Forget finances — family, friends and fun were higher on my priority list when I stepped back on U.S. soil after my all-expenses-paid trip to Afghanistan, courtesy of Uncle Sam. Yes, I admit I felt that way about money — even though I was (and still am) a professional financial planner. So I can see how getting your financial house in order can rank pretty low if you’re fortunate enough to end up with a chunk of deployment cash upon your return.
Fortunately, it didn’t take me long to get my financial focus back. But having felt what you might be feeling, I thought I’d try to help you get back on track, too.
- Clean things up. Apparently I’m responsible for a lot of the spending in our household because “we” actually paid off a good chunk of my wife’s student loans, eliminated all of our credit card debt and paid off one of our two car loans while I was deployed. Hopefully, you’ve done some of the same type of stuff.
- Save and invest. If you don’t already have one, set up a separate savings account to house your emergency fund. Stock it with the equivalent of at least three months’ worth of expenses. If you can’t do that much, at least get it started and set up an automatic transfer into the new account. If you already have an emergency fund, consider putting money away for longer-term goals like retirement or college funding.
- Have some fun. Finally, you’ll also want to reward yourself and your family for a job well done … but in a measured manner that won’t come back to haunt you. The biggest violation I see is with cars. You may decide a car is something you want or maybe even need upon your return. But you also want your choice to be one that doesn’t sabotage your finances for years to come. If you have your emergency fund in place and have started up your investments, you could use some of the available cash for a down payment (good) or to outright buy the car (better).