Bad Money Advice We Should Have Ignored

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Some money advice is good for everyone — civilian and military alike. But sometimes the demands of a military lifestyle mean that good money advice goes bad on us. Why is that?

money mistakes

At our Spouse Experience events, military spouses tell us about some of the good money advice that has turned into bad money advice on them. We talked to J.J. Montanaro, a certified financial planner at USAA, about how money advice is never one size fits all for military families.

Renting is a waste of money. Buy now!

Watching that big chunk of change disappear from your bank account every month makes renting seem a big waste of money. Civilian parents often advise their grown children serving in the military to get into the housing market now.

That isn’t always the best way to go. In fact, it is bad money advice.  Real estate mistakes are the most common money mistake listed by our SpouseX attendees. Buying your dream house might be no dream at all.

“It could be a nightmare, instead, especially if you get orders after you make the purchase,” said Montanaro. He points out that buying and selling costs could roll in at 15% of the original purchase price, depending on the local market. “Will you have enough time and a market that will cooperate to make up that and more?”

A military discount makes it affordable.

We military spouses love military discounts. They can make such a difference when buying everything from cars to clothes to restaurant meals. (I personally just got a military discount when our HVAC system had to be replaced. Whew!)

“A military discount is a great idea if you are buying something that you need,” said Montanaro. “But something you don’t need that’s on sale is not money saved!”

Uncle Sam is pretty reliable — you don’t need an emergency fund.

Most financial books advise readers to have an emergency fund in the bank that could pay six months of expenses in case you or your partner gets laid off. Since service members don’t get laid off overnight, many military folks don’t think that they need an emergency fund.

“While job loss and income stability is certainly a reason to have an emergency fund, it’s not the only one,” said Montanaro. Live the military life for a little while and you find that cars break down. Air conditioning gives up. Extended family members need you to travel home in a hurry. That’s where an emergency fund kicks in.

Also, remember that frequent PCS moves are a part of military life civilians don’t cope with very often. A spouse’s job hunt after a PCS move can take more time than you think.

Knock out all your debt before saving for retirement.

Your post-holiday credit card statement might be staring you in the face right now making your blood run cold. Retirement seems like a long, long, looooooong way off. Besides, if you are in the military you can coast right along until you pick up retirement pay, right?

Not really. Only about 15% of the people who serve in the military ever make it to retirement, which is a real factor in the post 9/11 military.

While paying off high interest credit card debt may seem like the only way to go, there’s never a “right” time to start saving for your future, especially for military members.

“Instead of waiting for the perfect time, get started in a small way,” said Montanaro. “Yes, you can afford a one percent contribution to the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP)—and then ramp it up with pay raises, promotions and extra income freed up when you do get rid of debt,” said Montanaro. “Get the ball rolling.”

The GI Bill means you don’t have to save for college.

The Post 9/11 GI Bill (the one that can be transferred to your spouse or children) may be one of the greatest benefits in the history of military families. Yay for that.

But it isn’t a blank check. You may actually need that benefit for yourself when you leave the military in order to retool for today’s economy. Your spouse may need the GI Bill benefits to get an education that leads to the kind of portable career that boosts your family’s income.

And if you have more than one child, you definitely need to start saving for all of them now.

There are some real financial benefits to serving in the military, but you have to pay attention. Look ahead to see where financial advice may lead you and always have a little put by to deal with the next adventure in your military life.


U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Arecat Wilson.

About the Author

Jacey Eckhart
Jacey Eckhart is the former Director of Spouse and Family Programs for Since 1996, Eckhart’s take on military families has been featured in her syndicated column, her book The Homefront Club, and her award winning CDs These Boots and I Married a Spartan?? Most recently she has been featured as a military family subject matter expert on NBC Dateline, CBS morning news, CNN, NPR and the New York Times. Eckhart is an Air Force brat, a Navy wife and an Army mom. Find her at
  • Some Dude

    Jacey….. you left out the biggest bad money advice in the military. The DoD(and akd everyone else) tells us we should shop at the commissary because we will save 30% off our annual grocery bill. But the reality is only the very rare individual saves nearly that much each year.

