Young and in the Military: Five Tips for Financial Success

By Lauren Welch, AFC, Financial Counselor & Owner of Thrive Financial Counseling

If you are just exiting high school, you might have been fortunate enough to take a personal finance class. If youre a millennial (like me) and your parents did not teach you financial fundamentals, you may have left high school and entered into the real world without the tools to succeed financially.

In college, you may have been hit with offers for free t-shirts for signing up for a credit card. And if you joined the military straight out of high school, you may have received your first paycheck without the information and skills to know how to manage it.

These could be very scary situations to be in. Money can easily go in one hand and out the other without any idea of where it went or what should be done differently with it. So often young military members can overspend while under saving and under utilizing the opportunity they have to set themselves up for success.

Here are five easy-to-remember tips for military millennials to start down the path to financial success.

  1. Understand everything you purchase, whether a coffee pot, an investment or insurance. Don't be afraid to say “let me get back to you,” “let me think on it overnight” or “can I get a copy of this to review on my own?” If you are in the market to invest, take the time to educate yourself on all things investments. Taking the Mystery Out of Retirement Planning is a great place to start. 

  2. Track spending each and every month with a budget. Find free budget templates online, from your base Navy Marine Corps Relief Society (NMCRS) or Personal Financial Management office and budget trackers, such as Excel or, just to name a few resources.

  3. It is important to understand what to do when you receive credit. A credit score and a credit report are used for a lot of things, such as securing a potential job, undergoing a security check, applying for a mortgage loan (with a low interest rate) and many other things. Know there is a cost to using credit (interest) and that it is important to pay your credit card bill every month and in full if possible, on or before the due date. Also, the general rule of thumb for using credit is to only use it for necessities. Know your credit limit, use credit sparingly, and use no more than 30 percent of your credit limit, paying your balance every month.

  4. Put money aside at a young age for investing in your future. Young people are sometimes challenged by saving for the future.  It’s important to think about the “opportunity cost” of that money being invested. Opportunity cost means if you do something with money, you have lost the opportunity to do something else with that same amount of money. If you invest $100, you cannot go out to dinner with it. If you are still unsure about the need to invest at an early age, understand the power of compound interest.

  5. Spend only what you make. Well, spend less than what you make, so you have the ability to save some of your hard-earned income each month. For example, if you make $1000 a month, it is a good idea to only spend $900 a month, not $1000 or $1200. First, do not spend more than you earn through the use of credit cards or loans. Spending less than you earn gives you the opportunity to save money for short and long-term goals, such as emergencies, purchases, down payments and vehicles. A great goal is to sock away 10 percent of your income each month into savings.

    What is the first step once you have set aside money to save? Set some goals and put those goals where you can see them, such as on your refrigerator. Even with limited income, it is important to start small and watch it grow.

Military millennials, there it is. Your jobs provide you with the ability to set financial goals, make plans and follow through to be successful long term.

For more great resources, go to Military Saves Resource Links.