Capt. Rob Eckhardt is the first to admit that he hasn’t always been responsible with money. But less than 10 years after a rocky start to saving, Eckhardt reports that he and his wife are free from credit card debt, have a down payment on a home, and are saving regularly for retirement. And, as the Military Saves representative for his Air Force squadron, he’s helping others make similar progress.

Eckhardt credits his personal success to working with his wife and "building up good habits that we were able to stick with even after we got out of debt."

"I started from a pretty bad place," he said. "I was a young single guy in Vegas, and it was not a lifestyle where you were thinking about your long term future." He listed some things he now considers financial mistakes: leasing a brand new car when his old car was sufficient, spending too much money on nights out, and racking up over $5,000 in credit card debt.

But when he met his future wife and got engaged, Eckhardt and his fiancé began to prioritize getting out of debt and becoming financially stable. Their combined credit card debt was nearly $25,000, so they started out by getting rid of their credit cards and setting a budget. Eckhardt also shipped to Iraq shortly after his engagement, and the tax-free combat pay he received made it easier to make ends meet.

The couple saves money by "eating at home 90 percent of the time," he said. They also began tracking their spending and analyzing their budget together and would "celebrate if we paid off a credit card or reduced some debt significantly." He also credits his wife for being "very responsible" about sticking to the budget while he was overseas.

In Eckhardt’s role as the Military Saves representative for his Air Force squadron, he works to find appropriate investment vehicles for other troops, get more troops signed up for the Thrift Savings Plan (a retirement savings program for government employees and member of the military), and helps spread the message about the benefits of saving.

During Military Saves Week, Eckhardt planned a briefing and held individual follow-up conversations for almost everyone in his squadron. "The message I’ve been trying to get out is to eliminate debt, as much as possible," he said.

In talking with younger troops, Eckhardt recounts an experience he had in a cell phone store in Italy, where he is now stationed. As he was waiting in line, he listened to the young airman in front of him debate about whether he should get a new iPhone, even though he’d recently bought a new Blackberry and opportunities to use cell phones on base are limited.

"He was saying he would just blow his whole paycheck on a phone that he would barely use and had no need for," Eckhardt said. "So I would tell that story, about how foolish it seemed to me that they would not be looking for ways to save money – after all, I’m not all that old and I’m trying to look for ways save."

"It was such a mental relief for me to know I had no credit card debt."

Capt. Rob Eckhardt
Military Saver

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