Something I Never Imagined
If someone had told me 10 years ago, I would have served in the United States Army I probably would have laughed in their face. I mean, I’m strong and smart, but I’m also a “girly” girl. I do not like germs, or mud, or being dirty. But, for 8 years I wore the uniform of a Soldier proudly. I will never regret a single minute of it! That’s because the Army grew me. It did it in ways I never imagined it would. I was pushed out of my comfort zone. I was challenged to be and do more. I learned new skills I can use for the rest of my life. And, I am a part of something so much bigger than me. For that, I will always be grateful!
Who Would Have Thought?
One of the skills I developed during the first couple years while serving was a passion of mine – personal finance. Yeah! Who would have thought one would fall in love with anything finance related while learning how to kick in doors and clear buildings? But the fact I joined the Army at the age of 27 meant, I had already had many experiences and lots of knowledge Soldiers with my same rank did not have. And because I knew one of my life goals was to purchase a home by the age of 30 (ugh, us women and our age goals) I was many steps ahead of my peers as far as building my credit, savings, etc., was concerned.
Birthing A New Me
So, what did I do in my spare time? Teach my “Battle Buddies” what I already knew about money of course! Seeing their happiness and excitement when their credit scores and savings increased ‘birthed’ a new me. Throughout my entire career, no matter where I was stationed, that’s what I did in my spare time – help others become more financially savvy while learning more and more about how to be financially savvy myself. There’s just so much joy to be had when there’s a sense of financial peace in a home.
Avoiding “Mental Minefields”
To me, being financially responsible is a very important discipline one must make time to develop. The whole notion of “Oh money comes, money goes” or “It’s just money, I can make it back” is such a dangerous mindset to have. When it comes to money, being in the Army taught me that:
Money mindset is very important – It is never just money.
The direct deposits you receive on a bi-monthly basis are the direct result of trading time and energy for monetary compensation; all while being away from your loved ones for extended periods of time. It is time you never get back. The money you are compensated is also earned in exchange for the wear and tear on your body. As Soldiers, we start our mornings with rigorous physical activity – rucking with gear in excess of 50lbs for up 12 miles, running sometimes up to 10 miles, push-ups, sit ups, pull-ups etc. This all occurs before getting to work and putting in more than 8 hours. So, why after all of that would anyone in their right mind look at a pair of sneakers worth $800 and say, “It’s just money?”
You need to not only look at, but understand your Leave and Earning Statement (Pay slip) – It is wonderful to have money faithfully put into your bank account every month on the 1st and the 15th, right? Absolutely! BUT you also need to carefully and methodically look over your pay statement. You need to do it every statement period. You need to ensure you are not being over or under paid.
That said, it is imperative you understand what you are entitled to, especially if you have a family. There was a Soldier who was being underpaid for years. He did not know it until I pointed it out after going through his entitlements with him. It is possible some of that money may never be recouped because of how much time has already passed.
You Need to Budget
I have always loved budgeting. I will never encourage anyone not to budget. Once you understand where your money is coming from, you need to understand where it is going. It is the least you can do after all the hard work and time you exchange for that paycheck.
Budgeting ensures you spend less than you earn, which means…..you can save more!
Save, Save, Save
As Soldiers we sometimes get comfortable with guaranteed paychecks. So much so, some may think there is no real reason to save.
But allow me to dispel that notion right quick.
Those paychecks are only guaranteed IF certain conditions are met. Conditions such as a government shutdown that include military pay being halted. We all remember that last government shutdown when the Coast Guard was not paid for 3 weeks, right? That could have been anyone of us. Without savings, can you honestly say you would have been able to cover your expenses?
Also, in the military, those paychecks are only guaranteed if you are physically fit for duty. It only takes one injury to render you unfit for duty. If you had to take a premature exit out of the service, like I did, being able to sustain yourself in the interim would be extremely challenging if you do not have any savings.
The 9th Wonder of the World
I believe that the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) is the 9 th Wonder of the World. Only 20% of Soldiers serve 20 or more years in the military. That means 80% are not entitled to a retirement check due to their service. This is where the TSP comes in handy. The TSP allows you to save automatically for retirement. At the beginning of this year (2019), the government started contributing 1% and matching up to 4% of whatever money you put into your TSP account. Since the money you contribute to your TSP is invested for you, I was able to amass a decent amount of capital in that account during my time in service.
A Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) is the 9th Wonder of the World. Only 20% of Soldiers serve 20 or more years in the military. That means 80% are not entitled to a retirement check due to their service. This is where the TSP comes in handy. The TSP allows you to save automatically for retirement. At the beginning of this year (2019), the government contributed 1% and matched up to 4% of whatever money you put into your account. Since you can invest money you contribute to your TSP, I was able to amass a decent amount of capital in that account during my time in service.
Here is a “trick.” You want to gradually increase your contributions. By the time I got out of the Army I was contributing 15% of my salary towards retirement in my TSP.
Let me tell you, I never missed that money.
Every time I got a promotion and at the beginning of every year, I would increase my contribution by 1-3%.
To see real growth, it is also important to choose the right index fund(s) for your money.
My Biggest Lesson
I could go on and on about all the things I learned about my money during my years of service. Here is the most important lesson I learned.
Whether you are a Soldier or a babysitter, taking care of the money you work for now, will ensure you are taken care of later. The earlier you start understanding how money works, budgeting, saving and investing, the earlier you can secure your financial future. And knowing you are financially secure is one of the most comforting feelings in the world.
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