Our family is usually split in many geographical areas. Now with deployment, we are in even more places. Yikes! It is a challenge to keep a family that is spread so far apart feeling like they are not. We certainly don’t have it down to a flawless science. But over the last couple years, particularly the last few months, we have found some subscriptions that we consider worth paying for to help keep us feel closer.
High-speed Internet: This is one of the most important things! Not really a membership but a monthly expense we accrue to maintain good communication. We do not skimp on cost savings here. All our communication happens via internet. Whether it’s a phone call, video chat, Facebook or an email, it all happens online. It also sets the stage for almost all of the following applications.
Amazon Prime: Free shipping. Christmas was so easy this year with everyone in a different place. Factor in extended family, and we had packages going all over the world. We could shop, share ideas, and save searches so we could make decisions together. It also gives Brian an opportunity to still take care of his family from far away- like when I broke my phone charger and 2 days later, one showed up on my doorstep. Music and movies are also a bonus features with Amazon Prime.
Netflix: Get rid of the cable. This is a more economical option for TV watching with some added features that cable doesn’t offer. Brian and I have the same account so we can see what shows we are each binge watching- And tease each other. Or we can watch the same shows, even at different times of the day since we have an eight hour time difference. We can also monitor what the kids have been watching- with some almost-teens, this is a necessary feature.
X-box Live: This allows the boys some fun time together even though they are far apart. Brian can get some quality bonding time with our son as if they were playing at home together. Plus, there is also the parental control so we can see who, when and what our son was playing. We can also see if he’s playing when he isn’t supposed to- Parenting from afar. Brian can also play with his buddies so he doesn’t have to miss his standing Guys’ Night.
Grade Reporting Program: If your kid’s school offers an online grade report system, sign up for it! Kids (particularly middle schoolers like ours) will not tell you their grades routinely. They don’t know, don’t care or don’t want us to find out. And when you are not there for parent-teacher conferences, getting papers coming home or helping with homework, this is a great opportunity to keep involved. And this one is FREE!
Vonage: Another kid essential subscription. We thought it was important to for our kids to have a landline phone. This is an emergency phone. Now that they are getting to the age they are able to be home without a parent, they need to be able to call 9-1-1, call mom, call dad, a neighbor or grandparents without searching for a cell phone and hoping it is charged. With it being an internet based phone, they can call overseas and long distances without a special plan. We also decided that it would give a more secure and reliable way to reach the kids if something were to happen to Brian on deployment.
Cozi Family Calendar: We essentially run 2 households that try to function as one. Add in 2 jobs, 2 reserve careers, the kids with rotating visitation schedules, 6 pets and random other obligations, it gets quite hectic. We created a joint family calendar using Cozi. Life became so much easier. Each family member and pet gets a color and all events get put on the calendar. Both of us can access this calendar from our computers and phones. We keep track of birthdays, holidays, kids’ visitation, drills, work, extracurricular activities, vet visits, etc. You can even do your meal planning and shopping lists on this app (which was helpful when Brian was state-side as I made BOTH grocery lists). You can upgrade from the FREE VERSION for a few extra features like a birthday tracker, ad-free app and a contact book. With all our family activity in one place, Brian can easily see when we will be home and available since he is usually calling in the middle of the day due to the time difference.
Dropbox: We use this for large file sharing. Pictures and videos take a lot of space and cannot always be emailed easily. Facebook doesn’t share high enough resolution to print photos and only uploads short video clips. This way we can send pictures of the kids, each other and the fur-babies without worrying about quality or size. Another bonus, this one is FREE!
SendOutCards: We can send birthday cards, Christmas cards, notes, etc with the click of a button. We can each upload our contacts, photos and create our masterpieces together. And we don’t have to worry about who will spend the time addressing and stamping the envelopes. This is a useful investment with a wedding in the future!
EveryDollar: This is the Dave Ramsey budgeter. We can share the budget together even though we are not sitting down for a monthly budget meeting. We can discuss, visualize, and update the budget as the month goes. And since we are using this deployment to work towards becoming debt-free, being on the same page with the budget is important. We opt for just the FREE VERSION because I am really the one spending money so the upgraded version didn’t seem a wise way to spend money. But, if you make a lot of debt transactions, you may want to consider the automatic link to your bank to make life even easier.
1-800-Flowers: This was Brian’s idea. He is a flower-sender. He has always sent flowers to our mothers for big holidays. This year, I got added to the flower-receiving list. This subscription gets free shipping, so after the Christmas holiday, it already paid for itself. And it’s a great way to keep romance up while being 7000 miles apart.
Feeling like a close family when distance is involved is a real challenge. These are some of the subscriptions that have made our life easier while we are far apart. Hopefully someday, we won’t have to use them as much. For now, we splurge a little every month for these subscriptions until that day comes.
What are memberships you find helpful to keeping your family close during deployment?