While some Marines are financially stable, others live from payday to payday without saving or investing money for their futures. When Marines come on independent duty they must be very diligent with their finances because often there isn’t the convenience of free gyms, tax-free base commissaries, exchanges, or no-cost base housing.
Realistic budgeting on recruiting duty depends on your level of discipline and your prospects for the future.
The recruiter billet is considered a Special Duty Assignment because it involves a Military Occupational Specialty which demands an unusual degree of responsibility with a heavy personal burden to ensure the successful accomplishment of the mission. In turn, recruiters receive SDA Pay of an additional $450 per month. With this extra income, recruiters have financed vehicles and homes, while others pay off credit card bills or save.
“Receiving additional pay during your service is a great way to help pay off debt and build overhead,” said Jim Warren, President of Warren Financial Group in Kansas City, Mo.
To start on the right path, Warren recommends managing debt and expenses by using a budget.
“By budgeting, Marines are able to realize their financial situation,” said the Marine veteran. “It allows families to pay and keep track of monthly bills and miscellaneous expenses.”
According to the Master Card Web site, the best way to avoid financial difficulties is to spend less than you earn.
Staff Sgt. Randall Burger, RS Kansas City, RSS Gladstone, Permanent Contact Station St. Joseph, agrees.
“Always try to live within your means,” said Burger, a father of three children. “When you consume less than you make, it gives you more financial flexibility.”
Budgeting allows for better preparedness for unexpected expenses or life-changing events that might dramatically reduce income or increase expenses.
To start a budget, figure a realistic assessment of how much money you make and how much money you spend. Advice from the Federal Trade Commission for Consumers Web site is to start by listing your income from all sources. Then list your “fixed” expenses–those that are the same each month–like mortgage payments or rent, car payments, and insurance premiums. Next, list the expenses that vary–like entertainment, recreation, and clothing. Writing down all your expenses, even those that seem insignificant, is a helpful way to track your spending patterns. The goal is to make sure you can make ends meet on the basics: housing, food, health care, and insurance.
Gunnery Sgt. Christopher Wright, RSS Jefferson City SNCOIC, recommends setting a monthly budget based on your base pay and Basic Allowance for Housing.
“I exclude my SDA pay because it is temporary income,” he said.
Limiting credit card use is also an important part in controlling your monthly budget.
“I try to stay away from credit lines,” said Burger. “The monthly expense isn’t costly, however, in the long run you spend a lot of money on interest.”
After you have worked with a consistent budget you can make plans to pay off long and short-term debt, according to Warren.
He recommends liquidating the majority of your debt before you begin to save.
“To ensure you are comfortable during times of emergency and other temporary financial situations, at least six months of liquid assets or savings is recommended,” said Warren.
When starting a savings plan you don’t have to begin with a large amount.
Saving regularly, even a little at a time, will give you a cushion you can rely on when something unexpected happens. Your savings will give you more flexibility in life choices and a financial cushion that you may need if something goes wrong, Warren says.
Identify where you can cut other expenses to free up money to pay for your emergency. If you must go into debt to pay for the unexpected, explore all your financing options and work out a payment plan.
“When I first joined the Marine Corps, I would include any increases in my pay to savings,” said Wright. “Now I invest 10 percent of my income to the Thrift Savings Plan.”
TSP is a federal government-sponsored retirement savings and investment plan which offers the same type of savings and tax benefits that many private corporations offer their employees under “401(k)” plans.
Public libraries and bookstores have information about budgeting and money management techniques. In addition, computer software programs can be useful tools for developing and maintaining a budget, balancing your checkbook, and creating plans to save money and pay down debt.
For more information on how to manage personal finances, visit www.lifelines.navy.mil and www.nmfa.org.