While many people think financial literacy is important for those young high school graduates who are about to take on student debt, entering the workforce straight out of high school comes with its own financial challenges. One common non-college path for high school graduates is enlistment in the military, which comes with plenty of financial rewards. In addition to a salary, military members receive a comprehensive benefits package that includes health care, on-base housing or a housing allowance, and tuition assistance for higher education. However, there are also unexpected financial challenges of being a service member. Fortunately, programs exist to help young servicemembers and their spouses navigate the financial stresses of being in the military.
Servicemembers in Okinawa Get Financial Education
Chaplain (Maj.) Cornelius Muasa is helping many service members and their spouses stationed on Okinawa – a Japanese island – with financial education and counseling. A misconception among potential recruits is that enlisting in the military means several years without any financial concerns. In reality, almost half of military families reported feeling financial stress in 2021. Financial stressors in the military often include unexpected expenses, debt before enlistment, spousal unemployment due to relocations, and poor budgeting skills or financial discipline upon suddenly receiving a full-time paycheck. Muasa and his wife work with servicemembers and their spouses to confront these issues and create plans for financial wellness.
Military Offers Programs at all Bases to Boost Financial Literacy
Fortunately, Maj. Muasa is not alone in his quest to help enlistees navigate financial struggles. All Army installations offer a financial readiness class for soldiers, and financial counselors are available for most service members. Of course, many veterans want to increase the amount of financial education new enlistees receive, as many young servicemembers are prone to taking on debt quickly. Military salaries may not be as high as expected, and 18- to 21-year-olds may make impulse purchases of sports cars, pickup trucks, and SUVs that are often financed at high rates of interest. Although all exiting servicemembers receive some financial education as part of transition training, some may have already accumulated excessive debt while in service.
Those entering the military should know its unique costs, such as high spousal unemployment due to relocations. If one spouse enlists in the military, the other may struggle to find a new job with each relocation, resulting in the family having less income than expected. And relocations may be expensive on their own, resulting in some costs that the military does not cover. However, many individuals find these costs to be well worth the benefits of service, which include financial benefits like full medical coverage and subsidized housing. Many young people also desire military service for non-financial reasons, such as patriotism, tradition, and desire for travel and adventure. These reasons are noble, but all potential recruits should be fully aware of the financial calculations as well when it comes to enlisting in the military.
Financial Advice for New Recruits
Advice for new servicemembers looking to maintain healthy finances is similar to the advice for everyone: budget and plan. Many enlistees and their families may assume incorrectly that cost of living is the same at all deployments when it can actually vary considerably. Some may not save money because they believe they will stay in the military until retirement and do not need a financial cushion to help them return to civilian life. Also, some may not keep a close watch on their finances, such as not changing their contact information for various financial accounts when they deploy to a new location. Fortunately, the National Veterans Technical Assistance Center believes that financial literacy is the best way to reduce these problems, perhaps requiring servicemembers to complete them.