10 Ways Military Families can Save Money on Back-to-School Shopping

(DoD photo by Senior Master Sgt. David H. Lipp)

Photo by David H. Lipp/Courtesy of the Department of Defense

August and September mean one thing for kids across America: It’s time to head back to school!

But for many military families living on a tight budget, back-to-school translates into pricey shopping trips and unwanted penny-pinching. Luckily, we scoped the Internet and rounded up 10 tips to help military families save money as their kids get ready to hit the books.

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Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons user leecullivan

1. Take advantage of the tax-free weekend (if applicable) in your state. While the participating states and rules vary, you can usually purchase clothing and school supplies up to a certain dollar amount completely tax-free. Check out this list from the Federation of Tax Administrators to see if your state is participating.

2. Wait to buy fashionable gear, like lunch boxes and pencil cases, until a few weeks into school. Chances are, kids will want to buy what ever the latest fad is and you don’t want to end up spending double to make them feel like they fit in with the crowd. (Tip via http://couponing.about.com/od/apparelarticlesnews/a/backtoschool.htm)

3. Commit to packing lunch this year. You can even incorporate the task as part of the post-dinner cleanup. Packing a lunch not only saves bundles over the course of the year, but also allows you to know what’s going into your child’s mouth (for the most part). Here’s some brown-bag lunch ideas to get you started. (Tip via http://www.parenting.com/article/10-back-to-school-shopping-tips-that-save-money)

(via Flickr Creative Commons user  crossettlibrary)

Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons user crossettlibrary

4. Scope out coupon websites and newspaper ads before you head to the store. Although clipping coupons or searching the Web for discounts seems tedious, the savings each provides really adds up. While newspaper coupons vary by location, we found six coupon websites and blogs that should help you save on your next big shopping trip:

5. Host a hand-me-down party and swap clothes and supplies with friends. This is a great way to recycle gently used school supplies, clothes, backpacks and shoes that your kiddos might have grown out of over the past year. Invite friends with children who are younger and older, and ask them to bring a bag of their gently used hand-me-downs to trade with other partygoers. You can donate any leftover items after the party. (Tip via http://www.parenting.com/article/10-back-to-school-shopping-tips-that-save-money)

6. Recycle “grown up” office supplies lying around the house by letting the kids decorate them. Before you head to the store, take a look at what office supplies you might already have. Then, let kids unleash their creative energy by adding drawings, photos and other trinkets to folders, binders and pencil cases that might be lying around the house unused. (Tip via  http://couponing.about.com/od/apparelarticlesnews/a/backtoschool.htm)

(via Flickr Creative Commons user Melissa Collins)

Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons user Melissa Collins

7. Buy school supplies for the entire year now. You won’t see these low, back-to-school prices again until this time next year. (Tip via http://everydaysavvy.com/back-to-school-savings-tips-and-sale-information/ )

8. Aim for durability. While better quality brands might be pricier up front, many of these products will last longer, saving you money in the long run. (Tip via http://everydaysavvy.com/back-to-school-savings-tips-and-sale-information/ )

9. Look for deals at garage sales and on Craigslist. People are constantly selling gently used clothes, office supplies and even furniture at garage sales and on Craigslist. You’ll never know what deals you can find. (Tip via http://www.parenting.com/article/10-back-to-school-shopping-tips-that-save-money)

10. Plan a trip to your local outlet mall. This is a great way to stock up on brand name clothes for the school year. Keep winter clothes in mind when you’re shopping as well.

USO and Team Red, White, and Blue Help Troops and Veterans Scale New Heights at Rock-Climbing Camp

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ESTES PARK, Colo.—For many people — especially those scared of heights — scaling a 50-foot mountain wall is the last thing they’d want to do on a warm August afternoon.

But for a group of adventurous transitioning troops and veterans who attended a special three-day rock climbing camp in Colorado, climbing along the steep peaks of the Rocky Mountains seemed like the perfect way to spend a long summer weekend.

The camp, hosted by the USO and Team Red, White, and Blue, taught leadership skills and built confidence among attendees while scaling new heights. The two organizations began partnering last year to deliver an environment for troops, civilians and veterans to come together, share their stories and to build a foundation for healthy, active living.

