Being prepared for the unexpected is part of military life, but many military families are financially unprepared for a variety of reasons. In the 2020 Military Family Life Survey, 77% of military families reported paying over $200 per month in out-of-pocket housing expenses. In the 2019 Military Saves Saver Survey, over half (57%) of those surveyed said, "Unexpected expenses are the biggest challenge to saving."
But knowing you're supposed to save and doing it are two different things, with a lot of obstacles involved that may be out of your control. And once you save, do you know what to do next? By taking some time to increase your financial literacy, you'll know what steps to take when you are ready.
Listen to Financial Podcasts
Podcasts can help you learn more about money, how to make better financial decisions or just to be better informed.
Host Farnoosh Torabi talks to entrepreneurs, authors and influencers about money management. Weekly episodes dive into paying off credit cards, growing a business and handling finances as a couple. The podcast is a great place to begin growing your knowledge of finance. Listen on iTunes.
Money for the Rest of Us
If you're interested in what investing is all about, then this is the podcast to listen to. Host David Stein combines personal stories with research to explain the world of investing. Concepts such as portfolio balancing, how market cycles work and how to invest with even a small amount of money are covered. Listen on iTunes.
The Fairer Cents
For women interested in topics like the gender pay gap or how to overcome obstacles like caregiving in their financial journey, The Fairer Cents is the place to start. Focused on the financial well-being of women with a feminist slant, co-hosts Kara Perez and Tanja Hester interview behavioral scientists and financial gurus to introduce listeners to these women-focused issues. Listen on iTunes.
If you're looking to retire early or perhaps completely after 20 years in the military, you may be familiar with the movement toward securing financial independence to accomplish that goal. This podcast explores this concept and provides you with actionable takeaways while challenging you to take steps toward your financial freedom. Listen online.
The Military Money Show
Military spouse, mother and Air Force veteran Lacey Langford hosts The Military Money Show, a podcast that helps military-connected listeners learn about money. From making money to saving, investing and spending it wisely, Langford -- an accredited financial counselor -- interviews guests and shares her experiences with personal finance. Listen online.
The Money Millhouse
Conversations about money vary greatly between generations, but mother-daughter duo Ellie Kay and Bethany Bayless crush that gap and talk all things money. The Money Millhouse podcast gives you money tips you never knew you didn't know. You'll feel like you're sitting across the table from an old friend as you listen in on this conversation, and, most importantly, you'll leave with some great ideas for your financial future. Listen online.
Read Personal Finance Books
Reading is a great way to learn, and there is no shortage of financial books out there to help you improve. From specific topics, like investing and savings, to broader reads that talk about the journey to financial independence, here are some recommendations. And don't forget about your local library, where you can get most of these books for free.
'Broke Millennial: Stop Scraping By and Get Your Financial Life Together,' by Erin Lowry
Instead of just telling you how horrible credit card debt is, Erin Lowry gives you a step-by-step process for moving from flat-broke to financially savvy. She writes in a way that identifies with her millennial audience, including how to understand your relationship with money, how to manage your student loans and how to navigate social situations without embarrassment. Lowry also discusses the importance of getting "financially naked" with your partner -- a must for those looking for a financially secure future.
'The Automatic Millionaire: A Powerful One-Step Plan to Live and Finish Rich,' by David Bach
Bach's main financial principle is to automate finances. He believes that automating the important things, like saving, paying off debt will allow you to reach the point where your finances will manage themselves. His book includes a plan that can be put into place in one afternoon and have a lasting impact on your financial future.
'You Are a Badass at Making Money: Master the Mindset of Wealth,' by Jen Sincero
In her third book, Sincero applies her inspirational approach to life to finances. She's lighthearted and real in this book, making it perfect for those who need a boost more than practical, actionable financial advice. If you're in a reading funk or the heaviness of some drier books become too much, this is a great one to break things up.
'Why Didn't They Teach Me This in School?' by Cary Siegel
After learning how little his children learned about handling money in school, author Cary Siegel addresses 99 of those things in his book. Categorized into eight lessons, these principles are designed to bring people of all ages up to speed. This is a great book to read when you only have a few minutes at a time, because Siegel gets straight to the point.
'Your Money or Your Life,' by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez
Do you equate spending less money with being happy? Not many people make that connection, but Robin and Dominguez do in their book about transforming your relationship with money. Money doesn't have to make you miserable, and in some cases, less money can make you happier. The authors argue that overall, life is about learning to budget, living within your means and changing your habits so you can enjoy life.
Refresh Your Budget -- or Learn to Budget
Whether you are refreshing your budget or starting from scratch, you can follow the same steps.
Figure out why you want to budget or fix your budget. Do you need to save more money for an upcoming trip, or is there a change in your income? Discovering why your budget needs adjusting will help you narrow down the decisions you make to adjust it.
"Every time you have a major life change, like a marriage, birth of a child, PCS or job change, you should reassess your plan," said Lila Quintiliani, the senior program manager at Military Saves.
Look at where you're spending money. The basic budget principles of money in and money out are only helpful when you know where the money is going out. Look back over the last month or two to see where your money was spent, or make it a point to keep track of spending for the next month if you haven't been tracking it recently.
"Budgeting is not just about cutting back on unnecessary expenses and counting pennies," said Charlene Wilde, assistant secretary at the American Armed Forces Mutual Aid Association, "It's a great way to gain an understanding of your full financial picture and build confidence in your decision-making."
Make a list of all the bills, especially the ones that aren't on a regular schedule. For example, make sure to include annual bills, such as vehicle registration, homeowners association dues and property taxes. Setting aside money each month to pay for these may help you stick to your budget better than being surprised by large payments.
"Take advantage of budgeting and spending calculators,'' Wilde said. "These are available for free online through many banks or third-party financial literacy apps. They offer an easy, accessible way to stay on track.''
EveryDollar, Mint and You Need a Budget are some popular choices for online budget programs.
"Active duty service members and their families can get free help with creating their spending plan from accredited financial professionals at their installation's Family Readiness Center,'' Quintiliani said. "For those who do not have access to an installation, they can get free counseling from Accredited Financial Counselors through our partners at the Yellow Ribbon Network."
But just like when you consider a new diet, the best budget program is the one you stick with.
Follow Financial Savvy People on Social Media
One great way to learn is by surrounding yourself with experts, and social media counts! Follow these financially savvy people on social media and start picking up some of their habits and knowledge.
Ryan Guina -- Air National Guard member, Air Force veteran and the voice behind the Military Wallet who has a goal to help service members manage their money better.
Military Dollar -- An anonymous military officer whose goal is to share information that service members need to make their personal finance simpler.
Kate Horrell, The Military Finance Coach -- Military spouse, mom and accredited financial counselor loves debating retirement savings options and provides her followers with loads of information.
Doug Nordman -- Author of "The Military Guide," retired submariner, avid surfer and guide for service members looking to retire early -- that is, without a second career.
Christine Lagarde -- Managing director of the International Monetary Fund, the first woman to become finance minister of a G8 economy and the first woman to head the IMF.
Jen Smith, Modern Frugality -- Paid off $78,000 in debt. Shares about how to cut expenses and free up money to make extra payments on student loans.
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