Managing Your Money as a New Service Member
You're learning a lot of new skills in the military, and money management should be one of them. As a service member, you may earn more, get special duty pay or have new expenses. It's your money. Make the most of it by creating a financial plan. Staying on top of your finances is important for your security clearance, your career and your future.
Do a budget for yourself
Good financial management starts with writing a budget. Seek advice from one of the military's no-cost personal financial counselors. If you have a family, get their input and set priorities. This will give family members a clear view of income and expenses.
Save money every day
Make sure to track your spending and save where you can. Your weekly trips to the coffee shop can add up quickly. Here are a few ways to save money immediately:
- Elect to save with the Thrift Savings Plan. Stash some money away in this defined contribution plan. How much you receive when you retire depends on how much you put into your account during your working years, so it's a good idea to funnel as much as you can into this plan.
- Eat out less frequently. Invite friends over for a potluck dinner instead of a more expensive meal out. Cook for yourself instead of eating takeout.
- Avoid impulse buys. Force yourself to wait a week and see if you can live without the item you want or if you can find it cheaper somewhere else.
- Take advantage of military discounts. Get discounts on insurance, travel, dining out, sporting events and recreation to name just a few.
- Don't pay full price. Shop at outlets or during sales. Take advantage of online discounts. Get the best prices and tax-free shopping at your local exchange and commissary.
- Use the library for free books, music, magazines and videos. You can also find many of these same items for no cost at centers for single service members on your installation.
- Use the on-base gym and Morale Welfare and Recreation facilities at no cost. It's cheaper than joining a health club, and the workout is just as good.
- Check the local or installation newspaper for free activities. Your installation Morale, Welfare and Recreation clubs may offer specials as well.
Look at the big picture
It's also important to take a long view when creating your budget, making decisions about using credit and preparing for financial emergencies. The goal is to save enough money to ensure a bright financial future. Here are some tips for saving money over the long haul:
- Make sure you're getting free checking. If you are paying bank fees, find a bank with a better offer. If you're on an installation, consult the installation bank and credit union.
- Use your bank card only at no-fee ATM machines. Or open an account with a bank that pays other banks' fees for using their ATMs. Many stores also give you the option of getting $20, $40 or another amount in cash back with debit card purchases.
- Get rid of any credit cards with annual fees. Avoid interest charges by paying off balances each month. Never get caught by late fees.
- Raise the deductible on your car insurance and lower your monthly payment. Just make sure you've saved enough money to cover the higher deductible.
- Shop for the best deals on cell phone service, car insurance and other services. Be careful of long-term contracts that may leave you stuck if you move or deploy.
- Turn off lights and lower heat or air conditioning settings when you're not home. Check your windows and doors for drafts and put some insulation around areas where you feel cold or warm air.
Pay off your debt
Use that extra money you saved with the tips above to pay off your debt:
- Acknowledge that you have debt issues. Commit to fixing them.
- Stop spending. Take your credit cards, store cards and gas cards out of your wallet and put them in a secure location at home or cut them up.
- Make a spending plan. Stick to it to avoid incurring additional debt.
- Pay down your debts month by month and pay them off one by one. Make a list of the debt payments you owe each month, including the annual interest rate on each card. Then prioritize according to interest rate. Over time, you'll get your debts paid off.