Invest in yourself

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Emanuel Cohan
  • 717th Air Base Squadron
Over the years I've been fortunate enough to receive great advice and I want to take an opportunity to share some of the things that have worked for me and others.  This short read covers a few lessons I have learned about savings, education and health.  It is meant to provide just a few tactics that has worked well for me.

Your savings

I get many questions on this topic.  In my squadron, we conduct financial seminars to help provide guidance and answer questions such as "Should I invest in a Roth or traditional IRA?" 
When building your financial savings, here are a few tips to that will help you reach financial success when it comes to saving:

1. Have a financial strategy to cover short-term and long-term financial needs.

Examples of short term savings are vacation, purchasing a car or placing a down payment on a home. Some examples of long term savings are your children's college expenses and your retirement. If you haven't set any goals yet, don't worry, there are literally thousands of financial vehicles available to cover your financial wants and needs.

2. Take a diversified approach.

It will help maximize your earnings even through market fluctuations. In order to do this, you must become smart on the various financial investments such as stocks, mutual funds, exchange traded funds and bonds. If you are not already doing so, you should have an investment portfolio of stocks (ETFs or mutual funds), bonds and cash. Unless you have been living under a rock for the last seven years, you have noticed the banks are not paying much interest on your hard earned cash. Therefore, I recommend a short term asset mix that invests 50 percent in mutual funds, 30 percent in bonds and 20 percent in cash.

3. Create a predictable paycheck for retirement.

Not too long ago, one of my staff sergeants mentioned his plan to retire at 20 years and stop working. As I dug in with a few pointed questions, I quickly realized the young non-commissioned officer did not really have a plan, nor did he have an idea how much he would make as a potentially retired senior master sergeant. So, unless you plan to work well into your eighties, you should have a general idea of the age you want to retire and make assumptions on the monthly amount of cash required to support you and your family.

If you are eligible to contribute to the Thrift Savings Plan, I highly encourage you to contribute a monthly portion of your earnings ... pay yourself first! If you can swing 10 percent a month do it, if not start off with 3 to 5 percent of your monthly pay.  Of course, there are many different investment options other than the TSP, but since most TSP funds are index based; you are going to do well over the long term in just about any fund you put your money in. Remember to take a diversified approach, and get smart on the G-Fund (Government Securities), C-Fund (Common Stocks), I-Fund (International Stocks) and F-Fund (Fixed Income). A great informational site is; it has helpful planning tools.

Your education 

There will come a day when we will all have to leave the military. Now is the time, while serving on active duty, to think about how an education will help you meet your Air Force career goals and help you transition to your civilian career when the time comes. Here are a couple ways you can start investing your educational goals.

1. Research educational opportunities provided by the Air Force

Start off by visiting your base education office to familiarize yourself with the educational opportunities the Air Force offers. There's a wide range of programs available which include continuing education, professional certifications, and degrees. I believe that you, the Air Force, and our country will be better off by striving to obtain an associates, bachelors or even a master's degree.

2. Seek personal educational interest

If a formal education program is not for you, I recommend you take personal strides to look into something you like and get your head in the books, or e-reader.  For example, consider working on a professional certification such as Cisco Certified Network Associate, Automotive Service Excellence certification or Program Manager Professional certification.

The point here is to realize education is a lifelong requirement, and now is the time to take advantage of the many opportunities offered to you.

Your health 

There is a maxim that says, "The greatest form of wealth is your health"... and, I agree wholeheartedly. Taking care of your body by eating good foods, regularly working out and reducing unhealthy lifestyle habits will go a long way to living a longer, better life. Here are a few things to consider for investing in your health:

1. Start by reducing the amount of processed foods you eat.

As a rule of thumb, if you can't spell some of the ingredients printed on the container, avoid it or at least keep the intake to a minimum. Next time you go to the grocery store take a hard look at what you are buying. Approximately 30 percent of your purchases should be produce items, fresh or frozen. If it's not, then it's time you re-evaluate your diet and consider making changes.

2. You should be taking full advantage of the base fitness center.

Get out of the office and go work out. If you don't like the gym, go for a swim, run or ride your bicycle. And if you don't like working out alone, find a few friends that will work out with you and help you get out of the office or dorm. Whatever method you choose, it's important you realize this is a lifelong habit - key to living a healthy life - and will contribute to you being less dependent on medication. Best of all, you will have more energy, feel better and require less caffeine to make it through the day.

3. Reduce tobacco and alcohol use

Tobacco is extremely detrimental to your body. It changes your body, and increases your chances for certain cancers as well as weakens your immune system. You will be much better off if you keep away from tobacco entirely.  If you want to quit smoking, consider reducing your daily intake over a calculated timeline, enlist a friend to help you, or use one of the many tobacco cessation programs available to military members. 

If you were to visit my home, you would find a good selection of California wines and a variety of beer.  I like the occasional glass of red wine or a bottle of beer.  Drinking alcohol is acceptable as long as you don't overindulge, get drunk and make a fool of yourself. You don't have to get drunk to feel accepted or fit in, in fact, the reverse is actually occurring. You will can earn more points and stay safer if you are the person who can participate in a social setting without getting plastered.  Plus your liver, kidney and skin will thank you for it years down the road.