Military families face unusual financial hurdles that most other families never have to deal with. Between being deployed overseas and frequently moving to different military bases, managing money and saving for the future often takes a backseat to everyday struggles. Instead of just surviving, military families can take these 5 tips to get control of their finances and thrive in the unique world of being a service member.
1. Learn to Manage Money During Overseas Deployment
Online banking makes it easier than every to manage money and transfer funds while one member of the family is deployed, but sometimes being in a remote area such as Afghanistan can make it difficult to log-in and keep tabs on finances.
Fortunately, there are military-friendly investment companies that have made it easier for military families to manage money while stationed overseas. The USAA offers insurances and banking products for military members and their families that make it easy to access accounts while abroad and incur minimum fees for non-bank transactions.
2. Plan for Moves
Moving every few years is part of military life, but moving so frequently can make it difficult to adjust to higher living expenses or to put down long-term roots. One of the most common and costly mistakes service members make is buying a home in an area and then attempting to rent it out long-distance when they are re-stationed.
Even those who think they will buy, live in a home for a few years and then sell should be cautious. This type of financial gamble doesn’t always pay off and often it can be a very costly mistake. To avoid having to sell at a loss, don’t buy a house unless you know you’re going to be in the area for a while.
3. Plan Accordingly for the Spouse’s Career
Relocating every few years can make it challenging for a spouse to hold down a job. Many military spouses end up hopping from one short-term job to another, which makes it difficult to advance or set up retirement savings. Because of the difficulty, many dual-military couples are on the rise. Having both partners in the service gives you more than one stream of income that doesn’t penalize you for frequently moving.
If both members aren’t in the military, it’s best to budget for a single income. That way, if a sudden move comes up and the spouse can’t find work immediately following the relocation, the loss in income won’t generate unnecessary debt or derail retirement plans.
4. Get Financial Advice
Rather than trying to go it alone, military members should seek sound financial advice. The military is not traditionally a culture that puts emphasis on financial planning, so you may need to seek help outside of the service. If you do reach out to military service providers, don’t get sucked into high-commission products that are more in the interest of the seller than yourself.
When interviewing financial advisers, make sure they understand the military pay structure and retirement plan. The military operates differently than civilian organizations, so it’s important to find someone with the right qualifications to help you make the best decisions.
5. Have Caution When Exiting the Military
There’s one thing that every military member can count on and that’s transitioning back into civilian life. Many members are eligible to retire after serving 20 years, but most find that they don’t have enough saved for a real retirement at that point. Many have to take on a civilian job to make ends meet while they bide their time.
To prepare for your eventual return to the civilian world, get as much education as you can in the military. If you joined right out of high school, consider getting your bachelor’s degree through military advancement programs to minimize out of pocket expenses. Educating yourself will not only help once you get out of the military, it could also lead to promotions and pay increases while still enlisted.