The camp was led by climber and Wheaties athlete Tommy Caldwell and his father, Mike Caldwell, a climbing guide with over 30 years of experience. For the second year in a row, the pair helped participants scale 50-foot-plus tall mountain walls in Jurassic Park and Lumpy Ridge.

“I didn’t have people to keep in touch with when I got out,” said camp participant and veteran Antonio Ruiz. “I wish this situation was available for me back then. It would have made a big difference in my life.”

(Photo by Tyrone Marshall/Courtesy of the Department of Defense)

Climbers receive instruction during the weekend camp. Photo by Tyrone Marshall/Courtesy of the
Department of Defense

During the three-day session, Tommy Caldwell shared his personal story of overcoming a traumatic experience with the camp participants in hopes of inspiring them to conquer life’s challenges.

In 2000, while on a climbing expedition in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan, his group was held hostage at gunpoint for six days before Caldwell seized an opportunity to overpower the kidnappers, allowing for their escape. Once home, he struggled to cope with the memories of his captivity. One day, while doing home repairs, Caldwell accidentally sawed off his finger. Unable to reattach it, doctors prepped him for the possibility that he’d never climb professionally again.

“At one point a doctor told me I should really think about what I wanted to do,” Caldwell said during his speech to attendees. “I got mad because how could he not believe in me? And that inspired me even more. I left the hospital and immediately went to the gym to train.”

(Photo by Tyrone Marshall/Courtesy of the Department of Defense)

Climbers gather during the weekend camp. Photo by Tyrone Marshall/Courtesy of the
Department of Defense

In addition to learning the ins-and-outs of outdoor climbing, campers participated in a leadership seminar lead by Team Red, White, and Blue Director of Operations J.J. Pinter.

“Think about all that leadership experience,” Pinter said, according to a Department of Defense story on the seminar. “There’s no reason that you can’t go back in your communities and be the leaders that our country is drastically needing.”

USO Communications Manager Sharee Posey contributed to this post from Estes Park, Colorado, and USO Multimedia Journalist Sandi Moynihan contributed to this post from Arlington, Virginia.

24 Things You Should Know About the Coast Guard for Its 224th Birthday

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Today marks the 224th birthday of the United States Coast Guard. To celebrate, here’s 24 facts about one of the federal government’s oldest organizations.

  1. The Coast Guard was founded on August 4, 1790, after Congress commissioned the construction of ten ships to help enforce federal tariffs and prevent smuggling.
  2. The Coast Guard has two official flags: The Coast Guard standard and the Coast Guard ensign.
  3. Walt Disney created a special logo for the Coast Guard’s Corsair Fleet during World War II, featuring Donald Duck.

    Donald Duck photo via US Coast Guard.

    Donald Duck photo via U.S. Coast Guard.

  4. Members of the Coast Guard have served in 17 wars and conflicts throughout U.S. history.
  5. Anthony Christy was the oldest active serving Coast Guard member. The keeper of the Christiana Lighthouse in Delaware, Christy died on duty in September 1862 at the age of 105.
  6. Since 2003, the Coast Guard has been operating as part of the Department of Homeland Security.
  7. In 1791, the Coast Guard launched its first cutter Vigilant.
  8. The first permanent Coast Guard Air Station was in Cape May, New Jersey, in 1926.
  9. In 1967, the Coast Guard adopted the trademark red slash design – or racing stripe – that appears on its vessels.
  10. In 1941, the Coast Guard hired its first civilian women to serve in secretarial and clerical positions.
  11. 241,093 Coast Guard members served during World War II.
  12. “Semper Paratus” is the Coast Guard motto.
  13. While many animals have served as mascots aboard Coast Guard vessels, Sinbad, a dog, is one of the service’s most famous. He served on board the cutter Campbell during World War II, keeping troops company during their voyages.
  14. The Coast Guard was referred to as the Revenue Marine and the Revenue Cutter Service throughout the late 18th and the 19th centuries.
  15. The Coast Guard has authorized a total of 43 battle streamers, which are attached to the Coast Guard standard, replacing cords and tassels.  They are carried in all ceremonies representing heroic actions in all naval encounters from 1798 to today.  Any Coast Guard unit may display the battle streamers.
  16. The Coast Guard refers to a vessel as a “cutter” if it’s over 65-feet long.
  17. From 1942-1944, the Coast Guard had a championship hockey team called the Cutters that played in the Eastern Amateur Hockey League, considered to be one of the most competitive leagues of its time.

