families are given free passes to National Parks and Recreation Areas.
Busch Gardens and Sea World: Military members and up to three family members get a free ticket to one theme park each calendar year. https://wavesofhonor.com/
Disney World: Disney offers four and five day park hopper tickets at drastic discounts. By buying these or any tickets at a military base ticket office, you can avoid paying sales tax. This saved us a few hundred dollars on our season passes.
Blue Star Museums: https://www.arts.gov/national/blue-star-museums This program offers free admission to select museums around the country from Memorial Day until Labor Day. I make a list of Blue Star Museums along our road trip routes for free stops that make our trips memorable, economical and educational.
Armed Forces Vacation Club: www.afvclub.com This is a site that offers vacation rentals at discounted rates. We have stayed in three bedroom condos in Orlando and McCall, Idaho for less than $300 per week!
Old Navy, Famous Footwear (and various other shoe stores), Home Depot, Lowe’s, Nike: This list is by no means complete. ASK! It is especially important to ask at stores located near a military installation.
Are most discounts on experiences and attractions, or have you found any on goods and services?
I am always shocked by the number of discounts I find on goods and services. Shoes are almost always discounted. Nearly every national shoe store offers a discount. Salons and barber shops are also common discount locations. Restaurants near military bases are always trying to attract the crowd with a discount. The key to any discount is truly just asking. I actually got free fingerprinting at a background check location because I showed my military ID instead of my drivers license at the check out.
Your husband was deployed last year. Were there any special programs for the spouses of deployed military members that you found out about and would like to pass along?
Deployed families should stay connected to the local military installation. There are frequent support services offered through the chapel and MWR for respite care and support. The National Military Family Association offers Operation Purple Camps for kids with deploying parents. My children were too young to be interested, but I think this would be an amazing experience for kids nearing middle school. The most useful group I found during our last deployment was Project Evergreen (www.projectevergreen.org). This charity provides free lawn service or snow removal to families with a deployed spouse. For six months, my grass was mowed every two weeks. That was such a relief to me and Jeff.
Speaking of deployment, do you have any advice for spouses of deployed members of the armed services who are a little intimated about going on family adventures as the solo parent? What are some lessons you have learned during your husband’s deployments?
When a spouse is deployed, expect everything to go crazy. However, don’t stop living. Your children will remember everything you try to do for them alone. It is terrifying, but staying at home is even worse. I took my four children on a 3,700 mile, 17 day road trip through ten states without Jeff. It definitely helped that my oldest was nine. He was a great help, but wow that trip was an adventure. We went to the emergency room twice and came home with one broken arm.
People are kind to parents traveling alone with kids. My youngest freaked out while we were touring a coal mine. The tour guide took responsibility for my three oldest and allowed me to escape with my youngest. Accept help even if it is hard. Trust humanity a little more than you might in other situations. Also realize that maybe a coal mine isn’t the best place for a one year old. She hated her hard hat.
Jeff’s third deployment came just six months after my oldest was born. I learned so quickly how to be the “home” parent. I drove Nathan to several different countries alone! I remember the ease once Jeff returned! I could actually go downstairs to get a drink in the hotel while the baby slept. Unbelievably easy. Deployments make you strong. They make you value the delight of dual parent vacations. Don’t let the entire six months, year or fifteen months pass without joy. Your deployed spouse wants you to be happy and have fun without them. Jeff was thrilled to get emails with pictures of us in a cave, a hotel pool, and feeding April the giraffe.
What is one thing that being a part of the military has enabled you to do with your kids that really stands out to you? What is one of your most cherished adventures?
The benefits of military life for us far outweigh the costs. We have lived in Georgia, Wisconsin, two places in Germany, Virginia, Ohio and Florida. By moving all the time, even our local adventures change frequently. My kids have a global perspective. I am thrilled to give them this advantage. I think what stands out to me most right now are the conversations the kids have among themselves about where we should move next. Individually, some of them do not look forward to leaving friends, but collectively they create dreams about our adventures in a snowy place next time. I don’t understand why they don’t want to stay in the comfortable warmth!
For me, the cherished adventures are innumerable. The military is who we are not just what Jeff does. Three moments stand out for me. I nursed Nathan on a gondola to the top of a volcano on Tenerife in the Canary Islands. We were traveling during Jeff’s midtour break of his third deployment. I just remember being amazed that I lived in Germany and was standing on a volcano with the two men I loved the most. Another day, Jeff, Nathan, Suzanna and I skied on the Zugspitze glacier in Germany. I felt like we were standing on top of the world with our two year old on adorable skis and our baby in a bjorn against my chest. It was a magical experience on a gorgeous winter day. While less grandiose, two weeks ago my kids got to ride on a float in the Gasparilla children’s parade thanks to having a military parent. The joy on their faces was unbelievable. I got to watch in a crowd of tens of thousands as my kids rode by. I was a simple bystander watching their fun. I love being able to do that.
Thank you so much for sharing your unique insight, Christina. I know this could help other military parents, especially new parents, as they begin navigating this world.