10 Things The Army Taught Me About Finances

Dollars & Uncommon Sense

By Steve Repak, CFP®

In basic training, a soldier goes through a process of mental and emotional retraining so that they can operate in an environment very different from the civilian world. I figured out I could take some of the same lessons I learned in the Army and apply them to my finances. Once I started to think differently and then began doing different things with my money, I was able to start accomplishing my financial goals.

The following are 10 Things the Army Taught Me about Finances that I want to share with you in order for you to start thinking differently about your money and to show you that you possess the same skills and tools that I have to achieve any of your financial goals


Unless you are a new recruit, you have served in some type of leadership role. Leadership is all about taking charge of the situation and not making excuses. Use that same type of thinking. I had to quit making excuses that I didn’t have any money and start taking charge of my finances.


Your integrity plays a major part when you are serving in the military. Integrity requires you to be candid and honest. I left the Army with a lot of credit card debt. I had to be honest with myself and admit I had a spending problem. Use your integrity to be honest with yourself and identify the areas of your finances where you are weak. Once you identify those areas, do something about it.


We had many things going on at the same time when I was serving in the Army and it was important to make sure we got the things done that we were supposed to. You can identify your current priorities by measuring two factors: What are you spending your money on and where are you spending your time. I changed my money priorities by spending at least thirty minutes a week on my finances.

KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid)

We learned not to over-complicate things in the Army. The same goes for personal finances. It doesn’t get any simpler than “if you are spending more money than you are making, you need to start spending less.” One I started spending less I started having more money at the end of the month.


When I was a Platoon Sergeant, I had to know where my soldiers were at all times. When dealing with my finances I knew if I wanted to be a good leader with my money I needed to know exactly where I was spending my money. I did that by keeping a spending journal. For 30 days I asked for receipts every time I spent money. Once I got home I wrote it down in my journal.


Everyone knows what sacrifice means in the Army. I can’t count how many holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, etc. I missed because of a deployment or assignment. To be able to start spending less, you have to make sacrifices. It might be not going to the vending machine everyday or reducing the temperature on the thermostat during the winter time. In my case, I had to quit spending money on video games and going out to eat all of the time.


You are always doing some type of planning in the military. For example, when we went on field maneuvers we had to move our equipment to different locations each night. I would have to identify where we were, where we needed to go, and how we were going to get there. I used the same steps for my finances. I had to determine where I was (my income versus my spending), where I wanted to go (how much extra I wanted to have in savings at the end of the month), and how I was going to get there (the areas I spent my money on that I could either reduce or eliminate).


I had to be extremely flexible when I was serving because either the mission or objectives seemed to change often. I had to be flexible with my money goals. At times emergencies would happen and get me a little off track. Once I dealt with it, I got right back on track.

Team work

“Together Everyone Achieves More” was one of our mottos. I had to count on others and work with others in order to get the job done. There are times when you need to ask for help. I had an accountability partner to help keep my financial goals. If you need help, there are many people out there that can help. If you are in the Army, you can go to the ACS (Army Community Services). For those not in the military, you can find yourself a CFP® Certified Financial Planner™ professional to help you with your financial objectives.

Determination or the “War Fighting Spirit”

As a soldier in the Army, I was determined to accomplish the mission. I had to possess that same type of determination with my finances. I had a lot of debt when I left the military. There were many times where things got difficult and I questioned if I would ever be able to get out of debt. I want to tell you that I stuck with my plan, and it wasn’t easy, but I did finally get out of debt. I want to tell you something else. If I was able to do it, I have no doubt that you can reach any of your financial goals too.


Steve Repak is a certified financial planner and author of Dollars & Uncommon Sense: Basic Training For Your Money. He was honorably discharged from the Army in 1998 after 12 years of service. He was an instructor at the Advanced Noncommissioned Officers Course. In 1995 he was the Fort Bliss Noncommissioned Officer of the Year. He is a motivational speaker, consultant and principal at Repak Financial Services. He lives in Charlotte, North Carolina with his wife and three children.

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3 Responses to 10 Things The Army Taught Me About Finances

  1. Great article! As an Air-Force wife I can relate to your experiences. I find that accountability is key. I use Mint.com to keep track of my spending and cut down in various categories. It’s like dieting, if you don’t know how much you are consuming you can’t cut back!

  2. Frügal says:

    Nowadays, they go through LOTS of ‘Financial Briefs’, where we are taught about the Army’s retirement plan, how much we should contribute each month, why it’s good to not have a running balance on your card, mortgage loans, etc. It is all great information. However, it all pretty much goes out the window, because we are all so darn tired that we can’t pay attention. Ha!

  3. Minny says:

    Great stuff. Tightwad Gazette’s Amy was a navy wife and achieved so much by doing just this.

    Being financially secure doesn’t just ‘happen’. We are frugal and we keep a tight watch on money. This does mean that every thing has to be planned to allow money for those things we want to do.

    As they say ‘a penny saved is a penny earned’, it’s so true.

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