Military families report that they frequently make financial decisions on impulse rather than planning ahead. That makes sense, because planning can be difficult when you might have to relocate frequently and deployment could happen unexpectedly. 

Despite the challenges, however, planning ahead for your financial life is crucial. While an occasional impulse purchase may be ok, financial impulsivity as a lifestyle is rarely sustainable. By taking time to set financial goals and make specific plans for your money, you’ll create the ability to live a more financially free and secure life.

 Impulsive decisions cause financial problems

Everyone spends impulsively from time to time, whether it's buying a piece of furniture or a pair of shoes you hadn't planned on, or investing in an unexpected but promising opportunity. However, with better planning, you can avoid the potential pitfalls of impulsive spending. 

If you make impulsive financial decisions a regular habit, they can cause lasting challenges. For instance, if you’ve spent too much money on an unplanned purchase or investment, you may have to resort to using a credit card to cover groceries, medicine or other necessities before the next payday. And if you’re not able to pay off that credit card bill before the next payment cycle, you’ll end up paying interest and fees on top of your grocery bill. 

Making impulsive financial decisions can also lead to strained relationships. Thirty-six percent of surveyed adults say that money causes the most stress of any issue in their relationship with their significant other. 

Setting goals paves the way for financial success 

By taking time to set financial goals and develop a plan for reaching them, you can provide your family with a roadmap to financial wellness. 

If you don’t have a plan for your money, it will be difficult to reach your financial goals. But if you sit down with your partner and talk about what you’d like to achieve financially in the next year, the next five years, and beyond, you can develop a roadmap to get there. 

For example, say you hope to buy a house or pay for your child’s college education. Reaching that goal requires making a plan and working toward accomplishing it. Rather than just earning and spending your money without a focused plan, put a certain amount of money away each month toward building a down payment for your home. This way, you’re committed to not spending that money on anything else, and you’re well on your way to reaching your goal. 

How to set goals that work for you 

Financial success doesn’t happen overnight. Instead, building the financial life you want requires careful plans and ongoing progress toward meeting your goals. That’s why it’s important to set financial goals in three different categories and reassess every quarter or at least once per year. 

  • Short-term goals. These are the goals you can achieve in one year or less. Some of the most important short-term goals to work toward include creating a budget you can stick to, paying off credit card debt, and building an emergency fund. If you're stationed far away from extended family, you may want to set a goal to save enough money to visit family without relying on a credit card. 

Think about where you’d like to be financially in 12 months, and create a plan to get there. For instance, if you don’t have any emergency savings, but you start saving $25 a week right now, you’ll have $2,400 saved in one year. 

  • Medium-term goals. Some goals will take longer than a year to achieve. Medium-term goals are those you can achieve in three years or less. They might include paying off student loans, a car loan or other personal loans, or saving up to have a baby or adopt a child. These goals could also include saving up for a major purchase, such as a home, car or vacation. 

Take time to consider how you'd like your financial situation to look different by the time you move to your next post assignment, and determine how you can make that happen. For instance, look for ways to lower your bills so you can apply some of your housing allowance each month toward meeting your financial goals. 

  • Long-term goals. These are the goals that will take three years or more to reach. They might include saving for retirement and saving for a college education. Even if you plan to stay in the military long enough to earn military retirement, most former service members still need additional savings to live comfortably in retirement. For most people, accomplishing goals like these take many years of disciplined saving and investing—and the sooner you start, the better chance you’ll have of reaching those goals. 

Getting a handle on finances and working to meet financial goals is challenging for most people, but military families face the unique challenges of frequent moves, deployments and the accompanying stress and exhaustion. It’s possible to make your money work for you, rather than constantly working to catch up to your need for money. But getting there requires setting goals, creating a plan to reach them, and applying a disciplined approach to follow your plan.