As my financial planning practice grows, I’ve noticed that people are asking me how to become a financial planner. The other day, I answered an email from someone asking how to become a financial planner. It was at that point that it occurred to me that my “About Me” page doesn’t really explain my journey from the military to becoming a financial planner.
This article is a first step towards outlining my path to becoming a financial planner.
Why I Became a Financial Planner
I’ve made one major career choice throughout my entire adult life. My first career choice, to join the Navy, was a decision that I made a week after I turned 17. I went to the recruiter’s office, signed up for the delayed entry program, and that was that.
Deciding to become a financial planner took a little more time. The story that I tell everyone is the same one that I outlined in a previous article about young servicemembers falling into the payday loan trap. However, that’s a succinct way of summarizing a lifetime of decisions, observations, and other factors that helped me to discover that financial planning could be my calling. The truth is, I could name any number of stories that could have served as the pivot point for my financial planning focus. Here are a few of those stories.
For example, when I was 18, I finished boot camp and hospital corpsman training, then reported to my first duty station at Naval Hospital Camp Lejeune. Being a junior corpsman, I was assigned to the barracks. At the time, you could live in town if you had permission from your chain of command. A lot of people did send requests (presumably to collect BAQ & VHA, now known as BAH, as well as BAS in lieu of eating at the hospital galley). A lot of these people also drove cars, which were probably expensive.
Most of this stuff didn’t really interest me. Also, there were a lot of places designed to separate Marines (and Sailors) from their money. While some of the bars, adult establishments, and one tattoo parlor did separate me from some of my money, I was able to send money back home, and I set aside money to purchase one $100 EE bond per month. In the 90s, I was able to clear at least $200 to $300 per paycheck, which was great for me. All in all, I define that as a successful tour. No arrests, no mysterious medical issues, no unplanned dependents, and no debt…high standards for a new 21-year old.
I left Camp Lejeune because I wanted the Navy to pay for my college education. As it turns out they had a college for people who wanted to stay in the Navy…so I went there. Being a midshipman turned out to be not much different from my last tour at Camp Lejeune, except my pay got cut drastically. They also had some academic stuff that I had to do as well, but the in-your-face yelling actually got easier. Instead of career gunnery sergeants, I had upperclassmen who were younger than me yelling. Got me in some trouble at times, but I was able to get through plebe year.
Four significant things happened to me during my Naval Academy Years:
- Once I finished plebe year, I ran into another problem. It turns out that when you’re able to legally drink, but you don’t have a lot of money, you might pick up a credit card or two. Long story short, I accumulated a modest amount of credit card debt. I kept in check with summer jobs and the low-interest loan that every midshipman or cadet can receive.
- Roth IRAs came into existence. I helped my mother enroll in a Roth IRA, although the bank told her it was a bad idea. Once my grandmother saw how involved I became with my mother’s affairs, she asked me to help her make sure things were in line. For my grandmother, whom I always felt was very smart in her financial affairs, to trust me with her finances was a surprise. However, none of this (and all of this), helped me to formulate my own thoughts about finances.
- I walked out of my first (and only) USPA & IRA (now First Command) briefing. I couldn’t put my finger on it at the time, but I thought the guy was full of crap. 20 years later, I haven’t seen much to change my mind.
- When I graduated, my grandmother surprised me by handing me all the money she’d saved for my college. It was a huge surprise, and taught me one of the biggest financial planning lessons I’d ever learn. You can read more in this article about my college education.
Supply Corps School
After graduation, I went to Athens, Georgia, for Supply Corps school training. I’m not sure why the Navy ever put a school down there, but in the fall, there probably aren’t too many places that are better. A college town, in the South, with lots of bustling activity. At this point, I was engaged. Instead of going out, I just bought a Playstation and stayed in the cheapest apartment that I could find. That Playstation was probably the best investment I‘ve ever made, since it kept me from getting into trouble.
I also decided to take invest half of the money my grandmother gave me in the stock market. This was in 1999. A couple of lessons here:
- Daytrading in the middle of class because you don’t like what they’re teaching sets you up for failure in two ways.
- A very bad way to make $5,000 in the stock market is to put $10,000 into it.
- I learned about dividend reinvestment programs. I found a Home Depot program, put some money into it, then forgot about it. It ended up being one of the better investments that I’ve made over the past two decades.
My First 5 Years as an Officer
After Supply Corps School, I went through a variety of different commands. In an effort to spare detail, I’ll summarize the high points here:
- Got married
- Saved some deployment money
- Bought a house
- Got my MBA (on my own, since I thought I was getting out and didn’t want to take tuition assistance)
- Got a boring Joint Staff internship and made some money speculating on TSP.
- Quickly learned that making money in this venture was as a result of luck, not any analysis on my part.
- Had our first child
My tour on USS Cole was probably the most formative tour that I’ve had. Professionally, I have not had a more challenging or rewarding tour, before or since. However, it was my experience in working with Sailors that really opened my eyes to financial planning. I was now helping Sailors deal with a lot of the problems that I avoided when I was younger.
I’m not sure how I avoided those issues, but it seemed like people were doing one of three things:
- Trying to keep up with other folks by buying stuff
- Getting into life-altering situations (unexpected babies, DUIs, etc.)
- Not paying attention to the money they were spending
While I spent a lot of time working with folks to get out of these situations, it occurred to me that there are plenty of financial counselors who help them with those decisions. However, when someone like me went to those places, I couldn’t really get ‘next-level’ advice. Other than maxing out TSP, I couldn’t find a financial counselor who could tell me where to open an IRA, or what securities to buy. Other than SGLI (which isn’t always enough life insurance), I couldn’t find someone to give a good recommendation.
Simultaneously, I realized that a lot of people who get in trouble, stay in trouble. I quickly developed a personal guideline: “I will not care more about someone else’s problem than they do.” It’s a personal rule that I still hold today. But I also figured that if someone worked hard, did the right things, and still needed guidance on those ‘next steps,’ then perhaps I could help them.
Even though I was still 10 years from retirement, this was the first time where I this might be a calling for my life after the military. However, I also knew that 10 years could change a lot, so I just kept it in the back of my mind. These themes would remain in the back of my mind and became the foundation for my post-military career plan, which I’ll discuss in the next segment.
Are you thinking of helping other people with their finances? Where do you think you could add value…helping people get out of trouble, or helping them with their ‘next-level’ problems? Is there a particular interest that you have, like taxes, estate planning, or budgeting? Feel free to contact me or schedule an appointment to discuss.