Military & Money: Common Financial Regrets

Brent Pittman —  07/30/2012

Marching navy This is a guest post from Trey Smith. He served in the U.S. Navy as a Damage Controlman where his responsibilities included: damage control, ship stability, firefighting, fire prevention, and chemical biological and radiological (CBR) warfare defense. He was also an instructor in the methods of damage control and CBR defense.

There are all kinds of movies that show what military boot camp or officer candidate school will be like. Then there is reality. For me, entering the military was exciting and a little nerve racking. Boot camp was not too bad, however managing my finances after boot camp was challenging, very challenging.

Once your initial basic military training has been completed, you are on your own. Wherever you are assigned, you now make your financial decisions. That should be the really nerve racking part since you are now among your peers and ready to make choices that are going to impact the rest of your life with little to no direction.

Looking back over the time I served in the US Navy, there are many things financially that I would have done differently. With that in mind, I asked my friends who have served or are serving in the military, in retrospect, what they would have done different, financially.

My friends range from those who are currently serving their first year in the military to those who have retired, both officer and enlisted. After speaking with a few friends about personal finances, three clear areas emerged that they would like to change.

Savings, Debt, & Budgets!

Nearly all of those I spoke with said they wanted to change the same things – save more, get less debt, and learn to budget! Each of the reasons given by my friends was a little different, but clearly each of my friends wanted to go back and change how they used their money.

Here are four of the responses by their branch of the military:

  1. Marine: Since the military was my friend’s first exposure to independence, his money was spent as soon as it was made. He said that it would have been nice to have a training program designed for proper investing and money management.
  1. Air Force: Start a savings plan when he first joined was what a friend currently serving said. He also said that he would have liked to have known how to create and stay on a budget. His reasoning is that if you can teach someone who is unfamiliar about money how to make a budget, they can take that a long way.
  1. Army: An Army veteran said that the biggest help would have been a class to save money because by the time he realized how important saving was, his pay was consumed paying off debt he received from companies all too eager to give him credit.
  1. Navy: Last, a fellow shipmate said he would save more spend less by using the discounts available on base. He, as well as other friends, said that there were a lot of things you could do through discounts given on base that were really fun without spending a lot of money.

Each of these areas apply to everyone’s finances and can be a great starting point when talking with those who have recently entered the workforce, those entering college, and especially those entering the military.

The great thing is that you can help! What can you do to help those who will be joining the military to protect and defend our rights? Share this article with them so they can learn from the financial mistakes of those who have served and those who are still serving in the military.

If you have served or are serving in the military, what financial knowledge do you wish you had known when you joined the military?

Trey has served in the U.S. Navy and is a Financial Coach at One Solution For Me. He can also be found on Twitter and Google+.

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Brent is a financial coach and writer looking for the perfect donut. He believes personal finance should be both fun and accessible to anyone willing to learn.
  • MSG Tony Colon


    Thanks for having Trey as a guest. This is particularly of interest to me as I am currently serving as a MSG in the US Army. I have been serving Soldiers and their families for the past five years and it has been an amazing experience. There are so many people that are hungry to learn about handiling money, beating debt and building wealth.

    Lacy is correct, you have to have a history of winning with money to be able to provide motivation, encouragement and empowerment to others. The key is to take care of your four walls first, (Housing, Food, Transportation and Clothing), give save and spend with a plan and everything will become so much clearer with your finances.

    Our blended family with fourteen children are debt free and we love sharing our testimony with others with the hope that it will make a difference in their lives.

    Our military members deserve to live a life with as little financial stress as possible. In the end it takes the individual to want to make a difference before any change can happen.

    • Tony, sounds like you’ve got a good financial head on your shoulders and in turn I’m sure helping many young servicemen and servicewomen. I’d love to hear more of your story!

  • AverageJoe

    Great advice. I worked with a number of service men & women when I was a practicing advisor. Most didn’t pay much attention to discounts on the base OR to USAA for their insurance needs. These are huge money-savers. Thanks, Trey!

    • Hey Joe. The next step is to get the new service members to realize these savings are available. That is one of the hardest things to do.

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  • Wow, fascinating information. Those responses are the exact reason I blog. I am so dedicated to helping others grow wealthy. It’s not tricky, but you have to understand a few basic principles. Thanks for the great article.

    • Thanks Barbara. The tricky thing with personal finance is that it is, personal and it does not often just come up in conversations. However, the more people we can get talking about these basic principles, the more people will learn from others’ mistakes and hopefully be better off than they were without the information.

  • My dad was in the military they bought a house at one duty station. It was hard to sell and my mom, my brother and I ended up having to stay behind to sell the house! No fun at all!

    • I’ve seen this happen way to often, both within and outside the military. Buying a home, especially when in the military, is a BIG decision. A new home is exciting until you need to sell and cannot.

  • Lacey

    I made all of my financial mistakes as an E-3 from listening to my supervisor who was an E-6. He talked us into buying a house that was a fixer-upper. He talked us into “flipping” it. We bought the house with no money down, no money in savings and had to take out a loan to cover closing costs. We put all the house work on credit cards that totaled $50,000 when we were done. He praised us and told us how well financially we were doing. He said we would be rich.

    Long story short, we sold the house for what we bought it for. Lost all the money we “invested” in fixing it up and my old supervisor had a hidden gambling problem.

    The worst financial advice I’ve ever received have come from Senior NCOs. When Senior NCOs aren’t doing too well, they pass that knowledge onto junior enlisted, and the cycle continues. I’d like to see financial education from credited sources. Not retired Senior NCOs who took a financial counseling job because they have too much debt.

    • Lacy,
      Sorry you got some bad advice. I guess you learned the hard way that older doesn’t mean wiser. Always a good idea to check your sources and do your homework. Glad you were able to sell your home.

    • Thanks for the comment Lacey. Just to be clear, in addition to my military experience I have an undergraduate degree in finance and an Master’s in Business Administration. In both of those degree programs there was extensive focus on finance,both business & personal. I agree that advice of any type needs to be checked for its correctness and accuracy. I can point you to other military and non-military personal finance resources if you desire. Thanks again for your feedback.

  • krantcents

    I wished I would have gone to OCS! At the time, I decided not to go because it would have meant going to a war zone. The leadership training would have been invaluable. I could have taken my chances and possibly avoided going to war. No regrets, but it is different now. In Iraq or Afghanistan it is equally dangerous for everyone.

    • I tried to go OCS as well but that was during a reduction in force and each of my applications were denied. I ultimately took the leadership I did learn from the military, served my enlistment and went to college.