As families rearrange their priorities in 2023, having a solid foundation for your financial plan is now more important than ever.

Many service members with job stability can still struggle with finances, leaving many with large credit card bills, little savings, and a poor credit score. Some leaders are more understanding than others, but unlike in civilian jobs, your commander could receive a phone call from a creditor if you don’t pay your bills on time. That adds an entirely new dimension of stress to those already struggling to get control of their finances.

Luckily there is a path out, and it’s not as hard as you’d imagine. Navy Federal Credit Union has been helping service members and their families with financial tools and advice for 90 years. Below are a few simple (but extremely important) tips to get you started.

Make a Realistic Budget

As anyone who’s ever tried to make a personal financial plan knows, the difference between making a budget and sticking to it can be significant. All your carefully laid plans go out the window the first time you’re hit with an emergency expense that blows your savings out of the water. However, keeping your budget realistic will still help minimize the chaos of unforeseen expenses when they inevitably pop up. We’re not telling you what to spend your money on (that’s the point of income, right?), but to track it accurately. If you can’t live without that $5 cup of coffee each morning from your local barista, no problem, just make sure you account for it at the end of each month. One of the biggest mistakes people make when creating a budget is not being honest with themselves about where their money is going. If you’re buying anything regularly it should be tracked and accounted for. It’s not exciting, but living within your means will allow you to accrue wealth when you’re young so you can enjoy the fruits of your labor when you’re older.

Save Whatever You Can

Supporting the previous tip, you should make an allotment in your budget each month for some type of savings, whether it’s a mutual fund, TSP, or just a savings account labeled ‘emergency funds.’ The more you’re able to put away, the less fluctuation your budget will have when something unexpected occurs. Spending all that time making an accurate budget is wasted if the first financial setback completely derails your well-laid plans. Navy Federal Credit Union offers a variety of savings options with competitive rates of return so you can put your money to work even when it’s just sitting around to offset emergencies.

Consolidate Your Debt

No one is perfect. Expenses happen. Life happens. That’s why credit cards are so useful for unplanned expenses. Unfortunately, there are some companies out there that realize this and charge borderline predatory rates or hide variable terms in their contracts to ensure you’ll never truly be able to dig out of the pile of debt you’ve created. A solution for this is to transfer all your debt and exorbitant charges onto a single card with a more manageable interest rate. Navy Federal Credit Union has been helping servicemembers do this for years, offering competitive introductory rates often with very little APR for the first 12 months to qualifying applicants. That means if you’re able to pay off a little more each month in the first year, you can make a serious dent in your personal financial situation.

Increase Your Credit Score

Think of your credit score as a stand-in for you that lenders look at when deciding whether or not to approve a loan (car, home, land, etc). The higher the better, and the more likely you are to get a lower rate since the lenders are more confident they’ll get their money back.

A poor credit rating is 300–579 (out of 850). Anything over 800 is excellent.

If your score isn’t the best, don’t worry. NFCU offers its members great resources on how to increase their credit rating, like making regular payments and lowering their credit utilization.

The earlier you can establish good financial habits, the easier and more enjoyable your life will be as you get older. Let Navy Federal help you get on the right track now.

This article was sponsored by Navy Federal Credit Union. Insured by NCUA.