What the Military Can Teach You about Smart Money Management

By Steve Repak, Special for US Daily Review. 

If someone would ask you, “what would you expect to learn from the military”, most likely Smart Money Management wouldn’t make it in your Top Ten List as one of your answers.  Take heart, it probably wouldn’t make it on the list for many others who were asked the same question.

In the military no matter which branch you enter, each recruit goes through some type of basic training or boot camp.  That instruction is a process of mental and emotional retraining so the recruit can operate in an environment very different from the civilian world.  They are taught to think and react differently in order to be prepared for any situation.   I believe many of the skills and traits you learn in the military can be used to manage your money more effectively.  I have listed what I believe are the top 10 things that you can take from the military to start taking charge of your own money for smarter money management.

Leadership –You are taught in the military that the leader is responsible for accomplishing the mission.  A successful leader is able to accomplish the mission by providing purpose, direction, and motivation. A good leader takes action and continually works to improve their skills through education, training, and experience. An effective leader is someone who seeks responsibility and takes responsibility for their own actions.  Nobody is going to start managing your money better than you so you have to be the leader of your own money.  Your desire and determination will ultimately lead to your own success or failure. Leadership is the cornerstone of smarter money management and by applying the same leadership principles to your money; you can be effective and successful with your own financial goals.

Integrity -Your integrity plays a major part in who you are when put on the uniform each and every day while you are serving in the military.  Integrity requires you to be candid & honest.  I left the Army with a lot of credit card debt.  I had to be honest with myself and admit I had a spending problem.  Integrity requires you to be truthful and open with yourself. You have to identify the areas of your finances where you are weak, acknowledge that fact and start making the necessary changes in your behavior in order to improve your situation..  If you are not honest with yourself and acknowledge that you need to change, things will never change.

Prioritizing -We had many things going on at the same time when I was serving in the Army and it was important to make sure we got the things done that we were supposed to.  Life is busy whether you are in or out of the military.  The key is to understand that certain things are more important than others.  Anyone can make excuses about why their finances are in a mess and it is very easy to put off making them a priority.  Quit making excuses by making your financial goals more important than sitting in front of the television ignoring your financial mess.  Just as in the military where our number one priority was to accomplish our mission, make it your mission to get your finances back on track and start dedicating some time each week toward this goal.

KISS (keep it simple stupid) -In the military, we learned not to overcomplicate things.  The same goes for personal finances.  It doesn’t get any simpler than “if you are spending more money than you are making, you need to start spending less.”  Once I started spending less I started having more money at the end of the month.  People make things harder than they really are.  Keep things simple with your finances.  If you want more money in savings, start spending less.  If you want to get out of debt, quit using your credit card.  Keep it simple!

Accountability -When I was a Platoon Sergeant I had to know where my soldiers were at all times.  When dealing with my finances I knew if I wanted to be a good leader with my money I needed to know exactly where I was spending my money.  I did that by keeping a spending journal.  For 30 days I asked for receipts every time I spent money.  Once I got home I wrote everything down in my journal and I began to see where I could easily cut back on my spending.  You have to be accountable for your spending decisions. By making smarter choices when it comes to spending your money, you will start getting better results.

Sacrifice -In the military everyone knows what sacrifice means. I can’t count how many holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, etc. I missed because of a deployment or assignment. You have to be willing to put your life on the line and do whatever is necessary in order to accomplish the mission.  That same type of sacrifice is also needed to make smarter money management decisions.  In order to start spending less, you have to be willing to make sacrifices.  It might mean not going to the vending machine everyday or reducing the temperature on the thermostat during the winter time.  For me I had to quit spending money on video games and going out to eat all of the time.  You will have to embrace sacrifice, quit dwelling on what you have to give up now, and focus on how much you are going to have later.

Planning -You are always doing some type of planning in the military.  For example, when we went on field maneuvers we had to move our equipment to different locations each night.  I would have to identify where we were, where we needed to go, and how we were going to get there.  You will use those same planning steps when you make financial goals for yourself. For example, you need to determine where you are starting from financially (your income versus your spending), where you want to go (how much extra do you want to have in savings at the end of the month), and how are you going to get there (the areas where you are spending your money that you can either reduce or eliminate). Once you have determined your plan, put your plan in writing. 

Flexibility -From hurry up and wait, to the mission has changed, I had to be extremely flexible when I was serving in the military because either the mission or objectives seemed to change often. Being flexible can also help you on your financial journey.  I had to be flexible with my money goals because at times emergencies would happen and knock me a little or a lot off track.  But once I dealt with it, I got right back on track.  There will be times where things just don’t go your way, (transmission goes out, hot water heater on the blink, or your pet swallows a golf ball) and you will need to make some necessary adjustments and be flexible so you can stay on track with your long term financial goals.

Team work (Together Everyone Achieves More) -I had to count on and work with others in order to get the job done.  There are times when you need to ask for help.  For me I had an accountability partner to help keep me on course with my financial goals.  To make smarter money management decisions, you need to ask for help when needed.  That might mean that you have to sit down with a CFP® Certified Financial Planner™ professional to help you with your financial objectives. You are not alone and it is important not to be afraid to ask for help.  If you have a partner teamwork becomes even more important because you need to be on the same page where your financial goals are concerned, and you will need to work together to achieve them.  A financial professional can be an even bigger help when you have to work with a partner to bring different financial perspectives and habits together into a common goal.

Determination or the”War Fighting Spirit” -As a member of the armed services, you are expected to accomplish the mission come hell or high water.  No matter the situation, determination is a key trait in mission accomplishment.  That same determination will be needed by you in order to accomplish your financial goals.  I had a lot of debt when I left the military.  There were many times when things got difficult and I questioned if I would ever be able to get out of debt.  I want to tell you that I stuck with my plan, and while it wasn’t easy, I did finally get out of debt.  I want to tell you something else, that same type of war fighting spirit can help you to accomplish any of your financial goals too!

Anything worth having in life is worth working for and don’t believe anyone who promises short cuts or easy solutions because there aren’t any.  The military instills sacrifice, accountability, discipline and many other traits which are not fun or easy to model but are key to accomplishing any mission.  As you can see many of those invaluable traits and mindsets can transfer over to the civilian world in order to help you make smarter financial decisions!

Steve Repak is a certified financial planner, Army veteran, motivational speaker, consultant and author of Dollars & Uncommon Sense: Basic Training For Your Money. For more information, please visit, www.DollarsAndUncommonSense.com.

All opinions expressed on USDR are those of the author and not necessarily those of US Daily Review.

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