Money in the Military
12 Ways to Be Financially Stable
Many military families live paycheck to paycheck and sometimes even struggle to make ends meet. But there’s a big difference between that and being poor. By learning to make smart decisions about money, you can help your family achieve financial stability throughout your stint in the service. Here’s how:
Commit to Learning About Money
While most of us learn about geometry, science, and language arts in school, we rarely learn how to manage our money. That may explain why so many people get themselves into financial trouble. Start learning financial terms now and take as many free financial courses you can find. The more you learn about money, investing, stocks, and financial planning, the better off you’ll be in the future.
Sign up for Financial Perk Programs
The government offers a host of financial programs to help military members become—and stay—financially stable. But many service members never take advantage of those programs. We recommend that you start a Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) or an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) through USAA or Navy Federal. These are savings plans that allow you to put a certain portion of each paycheck into an account that can’t be touched until retirement (unless you want to pay hefty fees and penalties). These accounts will allow your money to grow at a faster rate than a typical savings account.
Manage Money During Deployments
Being deployed is hard enough; trying to pay bills and balance a checkbook at the same time is even harder. Married service members generally have an easier time because they have a spouse who can manage their finances. Still, it's imperative that spouses share all financial information and decisions so they can independently make smart decisions about money if one of them happens to be deployed. If you’re not married, before you deploy, ask a trusted friend or family member to look in on your finances every once in a while to ensure that all your bills get paid in full and on time.
Do the Right Thing With Home Ownership
Owning a home might sound like a great idea, particularly if you qualify for a VA loan and don’t have to put any money down or pay for private mortgage insurance. But if you’re on active duty and moving every few years, buying a home right now might not be the smartest decision. If you have to move, selling your home might take longer than you imagine and you might end up having to sell for less (or at a loss). And if you have no choice but to rent out the property, you’ll end up as a long-distance landlord, which is a major challenge. For most service members, renting is a better choice during the years that you’re moving around a lot.
Help Your Spouse Find a Career Fit
Thanks to those all-too-frequent relocations, many military spouses struggle to find steady work. It’s hard to find a job that will let you work from home or long distance that also pays well. Many military spouses have settled into taking food service, retail, or other entry-level jobs just to bring in some extra income. Encourage your spouse in their economic pursuits. They’ll feel more fulfilled if they're busy and doing something they enjoy. Encourage them to start a small business, work as a freelancer, or offer a service from home that will benefit others.
Avoid Those Pesky Payday Loan Centers
These places like to promise you the moon, but their interest rates are sky-high and get higher each day. Once you’re in, it’s hard to break free. Your best bet? It’s best to avoid these places altogether. Instead, save enough money on your own to pay for large items or apply for a traditional credit card.
Save for the Proverbial Rainy Day
Speaking of savings, it’s really important to have some! It can be quite the juggling act to get all the bills paid and still have money left over for savings, but even if you put just a little bit aside each month, it’ll grow over time. You could set up your checking account to automatically transfer a certain amount to your savings every month. That way, you’ll barely miss the money and your bills will still get paid.
Pack a Lunch
Buying lunch or coffee every day might seem like only a few bucks here and there, but over time, you could end up spending hundreds of dollars a month when you could just as easily have brought a lunch from home.
Get Gas on Base
Limiting how much you drive can be a smart way to save money and so can picking the right place to fill up your tank. Buying gas on base will give you the best price for your money, so make it a point to fill up there, whenever possible.
Shop for Bargains
Before you commit to buying something, make sure you’re getting the best deal. Check consumer reports, product reviews, online sales, and rebate information to make sure you’re not overpaying. At the same time, think twice before buying things you don’t need right away. Take a day to think about it, and if you still can’t live without the item in question, buy it. Most times, items that are unnecessary won’t matter to us once we’re home from the store.
Sign up for Life Insurance
The military offers a fantastic deal when it comes to life insurance. Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (SGLI) costs only 6.5 cents per $1,000 of coverage per month (that’s $312/year for $400,000 of coverage). This insurance is available to all service members, no matter their age, health, or likelihood of deployment. If you don’t already have SGLI coverage, get some now. It’s an important part of planning for your family’s future.
Take Advantage of Tax Breaks
One of the best perks in the military is not having to pay taxes on income earned during a deployment. If you’re putting your life on the line, the least the government can do is give you a break on your taxes. Try to put as much of that tax-free deployment money into a Roth IRA. A few decades from now, when you take the money out, all the earnings will be tax-free as well. One more tax break offered to military members is the ability to maintain residency in one state even if you have to move somewhere else. If, for example, you’re a resident of a tax-free state like Texas and maintain that residency, you won’t have to pay state income tax in any other state, regardless of their tax rate.
Being financially stable in the military isn’t always the easiest thing to do, but if you’re diligent, smart, and take advantage of the benefits offered to you, you’ll prosper during your time in the military.