WASHINGTON (AFNS) — A member of the Air Force Civic Leader program and financial expert recently addressed several ways Airmen can prepare better for retirement.
John O’Connor, the chairman of J.H. Whitney Investment Management, spoke about what Airmen can do now, in order to take away a substantial pension by the time they retire.
Currently, only 13 percent of enlisted and only 16 percent of officers collect a pension, he said.
According to O’Connor, thinking about the future can be hard, but starting young can make life easier down the road.
“The whole secret to getting where you want to be is starting with a plan,” O’Connor said.
He emphasized the first step Airmen should take is to educate themselves on their finances.
“The biggest mistake people make is overspending,” O’Connor said. “They get used to carrying some sort of consumer debt. The best investment you can make is to pay down debt if you have it.”
Once debt is paid down, Airmen should begin saving and letting compound interest work on their behalf, according to O’Connor.
“Once you begin to save, you begin to earn interest on your interest,” he said. “Time can either be on your side, or time can be your adversary.”
O’Connor stressed that all Airmen should enroll in the thrift savings plan, or a similar retirement plan, as soon as possible. That retirement plan can then be “the keystone tool around which a lot of your other choices can be made,” he said.
He added that Airmen shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help as solutions may be one calculation away.
“Because it was born as a math problem, it can be fixed as a math problem,” O’Connor said.
The next step is to understand the true value of a dollar. O’Connor said that people need to learn how to spend money wisely.
“Always think of the price of something, not as what’s on the sticker, but in terms of the pretax money I have to earn to pay for the price on the price tag,” he said.
O’Connor stressed the importance of why it’s important to invest in a retirement plan, and not to solely rely on the pension Airmen receive after 20 years of service.
In the military “you earn no credit toward your retirement until you’ve hit your 20 years,” O’Connor said.
While serving, O’Connor said Airmen have the perfect, stable foundation to begin good savings habits.
“Build something to take with you when you leave the service,” O’Connor said.
All and all, he summarized his advice this way.
“Pay off debt, understand it’s up to you to plan for the future, and plan for the unexpected,” he said.