Military life comes with substantial responsibilities and opportunities for growth, both personally and financially, often at an early age. Whether you are a Private or a General, it’s never too early to develop smart habits for managing and saving money in the military.
Top 11 Military Money Management Tips
1. Don’t overspend.
This is a basic concept, but it’s an important one. You will never be able to get ahead financially if you spend more than you earn. This includes overusing credit cards. Spending less than you bring in is critical for military money management.
2. Create a budget.
Track your spending for a few months to find out how much you make versus how much you spend. Regular bills (e.g., rent or car payments) are easy to track, but other bills (e.g., groceries, clothing, entertainment, etc.) are areas where it’s easy to overspend. Tracking how much you spend and then setting and sticking to a budget can help ensure you have money left over for savings. You can create a budget manually in a planner or a spreadsheet, or you can use online apps and resources to stay on top of spending.
3. Avoid getting into debt.
While it’s always smart to avoid debt, it’s especially important for servicemembers. If you are in a role that requires a security clearance, you can be denied clearance if your debt-to-income ratio is too high. In 2018, the DoD switched to a rolling clearance review, which means they frequently review credit reports and scores in relation to security clearances.
4. Use credit cards wisely.
If you are going to use credit cards, there are some that are better than others, and some designed for military members. Look for cards that offer zero interest and points or rewards. The key to successful credit card use is to pay them off each month. Larger purchases on credit cards are okay if you have zero interest for a specific time period. Make sure you pay off your cards before the interest rate increases.
5. Create a savings account.
Saving money in the military can actually be easier than in some other jobs because servicemembers often receive different types of pay for different benefits. For example, servicemembers get an enlistment bonus that can be directly deposited into a savings account, making it easier not to spend it all on an impulse purchase.
6. Ask about military discounts.
Many retailers, restaurants, and service providers give military discounts, typically averaging anywhere from 5% to 25%. They don’t always broadcast the discount, so be sure to ask and be ready to show your military ID when required. Even small savings add up over time.
7. Shop on base.
From fuel to groceries, you can save money by shopping on base. Gas is usually cheaper on military bases, so fill up while you are there. Likewise, groceries often cost less at the commissary, which also doesn’t charge tax.
8. Use a VA home loan.
When it’s time to purchase a home, one of the most popular benefits for servicemembers and Veterans is the VA mortgage loan. Unlike traditional mortgage loans, VA Loans are backed by the government, so lenders are willing to take a greater risk. This equates to being able to buy a home for $0 down payment, with rates that are often lower than traditional mortgage loans.
9. Take advantage of the GI Bill.
Another one of the military’s best benefits is the GI Bill, which provides education benefits that can be used for college, technical school, vocational training, flight training, certification tests, business training, distance learning, and other opportunities that could normally cost you thousands of dollars to pay for on your own. There are also educational incentives for spouses. Don’t let these opportunities go to waste!
10. Save for retirement.
The Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) is one of the best retirement savings programs available, and it’s exclusively offered to military members and other federal employees. The New Blended Retirement System (BRS) automatically contributes an amount equivalent to 1% of your pay to the TSP, but it will match up to an additional 4% of your pay if you contribute as well.
11. Fill the gaps in your life insurance coverage.
If something were to happen to you, life insurance can ensure your family is financially taken care of in your passing. SGLI is often not enough coverage, especially for military families with dependents, and you lose it when you leave the military. Adequately protect your family before that happens with supplemental term life insurance that stays with you even after your service ends.
With that in mind, all term insurance has an end date by definition. So, to fully cover your family’s needs, you should have some amount of permanent coverage as well. Whole life insurance provides that level of security, plus it builds cash value that you can use later for large expenses or even retirement. The younger you are, the lower your monthly premium will be and it will never go up.
Get help building a financial plan.
Talking to a financial expert who understands the unique needs of the military community can help you establish a strong financial foundation. AAFMAA Wealth Management & Trust LLC (AWM&T) has expert Relationship Managers who can help you budget, save, and invest more efficiently in order to achieve your short- and long-term financial goals. Call 910-390-1933 or contact us online for more information about how AWM&T and help you today.