Having spent a total of nine years in the Army National Guard—including 15 months on the ground in Iraq in 2005-2006—Jeff Rose knows something about discipline. And for Rose, that extends to his finances. During his military career he simultaneously went to school to become a financial advisor.

Today he runs his own financial advisory firm in southern Illinois, with a focus on men and women in the military. Rose is also a Betterment customer and shared some of his financial planning insights in a Q&A with us.

Jeff Rose ColorWhat’s the biggest personal finance challenge facing military veterans?

Veterans don’t fall into a neat little age group like most high school or college graduates. And they can’t be classified as 20- or 30- or 40-somethings. Veterans come in all walks of life, a variety of ages, family status, educational background, career experience, etc. In short, there is no easy way to classify them as a group, except as veterans. That said, I would have to say that finding post-military employment is a struggle for many veterans.

What makes finance different for people in the military? 

The biggest difference is that veterans spend most of their day focusing on their job and they don’t spend (or don’t have) the time to focus on their finances.  Imagine being deployed or on a mission for several months at at time and trying to keep tabs on your credit score and/or investments. It makes it that much more challenging to keep tabs on it.

What is different is being indifferent to their money.  It’s easy for any military member to adopt the attitude of “I’ll take care it later” and hope things will work out. That’s a mistake.

What do they have to do differently when managing their money?

They need to adopt systems to routinely check their finances when they know they won’t be able for an extended period of time. Another way to protect themselves is to find a true “battle buddy” that can keep tabs on their finances for them. This could be a friend, parent, spouse, or someone trustworthy who will take care of you while you’re gone.

What was your financial turning point and what was the point you knew you had to help other military veterans and those serving?

My turning point is when my “battle buddy,” who was my girlfriend, now wife, called me out when I wanted to buy a big screen TV at a time when I couldn’t afford it. At first I was irritated because it was “my money” and I totally thought I could afford it. The truth was I had student loan and credit card debt and tacking on another payment for a TV that I could not afford was a stupid and careless move. Thankfully I didn’t and my finances didn’t spiral more out of control.

As I learned from that experience, I realized that other individuals and military members were dealing with the same type of financial decisions.  Compound that with how confusing it is for any beginner to get started investing or understanding the basics of how credit works and that is the inspiration behind my book [Solider of Finance] and helping those who serve.

In your experience, what’s the most important piece of investing advice?

Just get started. An eye-opening experience for me was when I met with some clients who were more than twice my age at the beginning of my career as a financial advisor (I was 24 at the time). These people had literally nothing in their savings or retirement accounts and were depressed about their financial outlook—and rightfully so! I knew at that time that I did not want to be like them so I immediately opened up a Roth IRA and started adding more into my 401k.

My big takeaway from the experience is that you have to start investing for yourself.  No one else is going to invest for you.  And if you don’t take action, you’ll find yourself in a bleak situation like the clients that were in my office.