During my 17 years in the military, I have seen servicemembers of all ranks develop exceptional as well as horrible financial habits. I have seen junior enlisted people develop savings and spending plans that set them up for future success, and I have seen officers whose financial mismanagement prevents them from feeding their families.
Rank has little to do with one’s ability to handle money wisely. It’s all about your habits.
Command of your finances is just as important in your family as military command is in the field. Anyone in the military knows that command basics are applicable in any military engagement. For example, the mission must be clear and measurable, and must be communicated to all levels of command. The commander communicates the mission to the fighting troops, who carry out the plan. Once the troops finish their job, the results are communicated back to the commander, who then adjusts the plan to do it again until the objectives are met.
The same applies to your personal financial life. Your mission is to achieve your financial goals. You may ask yourself, “What do I want to do professionally in the military, after I retire or separate from the military? What do I want to provide for my children? What fun things do I want to do?” Planning will allow you to see what you need to do to achieve your goals.
Perhaps one of your biggest goals is to plan your career after the military. Let’s say you have decided to make the military your career. You can probably guess your rank and approximate pay upon retirement. (Be realistic! Don’t plan on retiring as a general if you can reasonably plan on retiring as a master sergeant.) Now you have a basis for what you will need to earn in your second career and what jobs will get you there in your life after the military. This is only one example of the kinds of decisions you will need to make as you are planning.
Once you have thought of your goals, write them down! There is an old saying in the military; “If it ain’t written, it ain’t.” Look around your military organization, and you are likely to find goals written for the unit. When you’ve committed your goals in writing, you can look at them again and again to provide motivation for you to complete them. Discuss the goals with your family. Commanders use commander’s calls to inform the troops what is going on. Have a “commander’s call” with your family so everyone knows where you are going.
Now you need to consider how you are going to pay for your goals. If you have a specific vacation goal, for example, you might learn that it will cost $1,000 and you want to take that vacation in 10 months. Whether you save $100 a month for 10 months or hope that a long lost relative will die and leave the money to you, at least now you have an idea of how much you will need and when. Plan this way for all of your goals – and, of course, put it in writing!
The Family Support Center at your base will have experienced financial counselors who can help you set your goals and develop plans to help you achieve those goals. This service is free to military families and is completely confidential, so take advantage of it!