MIGHTY MONEY

Everything you need for a secure financial future and when to start

The world would be a perfect place if everyone grew up with a financial advisor, someone who told them exactly what to do with their money and when. While the best rule of thumb is to start investing early and often, the benefits of compound interest just aren't as interesting as spending your allowance on candy and Wiffle ball gear.

It's also not nearly as satisfying.

The rule that you should get started early still stands but it's not necessary to get started quite that young. However, if being bullish on Wall Street is more appealing to you than playing ball in the street, go for it — your future, financial self will thank you.

Military members have experienced a lot of changes in the tried-and-true retirement and benefits packages we used to know. For new troops, guaranteed pensions by themselves are gone. This is true for some older members who decided to opt-in to the new system, too. And now, the military will match your contributions to your Thrift Savings Plan (a kind of military 401(k)). There are other variations in the blended retirement system that troops need to know, too.

Some will still wonder if they're doing enough to save for retirement. This is a completely understandable feeling as a trade war with China grows and the stock market becomes more and more present in daily news cycles. After all, infantry troops and aircraft mechanics are not traditionally well-versed in financial products.

"No, Sergeant First Class, a money market account is not a retirement investment. Let's head back to base and look over your portfolio."

If you don't know if you're doing all you can to promote a healthy financial future, you should turn to the financial advisors available on base or seek help elsewhere. But for starters, here are few general guidelines to let you know if you're on the right track.


Around age 22 — Get rid of credit cards and save some cash.

I know, every single financial advisor or personnel officer starts out with this advice, but it's for a good reason: they're right. Paying off your debt means you can use that cash and put it to work for you. When you have a lot of credit debt, you're the creditor's investment and they're earning interest on your money instead of the other way around.

At about this age, you should also be saving a significant portion of your income, roughly 15 percent. While this sounds like a lot (and it very well might be, especially for military families), remember that every little bit helps. Setting aside an allotment of fifteen, ten, or even five percent of your pay is worth the time and effort.

How you do this is the (potentially) exciting part. Explore a 401(k) like the TSP, IRAs, and savings accounts — in that order. Just keep an eye on the management fees companies charge. Most charge a percentage of your overall portfolio and the difference between one percent and one and a half percent can be hundreds of thousands of dollars over a lifetime. Look into fiduciary firms to open these accounts. Most can even be managed on your smartphone, via tools like Wealthfront or Wealthsimple.

Paying off your credit card feels like being awarded an achievement medal.

(U.S. Air Force)

Your 20s — Don't miss a chance to pay extra on your student loans.

They're the goddamn worst.

Paying off your student loan feels like a handshake from Chuck Norris.

(U.S. Air Force)

Your 30s — Prepare for your home and family.

You are never going to be fully financially prepared to have kids — nobody is really. But if you're finally up to saving that 15 percent of your income, you can open a 529 pre-tax college savings account for the little ones. You can also be open to other kinds of investments, like a real estate investment trust, which is a kind of managed fund that buys and manages income-generating real estate.

Another thing that needs to go at this point are excessive fees that take away your money without giving you much in return. The market is flooded with organizations that want your money and they want to take it without you noticing. You shouldn't be paying a lot of bank fees, ATM fees, or any fee that seems excessive. Keep watch.

By this point, you should be building up a savings account of three to six month's worth of expenses as a cash reserve and, in the case of any unexpected windfall of cash that comes to you in the form of bonuses or gross profits or lottery win (no judgement), you should always put half away before enjoying the other half.

Crazy things happen.

Your 40s — Expand your reach.

For the life of your mortgage, you should be trying to make an extra mortgage payment on your home at least once a year. If you have the means, you might even seek to buy a vacation home or investment property that you can make money from while working to pay off. Renting a house in New Mexico (or wherever) or putting it out on AirBnB for 15 years could turn into a fine place to retire later.

If you'd thought of this 30 years ago, DiCaprio would be your neighbor.

Your 50s — Slow your roll.

Move investments away from stocks and think about commodities through exchange-traded funds (ETFs). They aren't as prone to market changes as stocks are but still allow for growth over the years. As you approach your 60s, consider getting half of your investments into securities, like corporate or municipal bonds.

If those kids have flown the coop, this also might be a good time to downsize your home to take advantage of any equity from making those extra payments all your life. A reverse mortgage is not a good way to take advantage of your home's equity because, like credit cards, you're spending money you haven't made yet.

No matter what Tom Selleck, Fred Thompson, or Henry Winkler tell you.

Your 60s — Live it up.

Find a new career that you love for the love of the job. By this time, any money you make will just be the money you throw around for fun, instead of using your savings. Try to stay active, get out, and maybe see some of the world.