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The reasons people join the military are myriad. For some it’s patriotism. Maybe (like me) they had parents who served, and it seemed like a natural choice. Others might be looking for adventure or some more structure in their life.  Regardless of why you signed up, it’s almost a sure thing that it wasn’t for the money. An E-3 with three years of service has a base pay of $2,372 a month.

Financial instability is often a root cause of emotional stress, relationship issues, and negative work performance. When your career involves learning and successfully performing life or death tasks, in both training and combat environments, getting your personal finances in order takes on a new level of importance. Here are a few tips to help you make that military paycheck go the extra mile, giving you the flexibility (and the funds) to make the most of those hard-earned bucks.

Use your local dining facility

This seems obvious, but if you’re a single soldier, sailor, airman, or whatever the Space Force is going by these days, and you live in the barracks then you’re not receiving BAS (Basic Allowance for Subsistence). That’s because the military expects you to eat at their dining halls. While the standards vary by location, overall the food tends to cover the whole spectrum of tastes. There have even been recent pushes for healthier options, however any walk-through during mealtimes will find multiple servicemembers eating delivery pizzas or cooking in their own kitchens. One of the hardest temptations to overcome is the habit of eating what you want, when you want. Even if you’re just grabbing a donut and a coffee each morning, or fast food a couple times a week, it quickly begins to add up.

It may not be the tastiest option, but this is a guide on how to make your paycheck last longer, not how to enjoy top-quality culinary delights. So, spend a month eating all your main meals at the dining facility and you’ll be shocked how much money is left in your bank account at the end of your next pay period.

Toss those credit cards

One of the quickest ways to cripple yourself financially is to abuse credit cards. The lure of being able to make a $10,000 purchase without worrying about immediate payment is a dangerous one. Even if you make a good plan to pay it off in a reasonable time, a few unforeseen expenses can lead to missed payments, and then suddenly those exorbitant interest rates put you into a debt hole that’s almost impossible to climb out of. Stick to debit cards and cash, or, if you’ve established the discipline to pay off the balance each month, use a credit card with reasonable interest rates and competitive bonus incentives like cash-back, airline miles, or other perks that you’ll actually use.

Make a budget

One of the easiest ways to keep your personal finances in order is also sadly the hardest to stick with for many service members. Budgeting is conceptually simple. You make X amount of dollars each month. You spend Y amount. Then take the remainder and set it aside for an emergency fund to help float you through unforeseen expenses. Sounds easy right? Unfortunately, a budget is only good if you’re honest with yourself. It’s no secret that a large number of young servicemembers drink and smoke, however far fewer will honestly track how much they spend on those habits. Even if your vice is just a $5 caramel macchiato each morning after PT at your local coffee shop, that’s $100 a month. It adds up real fast.

Set aside money for the fun stuff, as well as your expenses, and use a budget tool to track everything. There are dozens of good ones in the app stores. After a few pay periods you’ll get a better handle on where your money is going and may be surprised what you learn.

Take advantage of special military offers

Let’s be clear, by “special military offer” we don’t mean Honest Eddy’s No-Money-Down 27% interest offer at your local used car dealership. Most units have regularly updated lists detailing local businesses that offer special military discounts, services, or other ways of showing their appreciation for your service. Don’t be that guy or gal at Applebee’s loudly demanding your free side of jalapeno poppers, but not taking advantage of discounted access to concerts, sporting events, or community activities will allow you to stretch your entertainment fund while still keeping the rest of your budget on track. Local MWR (Morale Welfare Recreation) offices are also a great spot to score season passes, amusement park tickets, and more.

There are dozens of other ways to ensure your paycheck manages to last (with something left over) until the next one arrives. But let’s be honest, we’re all human. No one can be expected to count every purchase, every possible contingency. Though if you follow these few simple steps and apply some basic common sense, like deciding whether or not you really need to buy that 70” flatscreen TV when you have a day-room just a few doors down, then you’ll begin to establish the fundamentals for a solid financial picture that will only grow as you progress in your career.

If you have more questions regarding your finances, be sure to look into the resources provided by U.S. Bank. They’ve been serving customers and military members since 1863 and were named the most essential bank amid the pandemic by The Harris Poll as well as one of the world’s most ethical companies by the Ethisphere Institute for the seventh consecutive year. 

This article is made possible with U.S. Bank.

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