    Team photo via via US Coast Guard.

    Team photo via via U.S. Coast Guard.

  18. Until the Navy was re-established in 1797, the Coast Guard was the only naval service in the country.
  19. In 1918, sisters Genevieve and Lucille Baker were the first uniformed women to serve in the Coast Guard.
  20. President George Washington commissioned the first Coast Guard officer, Captain Hopley Yeaton, on March 21, 1791.
  21. The Coast Guard was featured in the 1996 featured film “White Squall” starring Jeff Bridges.
  22. The oldest Coast Guard boat station is in Sandy Hook, New Jersey.
  23. In 1967, the Coast Guard icebreaker Eastwind became the first cutter to ever sail around Antarctica. Eastwind was also the first ship to circumnavigate Antarctica since 1843.
  24. The Coast Guard core values are honor, respect and devotion to duty.

–Information from uscg.mil and other sources.

New USO Center at Portland International Airport Welcomes 1,000th Visitor

USO Northwest’s Center at Portland International Airport welcomed its 1,000th guest today, less than a month after opening its doors.

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The lucky 1,000th guest was Marine Lance Cpl. Garrett Rhodes, who is currently stationed in Camp Hansen, Japan. Rhodes, who hails from Cottage Grove, Oregon, said he was excited to find out his home airport had a new USO center for him to enjoy.

“I was pretty excited because I have a long layover, and I’d been to PDX before when there was not a USO,” Rhodes said. “I was trying to figure out how I was going to spend the wait time, and I was very relieved to find out there was a USO now.”

The center, which opened July 1, serves active duty troops and their families traveling to and from the Portland International Airport. While visiting the center, troops can enjoy snacks and refreshments and relax between flights by watching TV, playing video games, or surfing the Web at computer stations. Find out more about the center here.

Teeing Up Military Kids for Success: Lockheed Martin Volunteers Help Quicken Loans National Golf Tournament Attendees Build Deployment Kits

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BETHESDA, Md.–When children are faced with a parent’s deployment — or worse, a parent who doesn’t return from deployment — they encounter emotions which may be difficult to express.

Understanding this, volunteers from Lockheed Martin are helping Quicken Loans National spectators at Congressional Country Club — including many military families — assemble hundreds of With You all The Way Deployment Kits for military children this week.

The USO — in partnership with the Trevor Romain Company and the Comfort Crew for Military Kids — uses the With You All the Way program to support children ages 6 to 18 tackling difficult issues unique to growing up in a military family.

The unique kit helps children deal with deployment challenges and even establishes valuable knowledge for the reintegration process.

“This is just a great cause, and it’s so awesome to see kids — a lot of military kids, in fact, but others as well — coming in to pack deployment kits for other kids,” said Laura Stewart of Lockheed Martin. Stewart is one of many Lockheed Martin volunteers staffing the USO deployment kit assembly tent this week at the Quicken Loan National.

The deployment kit is centered around the “With You All the Way! Dealing With Deployment” DVD, which was created as a collaboration between The Comfort Crew and the USO. The Comfort Crew was founded by humorist Trevor Romain, who frequently tours with the USO, sharing life lessons with military children such as how to deal with bullies, facing fears, coping with separation and understanding grief.

“I am a full-on supporter of the USO and what they do for military families,” said Marine Staff Sgt. Tyler Barnes, a military caddy who helped construct a deployment kit Wednesday. “I’ve seen all of the support here at home and downrange. It’s just a great organization and they do a lot of great stuff for the military.”

The deployment kits include:

  • The animated “With You All the Way! Dealing with Deployment” DVD
  • A guided writing journal with prompts, calendar, map, and activities
  • The “With You All The Way! Dealing With Deployment Family Guidebook
  • A set of 10 postcards featuring original artwork by Romain
  • Cuzzie, a plush bear for military kids
  • A pair of imprinted dog tags to share with a deploying parent

Free From Hibernation, Build-A-Bears Excited About Visit to U.S. Capital

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Build-A-Bear Workshop is partnering with the USO to support our Every Moment Counts campaign. Throughout the month of June, support a military hero by donating to the USO at your local Build-A-Bear Workshop store, or share a message of thanks using #babwusothanks on social media and Build-A-Bear Workshop will donate one dollar!

-Photos by Sandi Moynihan