Financial advice offered to Marines during challenging economic times

19 Mar 2009 | Pamela Jackson

The economic recession has hit many Americans hard across the country. 

Hundreds of job losses are reported each day and reports indicate all branches of the military are seeing an increase in recruits who may be searching for some sort of financial stability.

According to retired Master Gunnery Sgt. Tommie J. Threats, former S-3 operations chief, Operations and Training Division, here, it is important that during these times Marines understand they must plan well by saving and investing.

If not, they will end up spending years trying to correct the financial mistakes they made along the way.

Threats should know.  During the early years of his Marine Corps career he experienced life with little or no money in his pocket. 

Now that he has retired from the Corps, he admitted he had to go through a process to get where he is today.

“I was not taught to save as a young child and learning how to save was a process.  When I first enlisted in the Marine Corps, it was about doing my job, partying and having fun with my money,” Threats said.

Threats said he didn’t understand the seriousness of taking care of his money until he was a Marine corporal stationed in California.

“I was out late one night having a good time.  On my way home, my car broke down and I had eight miles left to go before I got back to the base.  I was left standing on the side of the road with nothing but 75 cents in my pocket because I had spent all of my money having fun,” he admitted.  “I looked around and there was a McDonald’s, a bus station and my bank.   I had no money in the bank, so I thought I would buy a cheeseburger for 49 cents and walk back or catch the bus.

“I had a choice to make,” Threats continued, “so I chose to not catch the bus or eat.  Instead, I kept my 75 cents and walked back. That long walk back gave me a chance to think long and hard about the feeling of being broke.  I made the choice that night to never again be in that situation and sought financial counseling the next day,” he said,

According to Terry Cosper, manager, Transition Assistance Management Program, Marine and Family Services, Marine Corps Community Services, MCLB Albany, financial counseling for young Marines is a sound idea.

“I love talking to and teaching the young Marines by telling them what is going on in the financial world, even if they do not make a career out of the Marines,” Cosper said.

The two things Cosper said he loves talking to Marine about are getting involved in the Thrift Savings Plan and saving at least 10 percent of their earnings.

“Get involved in the TSP, even if you are not going to make a career in the Marine Corps,” Cosper advised. “People in my age group were war babies and we were taught to save 10 percent of our earnings.  TSP is easy and you never see the money and you don’t get your hands on it so you can spend it on things like fancy wheels, a stereo, fast cars or a motorcycle and it is tax deferred until age 59 and a half.”

While Threats also recommends saving money, he also shared how he further invested in real estate. 

He said this type of investment for young Marines is rather scary because they move around a lot, but shared its benefits.

“My first major investment was buying a house, even though I was afraid to buy one because it is a big commitment.  In the military, we move around a lot, which makes the decision even harder,” Threats said.  “Still, I would encourage Marines to go ahead and make that purchase, because if they keep waiting, it would have to be purchased at a higher interest rate.  The key to a successful retirement is to have all of your major purchases, like a house and car, paid off before you retire. This means more of your retirement pay comes to you and will not go to pay a lot of bills.  During retirement, your house is your biggest investment.”

Cosper added that besides investing in real estate, an immediate consideration for young Marines would be to start a systematic program for savings and unexpected emergencies. 

“Saving for those things that are unplanned for is key,” Cosper said.  “If nothing else, it will keep you out of the Navy Relief office and from going down to the payday lending places to borrow money to catch up,” he warned.

Threats said he is still far from the full retirement age of 59 and a half, but he has reached his retirement in the Marine Corps after more than 30 years of service. 

He said that Marines should decide now how much they want to live on each month after they retire and plan accordingly. 

“When many people retire and start living on social security or are still working, it is usually because they have remained in debt and are still paying rent or their mortgage,” Threats pointed out.

“The ones seen traveling and having fun are the ones who planned well, paid off all of their bills and their mortgage and are now debt free,” he added.  “I wanted to be that debt-free person, and began focusing my efforts on that lifestyle.  I wanted to be sure that wherever I lived after retirement, it would be paid for in full.”

Threats said that due to his early realizations on financial planning, he now has a total of eight homes from real estate investments made while he was still in the Corps. 

He said that good financial planning has enabled him to retire with a retirement income that is free and clear because all of the homes are completely paid off. 

“It feels good to know that my debt is a very small percentage of my retirement income from the Marine Corps.  My advice to the younger Marines is to have a good time during your first enlistment, travel, have fun, learn all you can and establish a financial plan,” he said.  “Now is the time for those young Marines to get the fun out of their system even if they only do four years in the Marine Corps.  If they plan to go to college, that is taken care of for them through the new G.I. Bill and they get a small stipend.

“However, I do tell them not to put themselves in a financial hole by getting cars and fancy cell phones they cannot afford.  If they decide to get out of the Corps, then they will have bills that are too much for them to handle and this can make their education suffer,” he said.

Threat said being broke early in their career is a good experience, especially without a chow hall here.  “When those hunger pangs hit them and they are days away from the next payday, those young Marines will think about their spending habits a bit more with the next paycheck.”

Now that he has retired from the Corps, Threats said sound financial planning has enabled him to plan for a little fun.

“I plan to travel a lot and visit all of the friends I have made since childhood and 30 years in the Corps.  It will be up to them when I leave because I have nowhere to be.  That is the beauty of planning ahead,” Threats concluded.

Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany