As both a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional and active Air Force Reservist, I've had the opportunity to help many families save money. Military families are a special group. Given their service and sacrifices, they have some unique financial needs. There are some great money-saving resources out there — some available only to military families.
The use of the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) for retirement planning is a start. The TSP functions similarly to corporate 401(k) plans, allowing salary deferrals to be untaxed in amounts up to $20,500 or $27,000 (age dependent) for 2022. The funds then grow tax deferred until withdrawn in retirement. One of the plan’s best features is the ultra-low cost of investments, as most of the fund choices have annual expenses of under one dollar per thousand dollars invested. These low costs add up to great long-term savings.
Under new retirement plan rules, military service members will receive a defined pension based on either years of service or amount of highest pay. Newer military members will have the option to receive a “match” to their salary deferral contributions. If you are deployed to combat zones, there are additional benefits that may apply. Speak with your military pay office to learn about benefits available to you.
Protecting Your Finances
The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) is a nice financial bonus — primarily for active duty, but also available to some reservists. The benefits also apply to a military service member’s dependents and include protection from eviction, foreclosure, high credit card fees and interest charges. It pays to check out the rules of this act.
Active duty often means moving every three or so years. Generally, if you anticipate frequent moves, you can save money by renting your living space. The chance of recovering all the costs of buying a home within three years is not high. Nevertheless, some military families choose to generate income by using previous homes as rental properties. If you do buy a home, take advantage of the VA loan program, which usually offers very low down payments and low interest rates.
For the health care needs of reservists, it is hard to beat using Tricare Reserve Select (TRS) insurance. With this insurance, an entire family can be covered for less than $300 a month. While active duty has unlimited free health care, there are some limits to access TRS insurance.
Everyday Saving Opportunities
Another way of saving is to avoid overspending. Discounts for military service members are widely available at hotels, museums, restaurants, and even some airlines. Military families can also find savings by shopping on base for gas, groceries, and other items at the BX or PX — which offers modest savings compared to shopping off base.
For more tips on saving and budgeting, check out LetsMakeAPlan.org. You can also search out other websites and blogs focused on helping military families. It is gratifying that so many companies choose to honor your service.