My first real job was the U.S. Navy. I was 17 years-old and was leaving home and going to be “on my own” for the first time. The Navy taught me many things, some of which have shaped the person I have become but one thing I didn’t learn was how to manage money. My first checks in boot camp were spent on junk food (the chow hall food left much to be desired) and stationary to write letters to friends and family. When I received my checks on the 1st and the 15th, I promptly purchased everything I “needed”. My shopping list included a stereo (for my room in the barracks) and some civilian clothes; of course, the base nightclub and bowling alley benefitted from my bi-monthly windfall. I did develop better financial habits over the four years but, at the end of my enlistment, I left the Navy broke with a young son. I hadn’t participated in any of the retirement savings accounts (now called the Thrift Savings Plan) and I didn’t even know how to set up a budget.

Fast forward more than 25 years and I see many service members struggling with some of the same challenges I faced as a young sailor. Many are receiving a pretty substantial amount of money each month without any real understanding of how to plan for a secure future. Others are trying to support a family on wages that often fall short, making them eligible for food stamps. Certainly, there are many programs the military has in place to help service members learn money management. Unfortunately there are also a host of financial predators seeking ways to separate you from your hard-earned cash.

The Foundation for Financial Planning has developed some excellent tools to help service members (active duty and veterans) learn more about ways to Accomplish Your Financial Mission and manage your financial life. The free resource offers tools to help you:

  • Calculate your net worth – know the value of what you own and what you owe (this also will inform which insurance products you may need to protect what you have).

  • Create a spending and saving plan – the only way to reach your financial goals is to know how much is available to save for goals or to reduce debt.

  • Build an emergency fund – prepare for the unexpected a little bit at a time to avoid going into debt or using payday lenders when financial emergencies occur.

  • Manage credit – in addition to having a negative impact on your ability to borrow money at reasonable rates, service members are at risk of losing a security clearance if debt gets out of control.

  • Get key estate planning documents – make sure you and your family are protected. The military has most of the documents in place, but you have to know what the documents mean and keep copies for yourself in a safe place.

  • Get the insurance you need – think about it, what can’t you afford to lose? Are you and your spouse adequately protected? Could you afford to replace all of your personal property in the event of a flood or fire?

We are grateful to you for your service to our country. You owe it to yourself and your loved ones to take good care of your financial future.

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