When you signed the enlistment papers or received your commission, it likely marked a drastic transition in your life from civilian to service member. But if this is your first career, it’s also probably a significant milestone into adulthood. Not only will you likely move away from your childhood home, but you’ll also be out on your own for the first time. And with that – you’ll also have to manage your own finances. If you’re just starting your military career, here are some tips to help you start out on the right financial footing.
1. Make your money work for you
Creating a budget can sound daunting, especially if you are managing your finances for the first time or you have limited income. But, if you view a budget as an organizational structure to help you take control of your finances, it can act as a helpful tool to make your money work for your current situation and your future goals. To get started, subtract necessary expenses, like monthly bills and emergency savings from your monthly paycheck. Then, distribute the remaining money among non‐essential items, like shopping, gym memberships and dining out. Be realistic about how much you spend on these items. It may even be helpful to track your expenses for a month or two. You might be surprised at how you’re currently allocating your money and, better yet, you may discover some savings opportunities.
2. Pay yourself first
Once you decide how much you should save each month, take that money out of each paycheck, before paying bills or making purchases. Think of this as “paying yourself first.” The easiest way to do this is with an automatic deduction going into your savings account. That way, you can make saving a priority and not accidentally spend that money on something else. Ideally, you should have three to six months’ worth of emergency savings that is easily accessible in the event of unexpected expenses. In addition to a savings account, be sure to contribute to the Thrift Savings Plan. Once you are contributing to your account, you can seek out other investment opportunities.
3. Have a plan to tackle debt
If you have any debt, such as holding a balance on a credit card, create a plan to pay it off as quickly as possible. Once you pay the monthly minimum amount on all of your debts, use any leftover money to pay off debts one at a time, starting with the highest interest rate and working backward. And yes, you’ll have to use some of that “fun money” you may be using for non‐essential items to get out of debt quicker.
4. Ask for help
Finally, don’t be reluctant to ask for help. Consult an independent financial advisor who can evaluate your needs and prescribe affordable, high‐quality solutions.
These tips can help anyone take control of their finances. But for military millennials, they are especially important because cultivating good financial habits early in one’s career is the best path toward a secure financial future.