Financial Tips for a New Firefighter

As the demand for Fire Rescue services increase, and the specialty services the Fire Service provides grows, being a career firefighter is now one of the most popular career paths for young adults planning their future.  It seems the days of attending a traditional university to obtain a four year degree leaves that student with a degree and a mountain of student debt and very little job opportunity.  Nowadays to be considered for job placement one might need a masters in order to stand out from the crowd for an opportunity at an entry level position.  Fire and Police Services offer descent pay at the entry level and if you play your cards right, a career in this field can provide quite well.  

These days when I am introduced to new recruits I think to myself, wow! They're babies!  I got on the job officially at age 19 and it feels like just yesterday.  Right out of school, landing your dream job, being paid very well compared to my peers that were still searching for their career in business.  So much to learn in such little insurance, pension, 457's, retirement... what? I need to start paying how much for my retirement for how long?  It is a lot of information to process and at 19, it feels like you have a lifetime to figure it out.  My priorities definitely did not include putting away a large percentage of my pay into a fund I can not use till I retire, all I could think about was which brand new truck I would purchase.  Lucky for me, the officer in the station pulled me into his office and presented a deferred compensation form all filled out allocating 5% of my pay to be set aside for retirement, although I had the option to say no, at the moment I signed the document knowing he was trying to help me.  That was one of the best things that could have happened and as the years passed I continued to increase my contributions and at year 15, its very nice to see my quarterly statements.  The officer that day knew that if he had just explained to me the benefits and put the responsibility in my hands that it most likely would have never been done and he was right.  I mean, I was 19  and knew it all and was invincible. There really is no financial guide that helps us manage our money to allow us to have that happy dream retirement we work so hard for.  All I know is what I have learned from my mistakes, and what I know from my successes and that is what I would like to share with you out there that might be like me 15 years ago.

My first recommendation is to forget about buying the brand new 50 k truck, at least for now.  Nothing will eat your income like a depreciating brand new vehicle.  Stick with what you have and hopefully its a beater that is paid off.  TRUST ME, its temporary and in a few years you will have the opportunity to purchase what you want.  Hopefully your still living with your parents, and if so GREAT!  If your parents are like mine, they would never want you to move out, but if they have been counting down the days for you to land your job then you might want to have a conversation with them and work out a deal.  If you can live with your parents rent free (Obviously offer a few hundred for food and amenities) for a few years this will set you up for success!  Three to five years rent free, and no car payment will allow you to bank a great sum of money and put you in a perfect place to buy your own home putting at least 20% down and avoiding any mortgage insurance.  Now your three years on the job and a homeowner, time to rent your extra space to your buddies.  Your patience is now paying off and you may be the only one in your group that had the opportunity to purchase a home.  Believe me, there will be plenty of buddies out there looking to rent a room.  With your new tenants essentially paying your mortgage, you can rebuild your savings over the next few years, and maybe this may be a good time to treat yourself with a new vehicle.  After enjoying a few years with your roommates, and putting more money away in savings you may be ready for your second home, your dream home.  Repeat the process, buy a second home and leave the first as a rental.  Now your a landlord and your property is paying you.  At this time you may find yourself ready to settle down anyways and your significant other has probably been pushing you to get your own place anyway and what better time to do it.  This leads me to my next piece of advice...don't rush marriage, give yourself time to build your foundation which will ultimately remove all the financial stress that comes with marriage and children.  

If you have the opportunity to follow this advice, trust me it is the way to go.  Don't forget to also use your early years on the job with out children to take as many classes as possible and build up your credentials. Most departments offer reimbursement for classes and if you hustle you can obtain a bachelors degree or more at the expense of the department.  The better the credentials, the more eligible you will be for promotion and increase in pay.  Getting hired on the fire department is a grand feat to accomplish but it is so important to have goals and a plan for next 5 to 10 years after probation.  If you set reasonable obtainable goals, and work hard to achieve them you will find yourself in a great financial situation free of debt, and assets in your name.  Don't forget to contribute to a retirement plan from day 1 and increase annually, be smart with your money and enjoy the fruits of your labor!  If you have any tips to add please comment below!  

As always be safe out there.

Jason S.

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