When I first joined the U.S. Air Force, I was scared out of my mind.
I had just committed four years of my life to something I wasn’t 100% sure I could do. Not to mention, I was getting yelled at and working harder than I ever had in my 19 years of life. There was a lot to process. Through it all, I learned many life lessons.
It wasn’t just life skills I picked up in the military. I also learned financial lessons. Today I’m a financial coach helping others with money. My service in the military laid the foundation for my financial career. Some of the lessons I learned there were harder than others, but each contributed to how I handle money today.
Here are the financial lessons I learned while serving in the military.
1. Have control of your money at all times
Physical money management is taught early on in basic training. Every bit of cash you have needs to be accounted for and neatly organized. Our instructors asked us to write down the serial number of every dollar you earn. This reduces theft and teaches the habit of keeping track of the money you earn and spend. Not everyone keeps the serial number of all their bills, but you should know where your money is and how it’s being spent, saved or invested.
If you don’t have a handle on your money, who will? You are the one in charge of your money, not anyone else.
2. If you’re on time, you’re late
Lance Cpl. Austin A. Lewis/USMC
In the service, you quickly learn you need to be ahead of schedule for everything. Being late is not acceptable. If you’re late, it could affect an entire mission. Planning to complete tasks early ensures you’ll be on time even if something unexpected happens.
This applies to paying bills and saving as well — something could come up to make you late. Instead of waiting until late on the day your bill is due, take care of it in advance to ensure that even if problems come up, your financial life stays on schedule. Even better? Consider automated payments so you don’t have to worry about being late.
3. Save money from every paycheck
Every supervisor I had while serving made it clear to me: Living paycheck to paycheck was not the way to live. For most young folks joining the military, it’s their first time away from home and their first time earning a paycheck. The sudden influx of money and freedom can lead to crazy spending and zero saving. (Even if you don’t serve, this is a common experience for recent graduates starting their first job and receiving their first salary.) Each supervisor I had encouraged me to live within my means and save part of each of my paychecks. By saving money from each check, you’ll build up money for when the unexpected happens.