By Alecia D. Blair, Military Saves Communications & Outreach Manager, AFC® Candidate, FINRA Foundation Fellow
As a new recruit after basic training, there’s a lot to learn about your branch of the military, job or MOS (military occupation specialty), and first duty station. How well (and how quickly) you learn these skills can impact your military career.
Equally important is how well you learn to manage your financial fitness by creating healthy savings habits. Here are five money moves you should make by the time you get to your first duty station to set yourself up for success.
1. Understand your benefits and LES (Leave and Earning Statement)
When it comes to money and the military, ignorance is not bliss. From Tricare to your housing allowance, understand the full range of benefits available to you and use them wisely to save money.
Do you understand how to read your LES? If not, here are some guides to get your started. Be sure to address errors with your installation’s Finance Office. After all, the first step to saving money is to make sure you’re receiving your pay and benefits correctly.
2. Find your Personal Financial Counselor
Did you know that many installations offer FREE, confidential financial counseling to service members and families? It’s true! This service is expensive in the civilian world. Seek out your financial counselor and the guidance he or she has to offer to help you get your financial house in order. Find your installation’s contact information here to get started.
Don’t forget to check in with your local military bank/credit union on your installation to see what products, resources, financial education and support they can offer to you/your unit!
3. Come up with a savings plan and set some goals
Now’s the perfect time to take a hard look at your income and expenses and create a realistic savings plan or budget. Check out SaveandInvest.org and USAAEF.org for great information on how to create a spending plan.
Once you’ve created a spending plan, add a new line item to it to pay yourself first (and save automatically), rather than treating your savings as an afterthought. What will you save for? Work with your Personal Financial Counselor to identify at least one savings goal and commit to it by taking the Military Saves Pledge. People who Pledge and create a savings plan are twice as likely to make good progress meeting their savings needs.
One possible savings goal is retirement, and a big change is coming to military retirement next year. Between Jan. 1- Dec. 31, 2018, the new Blended Retirement System (BRS) goes into effect, and service members with fewer than 12 years of service (as of December 31, 2017) will be required to make an irrevocable decision–to opt into the BRS or stay in legacy retirement system. Educate yourself on the BRS, then, take informed, decisive action in 2018 to meet your retirement savings goals. Learn more here.
4. Steer clear of needless debt
It might be tempting to run out and buy a new car or new furniture at your first duty station, especially when you get paid twice a month. And yes, retailers will want to sell you their goods and services–your paycheck is as reliable as Uncle Sam! But proceed with caution. Spending without a plan can leave you with dangerous debt. Instead, save for your big purchases. if you find yourself in a financial jam, stay away from the trap of payday loans and look for help from an alternative, such as a military relief agency. Build and nurture your credit. Here’s how.
5. Sync up your savings plan with your career and personal plans
Every promotion, deployment, temporary duty (or TDY) and Permanent Change of Station (or PCS) move is an opportunity to stop and assess your own financial fitness. Could you save 1 percent more now that you’re a newly-pinned Specialist? Could you add $50 more per month to your emergency and transition funds and $50 more per month to pay off debt during your upcoming deployment? A change in your military career is often a great opportunity to bring positive change to your financial situation.
Are marriage and children in your future? If so, saving ahead of time will make these huge life changes a lot less stressful. Weddings, managing the expenses of a household and the needs of a baby offer big financial challenges for young military families. (Did you know that the average cost of a wedding is more than $30,000, according theknot.com?!) Save for life’s special events ahead of time so that you’re able to enjoy them more.
And before you jump into parenthood, consider the expenses of raising a baby and begin saving. Ask yourself if your household income and savings comfortably support a family. If not, set this as a savings goal and begin working towards it.
Military Saves has your back as you start your career in the military. Follow these five steps to set yourself up for financial fitness now and throughout your career.