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Military finance expert shares tips for budgeting

Plan your financial future.
Photo by Jay Mann.

“Start with the basics,” that’s good advice for servicemembers and their families when it comes to creating a budget.

Jerry Quinn, Chief Operating Officer and Secretary for American Armed Forces Mutual Aid Association (AAFMAA), has worked in finance throughout both his military and civilian careers. He’s also intimately familiar with the experiences faced by today’s military, based on his 39 years in the Army Reserve, including climbing the ranks as a junior enlisted soldier. He says planning is ingrained in those who serve from a very young age, regardless of grade, and that’s the exact strategy needed for household budgeting. 

“If you’re not developing the plans, you’re receiving the plans and you’re executing the plans,” Quinn, a colonel, said. “You have to start with the basics. If you’re having trouble making ends meet, you must sit down and create a budget; you must stick to it. And there are going to be things that throw that budget off, and what is the primary contingency plan for a budget that has gone awry? It’s the emergency fund.”

Pay insecurity, food insecurity, and access to quality housing are ongoing challenges he sees military families facing, but current inflation and interest rates are also “taking a toll.”

“It’s harder to buy a house today so you’re stuck renting. You can’t find that path to building equity in your home if you can’t get a mortgage… and then everything in consumer goods from gasoline to groceries is more expensive today than it was just a couple years ago,” Quinn said. “Those are the things impacting military families, and it’s long known that military families — because of the PCSes they experience — move more frequently than the general population, so just by the nature of their career they have more moving expenses.”

Those types of expenses are exactly why AAFMAA created the Career Assistance Program (CAP) Loan. Currently available to servicemembers graded E5 to O4 of all components, including Guardsmen and Reservists, the CAP Loan offers a low-interest opportunity to help military professionals get through the different stages of their career development. Quinn explains that this is everything from a Navy SEAL heading to BUD/S training to a married Marine who is geographically separated from their family to an Airman needing new uniforms. 

“The CAP Loan is available to Members of AAFMAA by other Members. They’re literally borrowing money from a Membership-owned organization, a bunch of military personnel and Veterans who say, ‘we want to give this benefit to other younger Members that are up and coming, and might need a little help with their finances,” Quinn said.

To access the CAP Loan, servicemembers must be an AAFMAA Member that meet all the program criteria.

Quinn knows all too well what it’s like trying to make good budgeting decisions, and more importantly, self-correcting when he didn’t. He recalled being a young E5 and taking on a car payment for a brand-new Mustang that included a high insurance bill. 

Living within your means is so, so important, and therefore you need to understand what you’re spending. It is more important than ever to sit down and get your budget, and ask honest questions.”

He also recommends determining the difference between necessary expenses and nice-to-have expenses. 

If you’re looking to get your finances in order in 2024, Quinn suggests:

1. Build a budget;

2. Live within your means; and

3. Begin saving for your emergency fund to establish a small financial cushion. 

“Start small, think big. Do it automatically. Is it $5 a week, is it $20 a paycheck, is it $50 a month? Whatever it is, deposit it directly into a savings account. In no time you’ll have a small cushion you can count on.”

And for those he has talked to a year down the road from implementing these basics, Quinn says they feel rewarded. 

“They feel such a sense of relief when they’ve actually achieved their savings goal, even if their emergency fund is only at $300 and their credit card balances haven’t grown at all, that’s a big win for some people. And they’re more motivated to get to the next step.”

Visit aafmaa.com/cap to learn more about AAFMAA’s CAP Loan membership benefit.