You survived basic training.
Now it’s off to the exciting journey that is your military career. There are a lot of moving parts you’ll have to take care of post-basic training to get started on the right foot.
Once you’re settled into your new command where you’ll finish even more training, there are a few important tasks you’ll want to do ASAP — like forwarding your mail.
Unsure of where to start?
Here are 8 things you will want to be sure to do after basic training graduation:
1. Open or Update Your Banking Account
If you want to get paid on time and properly, you’re going to need a bank account. You’ll probably want to open both a checking and savings account. Find a bank that has good customer service along with the option to use your account internationally — a must for deployments.
A few banking/savings account tips:
- Look for low fees or free accounts
- See what the best interest rates are out there
- Open a savings account if you don’t have one
- Start an automatic transfer to start building your savings
Don’t forget: Update any direct deposit information in your Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) account. If you want to switch banks or have never had an account, you’ll want to make sure this is up-to-date so you don’t miss a paycheck.
2. Make a Budget
If you’ve never had to make a financial budget, welcome to Adulting 101. If this is your first real job or career out of high school, you’ll want to learn how to create a budget and stick to it. Those sign-on bonuses go quickly if you’re not careful. A good budget can help you see where all your money is going each month. It’s an opportunity to be mindful of how you want to pay off any debt, build up your savings, and pay for future investments like a home.
A few budgeting tips:
- Do a written budget at the start of every month
- Pay all your necessity bills first (rent, food, gas, etc.)
- Start paying off your small debts first
- Savings and retirement should be part of your budget
Don’t forget: Most senior military leadership will tell you the years go by faster than you think. Work on financial planning now and consider your financial well-being when you end your military career.
3. Check Your MyPay Status Often
It’s very much a reality in the military that your paycheck may not always be right. If you notice anything amiss prior to leaving basic training, ask for clarification. From the start, it’s very important to know how to use the online Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) system. Through DFAS, you can find updated basic pay charts, per diem changes, travel pay, and more. You can log into MyPay through DFAS to check your pay.
A few tips on getting paid:
- Plan to get paid on the 1st and 15th of each month
- Check your Leave and Earning Statement (LES) for accuracy
- Your LES will show your leave days and pay
- Visit your base finance office to fix pay errors
Don’t forget: Make sure you understand your Leave and Earning Statement (LES). This is where you’ll look at earnings, deductions, and special pay for items like uniform allowance. It will also show if you’ve had pay deducted or have been overpaid.
4. Look into Thrift Savings Plan (TSP)
Plan for retirement by signing up for the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) as soon as you can. You can use both Roth or traditional TSP contributions. Traditional contributions are deducted pre-tax. Roth contributions are taken post-tax. Both options allow you to save for retirement without even thinking about it.
TSP tips to know:
- Tax-deferred savings & investment plan similar to a 401(k)
- Contributions are taken from your pay
- Stopping TSP elections is allowed at any time
Don’t forget: You’ll have to elect a minimum of 1% of your basic pay for either contribution option.
5. Update Your Mailing Address
As a military member, you’ll get used to navigating the United States Postal Service website to update your mailing address. Once you know exactly where are you will be stationed post-basic training, go online to get all your mail forwarded. It costs $1.05 for each mailing address change you must do through the post office. The charge confirms your identity.
A few tips on updating your mailing address:
- Forward your mail with the USPS
- Send out a notification to family and friends
- Update your address as soon as you can
Don’t forget: Aside from updating your mailing address with the post office, make sure that you update every single personal account you have open. This includes all bills: cell phone, car insurance, credit card, retirement, etc.
6. Explore Your Education Benefits
Luckily, you don’t have to wait until you’re discharged from the military to start looking at additional training or using your educational benefits. If you have down time between duty stations or after your advanced training, you can use the time to complete certain education opportunities. Take advantage of programs like tuition assistance while you’re on active duty to get the most out of your benefits.
A few education benefits to consider:
- Tuition assistance – This program allows you to take classes that are paid for 100% by the military. There is a financial cap per semester, so keep that in mind when you choose your educational institution. Tuition, lab fees, and books are all covered.
- GI Bill “kicker” fund – If you opted to participate in the GI Bill, you may have the opportunity to increase your funding a little bit more once you go back to school on the GI Bill. This fund is usually part of an enlistment or reenlistment contract.
- The Forever GI Bill (FGIB) – Updated from the original GI Bill, this benefit is the big one for service members. Under the bill, you can go back to school post discharge and have your degree paid for, including books, tuition, a monthly living stipend, and more.
- USMAP – The United Services Military Apprenticeship Program is for active duty Marines, Sailors, and Coast Guard members. This program allows active-duty members to complete civilian apprenticeships to gain skills that could help in securing employment post military.
Don’t forget: Not only can you benefit from the military’s educational benefits, your spouse can, too. My Career Advancement Account (MyCAA) offers up to $4,000 for military spouses to obtain a license, certification, and certain degrees.
7. Understand Your Health and Life Insurance Benefits
Perhaps one of the biggest perks of being in the military is the low cost of healthcare known as TRICARE. Depending on your status and location, you may also get dental services as well. Whether you’re single or have a family, you’ll save a huge amount of money by using your healthcare benefit. The other fantastic insurance benefit service members have is life insurance — a must in your line of duty.
A few tips to take full advantage of your benefits:
- Review TRICARE costs and fees
- Schedule annual check-ups at the start of the year
- See the dentist every six months
- Get every injury documented for future reference
- Ensure your life insurance beneficiary is listed
Don’t forget: Any time you move, make sure that you update your address and emergency contacts listing at each new duty station. Additionally, look into taking advantage of the life insurance policies that are available to you. Don’t forget to designate a beneficiary!
8. Look into Your Vacation (Leave) Benefits
As a general rule of thumb, don’t book any vacations more than a month or so out. There’s a good possibility that your command might change their mind on if you’re allowed to leave or not. If you do decide to book a vacation in advance, always opt for travel insurance to get a refund on your travel plans if you can’t leave. Additionally, make sure you check with your base’s Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) office for discounted tickets for travel and attractions.
A few tips for getting the most out of leave time:
- Plan ahead as much as possible
- Understand that your plans can get cancelled
- Keep your leave chit on you at all times when traveling
- Save your command’s number in your cell
- Immediately update command if weather prevents travel back
Don’t forget: Add a vacation line to your budget. When you carefully plan ahead, you can avoid overspending and potentially not having money for bills when you come back from vacation.
Life is Busy After Basic Training
Training might be over, but your journey has just begun. And it’s filled with lots of not-super-fun -but-totally-necessary adult things to do.
While these may seem like little tasks that aren’t very important to handle right away, you’ll want to take care of these details quickly. Life gets busy after boot camp, and you wouldn’t want to push off something as important as life insurance paperwork.
Once you get these tasks out of the way, you usually don’t need to worry about any of it for a while. Updating your address, however, is one part of military life that will become second-nature to you. The same goes for remembering to check your LES each month.
While life after basic training gets crazy busy, you’re also about to launch into a new and exciting part of life: your new military career.
There may be some other things you’ll need to take care of that are command-specific, but these are the starting points for any new graduate to consider right away.
Is there anything we missed? Be sure to share in the comments below!