Welcome, salty veteran of an overseas deployment! Now that you’re back in the world, there’s a lot to do, like finishing all those post-deployment questionnaires, joining the local veterans group, buying that sexy Harley soft tail the dealer was showing off on your FOB, and…
Whoa there, motivated. Just because you have danger pay to burn doesn’t mean you should throttle up the spending right away. You’ve possibly saved up some coin, and the temptation will be high to blow it on anything AAFES doesn’t sell. You earned that cash, for sure — but you’ll need it down the line. If you’re thinking about dropping down on any of these items as soon as you’re home, think twice.
1. Splurging on some new wheels.
Maybe you were chilling at the Green Bean on the FOB when you saw it in the marketplace: a nice F-150 and a dealer to take your downrange purchase order. Or maybe you were waiting to treat yourself to sports-car thrills when you got back on post. Either way, dropping dimes on a new car or motorcycle (or ATV or boat) feels great for a little while… until the newness wears off, and the payments loom large.
Before dropping $30,000 or more on new wheels, ask yourself if this is a need or easy therapy. If you must ride shiny and chrome, consider a pre-owned vehicle that will last just as long but save you thousands in depreciation. Either way, look past the monthly payments to your total financial obligation, and make certain you’ll be as comfortable with it in three years as you are today.
2. Buying a Bushmaster with all the rails and whistles.
For a lot of vets, few activities are as engrossing and therapeutic as shooting sports. But as common as the AR-15 has become, it’s not getting cheaper — and customizing your personal weapon with optics, folding stocks, action mods, rails, and a smartphone mount can send that bad boy’s price into the heavens. (Don’t forget the ammo: At a quarter a round, you’ll drop more coins on a weekend of shooting than that guy playing Big Buck Hunter at Dave & Buster’s.)
Pro tip: Try renting at the local range before busting a wad on any hand cannon. Even better, rely on the kindness of the gun people you know.
3. Eating out.
Yeah, we know about chow-hall food. And between work, PT, admin, and possibly a family life, sometimes you’re too tuckered to do anything but Grubhub it or grab something on the fly. But nothing siphons savings off faster than eating out, paying a tip on top of your inflated menu price, and probably not remembering what you ate the next day.
If you have DFAC privileges, or a kitchen, or even a hot plate, use ’em. You’ll thank us when you’ve suddenly found another four or five figures in your bank account at the end of the year. Then, double down on the smart plays by using your food savings for a good cause: your financial health. Buy down some consumer debt, build up your emergency savings, or invest it to grow your future nest egg.
4. Building big debts fast.
There’s always that guy who buys a new house at every new duty station. It seems like a great investment… until the housing market softens, you need to PCS to San Diego fast, and nobody wants your Virginia Beach bungalow unless you sell it at a loss. Time, tide, and military orders wait for no one, not even your realtor.
If you can’t afford to pay two mortgages or manage a rental property while you’re underway in the West Pacific, wait until you’re a bit more solid to get into the borrowing game. But whether you’re looking at a rent payment or a mortgage, consider hedging on life’s uncertainties with life insurance. Depending on the policy you pick, it might not only secure your family’s future, but become an investment vehicle to help you in retirement. One good alternative is AAFMAA, a non-profit association that has a lot of policies just for qualified service members and their dependents. If you’re looking for ways to build your wealth and security over time, you can’t do much better than that.
5. Arguing over money.
You may think being apart from your spouse on deployment was the hardest part. But even strong relationships are strained by money issues — and not just when it’s scarce. When you’re transitioning back to the homefront, consider taking a couple weeks or months to ease yourself back into the family finances, and use the time as an opportunity to reconnect with your significant other, who’s been holding it down while you were gone.
Don’t go too hard on their spending while you were deployed; do look for opportunities to thank them for the work they put in and the decisions they made. And don’t be afraid to seek counseling — the financial and family kinds — to help you and your partner work together going forward. Between chaplains, Military OneSource, and the military family life counselors available to your unit, there are plenty of low-cost options out there.
6. Picking up a Jägerator.
I know a guy who ran out to get one of these Jägermeister cold taps as soon as he was back. It’s $300. It dispenses cold Jäger. Don’t be that guy. Just don’t.