As a new recruit after basic training, there's a lot to learn about your branch of the military, job, and first duty station. Equally important is learning to manage your finances by creating healthy savings habits. Military Saves has your back with these five steps to take as you start your career in the military.
1. Understand your benefits and LES (Leave and Earning Statement)
Ignorance is not bliss. From Tricare to your housing allowance, understand the full range of benefits available to you and use them wisely to save money. Here are some guides to get started on understanding your LES. Address errors with your installation's Finance Office.
2. Find your Personal Financial Counselor
Did you know that many installations offer FREE, confidential financial counseling to servicemembers and families? This service is expensive in the civilian world. Get your installation's contact information here to find your counselor and get your financial house in order.
3. Come up with a savings plan and set some goals
Take a hard look at your income and expenses and create a realistic savings plan or budget. Check out SaveandInvest.org and USAAEF.org for great information on how to create a spending plan.
Then add a new line item to it to pay yourself first (and save automatically), rather than treating your savings as an afterthought. Work with your Personal Financial Counselor to identify at least one savings goal and commit to it by taking the Military Saves Pledge. People who pledge and create a savings plan are twice as likely to make progress meeting their savings needs.
One possible savings goal is retirement, and a big change is coming to military retirement next year. Between Jan. 1- Dec. 31, 2018, the new Blended Retirement System (BRS) goes into effect, and service members with fewer than 12 years of service (as of December 31, 2017) will be required to make an irrevocable decision--to opt into the BRS or stay in the legacy retirement system. Educate yourself on the BRS, then, take informed, decisive action in 2018 to meet your retirement savings goals. Learn more here.
4. Steer clear of needless debt
It might be tempting to buy a new car or new furniture at your first duty station but proceed with caution. Spending without a plan can leave you with dangerous debt. Instead, save for your big purchases. If you find yourself in a financial jam, stay away from the trap of payday loans and look for help from an alternative, such as a military relief agency. Build and nurture your credit. Here's how.
5. Sync up your savings plan with your career and personal plans
Every promotion, deployment, temporary duty (TDY), and Permanent Change of Station (or PCS) move is an opportunity to assess your financial fitness. Could you save one percent more now that you're a newly-pinned Specialist? Could you add $50 more per month to your emergency and transition funds and $50 more per month to pay off debt during your upcoming deployment? Save for life's special events ahead of time so that you're able to enjoy them more. Are marriage and children in your future? If so, saving ahead of time will make these huge life changes a lot less stressful.