So I try and keep my posts on managing finances down to a minimum. I tend to really get in detailed conversations about managing money. I left the Army with a good sum of money. I was never given anything. I saved and invested my money wisely. I still had a nice car but it was sensible ( and paid for!), nice clothes, went out with friends and enjoyed myself. However, I did one simple thing most active duty military members don't do. I made a budget and stuck to it. I didn't try and keep up with the Joneses.
This post is really geared toward newer Soldiers (or insert whatever branch you are). However it applies to everyone. The senior leaders in debt are in debt because...you guessed it..they didn't manage their finances early in their career and a snowball effect took place. You newer Soldiers have money for once in your life. You have freedom. Also, most of your friends in your unit who are new just like you are running out to blow all their money. DO NOT make this mistake. You will be under the illusion that this is happiness. It is not. It's instant gratification, and it goes away (especially when you realize you're in debt and that car is about to be repossessed). This will not bring you happiness. You'll also realize in the end no one is really paying attention to what you buy or really cares.
I can't tell you how much I cringe at work when I'm working with a Soldier who's set to get out of the Military in less than 6 months and they are in debt with numerous loans. Blowing all your money every pay check may make you happy for that weekend, but Monday when you're broke and it's a week from pay day you'll realize how empty a lifestyle that is. You were happy for a moment, but you're not content. Your life is chaotic, dis organized and you don't like it. Then to escape that feeling, you indulge in expensive purchases again and the cycle repeats. Don't even start down this path, it's a terrible habit to break. You'll start to feel like spending all your money is the best option because at least it makes you happy temporarily, and why not since you're already in debt right? You can't get stuck in this trap.
Start keeping track of goals you want. I know it sounds cliche, making long term goals and short term goals. Set goals you can measure though. Just like a person who says " ok every day this week I'll go to the gym". They physically can see the difference, feel it, and have actual proof they went because they took the time to drive there and make it happen. Make goals week to week. I'll work "x" amount on this class instead of going out, I'll save 50 percent of my check this week. When you start seeing your progress and notice it's working that'll make you content. Content AND happy. So then when you finally do reward yourself and go out you can be truly happy knowing that next Monday you're account will still be stacked and you'll still be right back on track with your plans. Don't try and keep up with what others around you are buying or doing, chances are they won't remember what you did or didn't do anyway. Those people also will be the ones to get out with no prospects or re enlist because they have no other options.
I won't write every specific on what to do...it'll take pages and pages so I'll go through 3 simple rules to start with. Number one, make a budget. Here's some truth for you though, most people give up on budgets because they can't calculate it and think it's not effective because it's too frustrating to get an exact number. A budget takes 3 months to be perfected. That's right, 3 months. You'll forget this expense or that expense and have re calculate it. Most people get frustrated with this fact and quit. Don't do that. Make one, give it three months and adjust it. Rule number 2, when you get promoted figure up what the bi monthly increase is and save that amount from the first payday. That still lets you enjoy half of the extra money and you'll be making a better choice saving the other half. Oh and promotion doesn't mean go buy a new car. Rule number 3, Save $86 every pay check on top of any future promotion amount or excess left over. That amount saved bi monthly will get you saving over $1000 every 6 months. If you have nothing else additional left over at the end of the month but you're doing the $86 twice a month that'll still be $2000 a year. That's it for now.
Bonus: Not to pitch my own company but if you are a USAA member and have any products or insurance with them at all give them a call and ask to speak to a financial advisor. They do this as a benefit to members and a licensed financial advisor can talk with you and help you set up a working budget. All you have to give up is a few minutes of time.