(BPT) - Any family can experience financial hurdles, but military families may face unique challenges that set them apart from their civilian counterparts. From being remotely stationed with limited access to good paying jobs and childcare, to frequent moves that can make establishing consistent savings habits hard, military families' everyday realities can make financial security difficult in both the near and long-term.
Veteran Jeff Felton, a former Air Force Officer and Investment Advisory Representative at Prudential Financial, understands personally the financial hurdles military families can face. When he was exiting military service and deciding on a civilian career, Felton says he saw becoming a financial advisor as an opportunity to help himself and others gain financial confidence.
To help military families build financial habits today that will aid in securing their future, Felton offers the following tips.
1. Develop a savings habit, no matter how much
A common piece of financial advice is to save 10%-30% of your paycheck, but for families on a tight or single-earner budget, that may not be feasible. Felton says that shouldn't be discouraging and suggests developing a simple savings habit. After ensuring family necessities are covered, set aside as much as you can each paycheck to begin building an emergency fund. The bigger the fund, the better (3 to 6 months' worth of expenses is ideal), but any amount can serve as a buffer against borrowing or going into debt when unplanned events, such as an emergency car repair or appliance replacement, happen.
2. Start saving for retirement today and be flexible
"If you haven't already, it's critical that you start saving now," says Felton. Working military spouses can have funds moved to a retirement account via payroll deduction and check to see if their employer offers a matching contribution benefit. Aim to have 10% of your salary allocated to your retirement savings account. If that's not immediately possible for your family, start small and increase your contribution as you receive pay raises.
After 20 years of service, members of the military may be able to switch to a more self-directed savings plan, such as a Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), a retirement savings and investment account for federal employees and uniformed service members. The plan offers a mutual fund option that allows participants greater investment flexibility.
3. Develop post-service skills
Plan for a future after the military by developing post-service skills for jobs with higher salaries. 'The military provides many transferable skills to help you join the civilian workforce, and you can hone those skills and develop new ones by taking advantage of military educational resources such as Community College of the Air Force or American Military University,' says Felton.
To assist in covering the costs of higher education, GI Bill benefits can help military members pay for college, graduate school and training programs. Military spouses and children may also qualify for credits that can help offset training or higher education costs.
A resource for military families
Families can tap into programs for financial education and other money-smart resources. For example, Prudential Financial has partnered with Twelve Million Plus, a digital community from the company Instant Teams Marketplace, which provides a host of curated and local resources for the more than 12 million spouses of active and retired U.S. military members.
Through the partnership, Twelve Million Plus members have access to a range of resources to aid in improving their financial well-being, including the ability to connect online with an advisor and access to Prudential Stages for Retirement, the company's online planning platform that helps people navigate more confidently through pivotal life stages.
Launched in January 2023, Prudential Stages for Retirement is a free tool that helps individuals benchmark their retirement readiness using a personalized retirement confidence score and provides access to tools that track how certain actions, like changing goals or their target retirement date, can affect their score. Twelve Million Plus members will also have access to Prudential's financial education through online articles and videos as well as live seminars on different topics.
'Today, there are a lot more ways for military families to connect to financial tools and professional advice,' says Felton. 'This partnership offers those resources in a supportive online community with people who understand each other's challenges.'