Finance Blog

Money Management Lessons from the Military

Written by Ilyce Glink on July 30, 2012 in Retirement  |   2 comments

The military is known for turning ordinary citizens into soldiers but not usually for teaching those soldiers about money management and how to handle their personal finances. However, the military did teach Steve Repak, Army veteran and Certified Financial Planner™, all he needed to know about personal finance so that…

The military is known for turning ordinary citizens into soldiers but not usually for teaching those soldiers about money management and how to handle their personal finances.

However, the military did teach Steve Repak, Army veteran and Certified Financial Planner™, all he needed to know about personal finance so that he could dig himself out of debt and build his wealth.

According to Repak, in order to fix your finances, you have to take yourself through money boot camp.

“People that are bad with their money have to learn everything from scratch,” he said. “Where do we learn about money? From our parents and our friends, and if they’re screwed up, you won’t do much better. You have to completely wipe out what you’ve learned.”

Most of us never actually learn how to manage finances, Repak said. He didn’t—Repak joined the military right out of high school, and during his 12 years there, he managed to rack up more than $32,000 in credit card debt. Every time he got promoted, his spending limit went up—and he spent more.

But after he left the Army, Repak got involved in financial planning and began to see good money practices.

“I’m looking at my clients—my wealth-builders were able to accumulate a whole bunch of money,” he said. “They weren’t doctors or attorneys that made a bunch of money. They’re school teachers, retired military, police officers, people that worked at Walmart.”

Repak’s 10-10-80 method

Using his military training, Repak began to formulate a plan to tackle his own debt. He has an unconventional method that he calls the 10-10-80 method—you give ten percent of your income to charity, then you save 10 percent and live off the rest.

“When you learn to give first, you learn to prioritize things differently,” Repak said.

Giving first reduces your income and teaches you to live on less, and Repak believes that spending charitably replaces the emotional high of shopping.

“It’s better to give than receive—that feeling you get when you give is better than the feeling you get when you spend,” he said. “Giving is the only antidote for greed.”

Five money management tips

In his book, Dollars and Uncommon Sense: Basic Training for Your Money, Repak hands out money tips he learned in the military. Here are five of his tips:

1. Leadership. “Nobody’s ever going to take responsibility of your money except for yourself,” he said. “You have to be the leader of your own money. You have to take charge of your success or failure.”

2. Prioritize. Mission accomplishment is priority one. While you may have to balance other missions in the military and other goals in your own life, put a high priority on finances and don’t give up until your mission is complete.

3. KISS. “Keep It Simple, Stupid” is a common phrase thrown around in the military and one that Repak believes applies to your finances as well. “Everybody makes things so complicated with finances, but the basics are the most important part,” he said. “If I want more money, I spend less money than what I make.”

4. Accountability. As a platoon sergeant, Repak was responsible for his soldiers’ wellbeing and whereabouts. He says that you need to be similarly responsible for your money. “You are like a parent to your money,” he said. “You need to take care of it and know where it’s going and what it’s doing at all times.”

5. Sacrifice. Soldiers quickly learn the difference between needs and wants as sacrifice becomes part of their daily lives. In order to set your finances right, pay off debt, and save money, you will have to sacrifice. Accept it and embrace it, Repak said.

Ilyce R. Glink is the author of several books, including 100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask and Buy, Close, Move In!. She blogs about money and real estate at ThinkGlink.com and at the Home Equity blog for CBS MoneyWatch.


  1. Tre Ratliff says:

    Great Article!!

  2. Larry McLaughlin says:

    Unlike Repak, I never accumulated any credit card debt. But I’ve long given a minimum of 10% to church and charity, and never missed it at all. Discipline is the key, just as it was for 25 years in the Air Force for me and my family.
    I took his method one step more, and every raise I got went into the stock market. After all, we had done OK with what we had been earning. Just continue that, and add to the savings.

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