It always happens: As soon as the military paycheck hits the bank, we pay all of our bills, fill the cars up with gas, replenish our pantries, and … wait. Where did all of our money go?!
Before you can blink, it’s the middle of the pay period, the bulk of the paycheck is gone, and you’re left wondering what happened. The bills are paid, so surely you’re adulting correctly, right?
Before a single penny hits your bank account, there are a few things you need to do. These steps aren’t hard — but they could be the difference between having the money you expected to have and, well, not.
Things to Do with Your Military Paycheck Today
Pay yourself first. Anyone who has ever taken a class on finances or read an internet article on financial organization has read this tip before, but it’s true. You have to invest in yourself before you do anything else, otherwise you end up stuck on the treadmill going nowhere. And, I hate the treadmill, don’t you?
Set up an allotment for a certain amount to be transferred to a savings account automatically. Even if it’s $10 (which is all we could have afforded in those early days!), every little bit helps. Try really, really hard not to touch it. As your service member makes rank and earns pay raises, increase the amount. Before you know it, you’ll have a nice little nest egg. Bonus points if you set an additional amount aside to contribute to a Thrift Savings Plan.
Know where it’s going before it gets there. It’s tempting to just start paying bills on the fly and tossing groceries into the basket like there’s no tomorrow. After all, your family has been surviving on butter and ranch dressing for the last two days, you are ready to get some food in the house!
Make a spreadsheet detailing where your money is going to go for the month. Subtract all bills that need to be paid, as well as budgeting money for gas and food expenses, and any needed extras (Do your kids need to buy yearbooks? Are your gym shoes worn out? Wine supply getting low?). Leftover is what you have to make it to the next military paycheck. I know I need to write a budget, and dread it, completely. Yet, every time I forgo it, I find myself staring incredulously at the bank account at the end of the month, wondering, “Uhhhhh… huh?”
Check it for accuracy. With thousands of employees, all receiving different allotments, deductions and allowances that are constantly changing, it’s not hard to understand that sometimes the paycheck isn’t always accurate. (Don’t know what you’re supposed to be paid to start with? There’s an military pay app for that.)
Each month make sure the amount reflects any changes in rank, location, family size, allotment changes and special pay earned. We’ve all heard the finance horror stories of having to back pay thousands of dollars in unearned income, and simply glancing over the LES statement each month will ensure that this doesn’t happen to you.
I’m still waiting on the day that I become Oprah and don’t have a clue what my bank account statement says, or become such a guru at saving money that my account is always full, but until then, using these three tips keep our finances in check and military paycheck in line allow us to be fully prepared for any emergency.