I grew up in a military family. Then I grew up and was in another military family. There are some fun things about the culture: you get to travel (AKA moving every few years,) you learn to establish deep friendships quickly and you get discounts just about everywhere you go.
Then there are more serious things. You have to move every few years—you get no say in the matter. You put up with weird spousal schedules as duties rotate.
You say goodbye to family and friends when they deploy, always trying to squelch the seed of fear that sits in your belly, because you’ve known and loved people who haven’t returned, but you cannot allow that seed to grow. Its far-reaching vines would consume you, and right now you need to be strong.
Today I want to remember all those serious things. I want to remember all the sacrifices that military families are currently making. I don’t know if I could do it again, but I’m so grateful that they are.
In that spirit of gratitude, I’m going to do what I do best: find free stuff. The below experiences and services are 100% free to active-duty military and their families. Go out there and have fun. And stash all the money you’ll be saving in your TSP!
Free Tax Filing
I know, I know. I’m a little late on this one. But you can get your taxes filed for free on base every year. Just keep in mind that being a tax preparer is often a seasonally-assigned duty—make sure the supervisor checks your preparer’s numbers!
PenFed Credit Union Membership
PenFed is a national credit union that has a field of membership open to active-duty miliary (and retired) families to join. They offer great rates, and stand behind their commitment to the military, not only through their programs and financial services, but also through their charitable arm The PenFed Foundation – which offers programs for the military like The Military Heroes Fund, The Asset Recovery Kit (ARK) and the Dream Makers Program.
Free YMCA Membership
Active duty military members and their families get free membership at the local Y. To join, request an eligibility form from Military OneSource.
Free Wedding Dress
If you or your spouse-to-be has been deployed in the past five years, or has a deployment around the corner, you’ll want to head to a Brides Across America exhibition. At these events, active duty women or soon-to-be military spouses are given free wedding dresses for the big day.
This year there are still events scheduled in Colorado and Florida. There were also events in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, South Carolina and Virginia in 2017.
Want to show your appreciation to military families? Donate a dress here.
Free Family Portrait
Sometimes you aren’t home very long before you’re gone again. Those moments are precious, and so are the memories that go along with them. Operation: Love Reunited is a network of photographers spread across the country who provide their services to military families for free.
Free Entrance to National Parks
The National Park Service and Federal Recreational Lands do not charge active-duty military for annual passes. Just show your military ID at any of these sites and they will issue you one for free.
If you’re not in the military, you can get into National Parks for free on designated days. Find out when they are.
Free Access to Select NJ Beaches
Apparently you have to have a badge to go to the beach in New Jersey. Fortunately for military families, these badges are issued to you for free in many, though not all, municipalities.
Free Admission to George W. Bush Presidential Library & Museum
Located in Dallas, Texas, active-duty military and up to five of their family members get free admission to this unique museum.
Free Admission to MoMA
Active-duty military members and their families get into this iconic museum for free. All the time.
Free Admission to the San Diego Zoo
My biggest regret about my trip to San Diego last fall is that I missed the zoo. Military families don’t have to, though. Active-duty members get in for free, and if you talk to your MWR on base before you leave, they may be able to get you heavily discounted tickets for the rest of your family, too.
Free Admission to Amazing Theme Parks
Under the Waves for Honor program, active-duty military families can go to the following theme parks for free, as long as they register online before they go:
- Sea World—San Antonio, San Diego and Orlando locations only.
- Busch Gardens—Tampa & Williamsburg locations only.
- Sesame Place—This is a Sesame Street theme park outside of Philly.
Vet Tix is a platform where people donate tickets to various concerts and events to have them claimed (for free) by active-duty military and veterans. You can check out the current selection here.
*This post is in collaboration with PenFed Credit Union. The views expressed in the article are the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Pentagon Federal Credit Union. PenFed Credit Union is an Equal Housing Lender and is federally insured by the NCUA.*