Transitioning from military to civilian life

Navigating a potential minefield in personal finance.

It is estimated that 2.5 million military personnel have deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq, according to Department of Defense. Furthermore, more than a third were deployed more than once and 400,000 service members have done three or more deployments. For some of these veterans, the effects of these wars will remain for years.

Speaking from personal experience in deploying overseas on numerous occasions, sometimes life is easier in a war zone. My aspirations were pretty simple: accomplish my mission and keep my team alive. I did not have to worry about house payments, car payments or any other bills. Typically these bills were being paid by either by my spouse or by the military’s automatic allotment system. During combat, military personnel typically take one day at a time.

But transitioning back to the civilian world, time becomes more complex. Ordinary civilian matters (bank accounts, bills and credit cards) can trip up a transitioning veteran. Moreover, not only can a young military person lack the ability to plan beyond the moment, but he/she may have never developed solid money management skills. Combine this with lingering strains of combat and a career change and we now have a possible personal/financial crisis that can last a lifetime.

A transitioning veteran’s personal finances can become a collateral damage if not handled with the same discipline and commitment that made the person successful in the military. Whether a person does four or twenty four years, the military is a wonderful career path. However, it also can produce the unintended consequence of enabling a person to avoid learning solid money-management skills.

Early on in a military career, a military member is provided with most of their basic needs; a place to live, food, insurance and a paycheck every two weeks. However, the bottom line is that when a 23 year-old gets out of the military they will not only have to balance a checkbook, they will now have to pay rent/house payment (along with basic utilities), buy groceries, find insurance, car payments, credit card payments and a host of other bills. And these bills that life is throwing at them as they transition out of the military will need to be paid with a new income source.

In the military, you can spend more money on wants instead of needs. But due to the decision to enter into a new career choice, the basic needs of shelter, food and clothing will need to be purchased instead of issued. If you are a transitioning veteran or close to one, please know that Michigan State University Extension offers money management programs that teach techniques on creating a spending plan and ways to “find” money to save. For more information visit MI Money Health.

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