    I know… has chosen to side with DeCA so you may not be permitted to write that, but I think if we are going to talk about bad money advice we should have ignored, then we really need to put the biggest financial myth in the military community out there so we can warn everyone. Too many people are believing that bad advice that their dollar goes further at the commissary. Perhaps JJ can share some insight about how grocery shopping should be a priority in our budgets because besides mortgages/rent, it is perhaps the largest recurring monthly expense. So you can see it is important that we debunk this myth. That is if allows nonsupportive words to be written about their friends over at DeCA.

    Great article! But if we are gonna get real lets get really real.

    • malynn

      Even overseas I can get better deals shopping locally on many items.

      • carrie

        I do shop a lot at the commissary but I shop there like I shop other store…..for best value. Sadly commissary is not always that. We live in Delaware so there is no sales taxes at any store so that instantly that levels the playing field.We also have a large selection of stores very close. A huge disadvantage for the commissary is the lack of genetic products. I have my few products that I never buy generic because the brand is just better but there ate many products that the generic is just as God’s if not better. The commissary just doesn’t offer. Factor in dollar stores and warehouse clubs and sadly the bade store can come up short.
        P.s commissary and bx was a life saver in New Mexico where sales tax were high and store selection was few and far apart.

    • Shannon

      Somethings are cheaper at the commissary. Like bread, milk, and eggs. But overall you are right it’s not cheaper to just shop exclusively at the commy. That’s why when I do bills and everything I make the trip to Walmart, Winn Dixie and Publix. Because in the long run you can get better deals for food off post than on post.

      • Some Dude

        Shannon, that is what makes shopping at the commissary so odd, at ours here in Washington state, milk, eggs and bread are almost always cheaper on the economy.

        The commissary certainly is an elusive lil booger when it comes to figuring out if it really is #WorthTheTrip or not. Which makes me believe the commissary may be the worst money advice we give our troops. Well…. at least with the pretty package it is wrapped in.

    • Guest

      This is VERY dependent on where you live. Where I live I save MORE than 30% by shopping at the commissary than at local stores. In addition, we have lesser-known grocery stores that frankly, are very limited and tend to be filthy. I’ll take the commissary.

    • jojo613

      I agree Some Dude! The commissary is not always the cheapest. I have found that I spend upwards to 30-40% more at the commissary than Walmart. And often, even though we are stateside, there are significant shortages. This week it was chicken again. Further they didn’t have several common ingredients I needed for my dinner recipe. So now, I have to run to Walmart or Publix to get the ingredients (and these are COMMON ingredients– like french friend onions and shallots).

  • jojo613

    There are a lot of factors with regards to housing. I can say that unless we are ordered to, I will NOT live on base. The last time we lived on base, my son and many of the other children were exposed to lead, and had lead poisoning which left him cognitively delayed. We have only rent at bases where we won’t be there long, or the housing costs are really high. Otherwise we have bought homes, and have been happy. When we sell, we have been able to upgrade to a better home each and every house. Right now, we live in our dream home. My only advice for new home buyers– start small. You are not going to get “your dream home” when you first start out. As long as you don’t trash a house, you are going to get more money when you sell it.

    • Moody welman

      Over mAny years we have indeed sold for a profit, however; we have 3 homes now (winter, summer, and a rental) that would each show a loss if we were to sell now. We bought two. Of them in 2006 And the third in 2009. We would lose 20 to 50 thousand per house plus the selling costs. I’m hoping there is appreciation here on. I believe this would be true of most properties bought in the past ten years or more.

  • VickyT

    First of all, I’m so sorry to hear about your sons complications. Although I agree with your advice to start small, I do not agree that you will always get more money. We bought our last house during the peak of housing sales. When we moved 8 years later, it was during the market fallout and we lost over $50,000. We took very good care of the home and actually sold higher than others in the area. By all means, people should consider buying but just be careful of housing trends.