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Military Finances 101: Managing Finances for Recently Commissioned Officers Thumbnail

Military Finances 101: Managing Finances for Recently Commissioned Officers

Managing Your Finances

Congrats! You're a recent college graduate and more importantly you're a brand-new Lieutenant or Ensign.

As you step into “Active Duty,” one of the most crucial skills you can develop, beyond your military core competencies is financial literacy. Here are some tips to help you navigate the exciting yet challenging journey toward financial independence.

1. Create a Spending Plan and Stick to It

The cornerstone of financial stability is creating a spending plan. Start by listing all your income sources, whether from military pay, or any other avenues. Next, list all your expenses, including rent, utilities, groceries, transportation, and entertainment.

Once you have a clear picture of your income and expenses, allocate your money accordingly. Aim to save at least 20% of your income and allocate the rest to your costs. Apps like Mint or You Need a Budget (YNAB) can help you track your spending and stay within your budget.

2. Build an Emergency Fund

Life is unpredictable, and unexpected expenses can arise when you least expect them. Building an emergency fund to cover these unforeseen costs is crucial without dipping into your savings or turning to credit cards.

As a rule of thumb, aim to save three to six months’ worth of living expenses in your emergency fund.1 While you're on Active Duty, 3 months is probably fine. Start small if you need to but make consistent contributions until you reach this goal. Consider opening a high-yield savings account separate from your checking to reduce the temptation to spend this money.

3. Start Saving for Retirement

Retirement might seem like a lifetime away, but the earlier you start saving, the more time your money has to grow. Start contributing to TSP immediately and make at a minimum make sure you contribute enough (5%) to get the full government match.

Consider opening an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) if a workplace plan is unavailable. Traditional IRAs offer tax-deferred growth, while Roth IRAs allow tax-free withdrawals in retirement.3 Aim to contribute a percentage of your monthly income, increasing it as your salary grows.

4. Don't Neglect Insurance

Insurance might not be the most exciting topic, but it’s crucial for protecting your finances in emergencies.

Renter’s insurance is often inexpensive and covers your belongings in case of theft or damage. If you own a car, auto insurance is mandatory and can save you from massive expenses in the case of an accident. As you progress in your career and start a family consider life insurance (SGLI as a start) for added protection, just make sure it doesn't have war or aviation clauses (SGLI doesn't).

5. Set Financial Goals

Having clear financial goals gives you direction and motivation. Whether it’s saving for a down payment on a house, traveling the world, starting a business, or retiring early, define your goals and create a plan to achieve them.

Break down your goals into small, manageable steps. Celebrate milestones along the way, and don’t be afraid to adjust your plan as life circumstances change. Regularly reviewing your goals keeps you accountable and focused on your financial journey.

6. Seek Professional Financial Advice When Needed

While educating yourself is crucial, don’t hesitate to seek professional financial advice when needed. A financial advisor can provide personalized guidance based on your unique situation and help you pursue your financial goals.

Many planners offer free consultations, so take advantage of these opportunities to ask questions and gain insights. They can assist with retirement planning, investment strategies, and tax optimization.

Embarking on your post-graduation financial journey can feel daunting, but with the proper knowledge and habits, you can set yourself up for long-term success. Start small, stay consistent, and don’t be afraid to learn from your mistakes. The choices you make today will shape your financial landscape tomorrow.

Military Finances are Different

As you start your military career, you'll find that your benefits and financial situation are different than your civilian counterparts. That's why we think you should work with a Financial Planner or Advisor that works with Active Military Members every day. If you'd like to find out how we can get you started on the right track, use the button below to schedule a free initial consultation.

If you found this article useful, you might like the following blog posts:

Military Finances 101: Which Financial Documents Should You Back Up?

Military Finances 101: Should I Consider a Free Credit Lock?

Military Finances 101: Liability Insurance

  1. https://investor.vanguard.com/investor-resources-education/emergency-fund/whats-the-right-emergency-fund-amount
  2. https://www.nerdwallet.com/article/loans/student-loans/student-loan-debt
  3. https://www.investopedia.com/retirement/roth-vs-traditional-ira-which-is-right-for-you/

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