This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Navy Federal Credit Union. All opinions are 100% mine.
It’s been almost a year since John transitioned out of the Navy. . . and nearly six months to the day since we bought our first house. Just typing those two things is really hard to believe. But it seems like we’ve been working toward this last year for a very long time. You see, we’ve been planning for either retirement or transition–whichever John decided was right for him–since we’ve been married. We knew that military life was not going to last forever, so we wanted to make sure that we were making smart choices throughout our military journey. That way, we’d always be financially independent and able to make the best choices for us. Here’s how we did it.
1. We made goals
Early into our relationship, John and I knew what kind of people we were financially. Lucky for us, we’re both kind of cheap–not in a that’s-weird-and-creepy kind of way, but more along the lines of we-can-make-do-or-do-without kind of way. We both grew up modestly and have worked hard for the majority of what we have. Knowing that we were both on the same page while we were dating made it easier to talk about money, plan, and dream. And it made it really easy then to turn those plans into action items. When we got married, we started planning out what the future looked like us for us, financially. There were a few things we knew had to happen: Retirement contributions, growing our savings, and buying a house. We also knew that we did not want to live our life paycheck-to-paycheck.
2. We assessed our situation realistically
For the majority of John’s time in the military, I was a freelancer and did not have a steady, full-time job. John was junior enlisted and, if you know anything about junior enlisted, you know that big paychecks aren’t really a thing for them. However, the military offers a steady paycheck with benefits–which include health care– so we knew that we had a stability that we might not otherwise have in the civilian world. Simply put: We wanted to spend John’s time in the military really focusing on smart decisions and habits that would put us in a smart financial place. We knew that in order to achieve our post-military dreams we’d have to do two things: Cut back on what we were already spending and grow what we were earning. We took a look at where we spent our money (we like to dine out and travel!) and I tried to figure out ways to earn more money. In three years, I did one, some, or all of these at once to make money: Blogging, freelance writing for other publications, grant writing, copyediting, working at a gift shop, teaching online for a master’s program, consulting for an educational start-up, ghostwriting an ebook and speeches, social media management, and mystery shopping. (Even now, with a full-time job, I am still doing some of these things. After all, student loans don’t pay themselves.)
3. We made tracks to decreased our bills
We also tried to be smart about decreasing our payments and financial responsibilities that weren’t growing our savings. When, in a freak coincidence, both of our old beater cars were considered “totaled” within the span of one week, we downsized to one car (and, spoiler alert, we still only have one car between the two of us) to save money and not go into massive debt. We prioritized our student loans that had the highest interest (after making calls to ensure they were the lowest interest possible) and hacked away at them by throwing any extra money we had at the end of the month towards them. We made calls to cable and cell phone companies to shop around for the best prices and ask for better prices. We shopped at low-cost grocery stores and bent and dent shops to help reduce our food budget and costs on household paper goods. We scoured sites like CraigsList and the Facebook Marketplace when we needed items that didn’t have to be brand-new.
4. We invested in ourselves
We also wanted to make sure that we were setting ourselves up for long-term success. When we did have extra money, we made sure to sock it away in CDs or savings accounts that were as high-yield as we could find. We also opened retirement savings accounts beyond the Thrift Savings Plan that the military offers and invested in life insurance policies.
5. We didn’t always listen to the crowd
We made sure to trust our gut and get solid financial education when it came to things like credit cards. Often, in the military community, credit cards and debit cards are vilified. And it’s not without good reason. Some people abuse, misuse, or don’t understand credit cards. They can get in over their heads fast. However, credit cards have been a tool for building wealth for us. We used a Navy Federal Credit Union credit card to get cash back on our purchases. We save a lot of money over the course of the year because we charge nearly everything (and pay our bill completely every month). We also use a Navy Federal debit card since they offer automatic rebates on ATM fees… because why pay for ATM fees when you don’t have to pay for them at all?
6. We made saving money fun
There’s definitely a sense of shared accomplishment when you can see how your changes in habit and your hard work is actually paying off. We looked across our bank statements and savings frequently and compared where we were the month before to where we are now. Sometimes, we also created saving challenges for ourselves to see if we could save even more money together. When John left the military, we were financially stable, which made the transition from military life that much easier. We were able to take a road trip of a lifetime, put a down payment on a home, and start a brick-and-mortar small business. All of the hustling has been worth it because we’re able to create and live the life we’ve envisioned. Why choose Navy Federal? Because they can help you become financially stable and plan for the road ahead–wherever that may lead for you.
Navy Federal is federally insured by NCUA and an Equal Housing Lender. Message and data rates may apply. Visit navyfederal.org for more information.