By Dr. Chuck Russo, program director of Criminal Justice at American Military University
*This article is part of In Public Safety’s September focus on career transitions*
A major benefit of a career in law enforcement is that officers can often retire at a fairly young age. Many agencies have 20-years-and-out or 25-years-and-out pension plans that enable officers to retire before age 50. This gives officers the opportunity to enjoy a long retirement, but means that they must be proactive about planning and managing money.
How well you can live after retirement depends on the choices you make today and tomorrow. Proper planning and preparation from today forward can provide you with a comfortable standard of living well into your retirement years.
[Related Article: Financial Fitness for Law Enforcement Officers]
While planning for your financial future is important, you must be aware of what you’re doing today. You cannot plan for the future if you cannot take care of today’s bills and expenses; work to get a handle on your current expenses by cutting back and figuring out what you can live without.
Once you’ve budgeted so that you have money left over each month, it’s time to establish short-term and long-term financial goals.
Your first short-term goal should be to start an emergency fund so that so if your air conditioner dies, your transmission needs to be rebuilt, or you have a medical emergency, it won’t disrupt your financial plans. Map out how much you need to save for this cash reserve and start putting away money away every month toward it. This emergency fund can provide a great sense of security.
While putting money away to meet that short-term reserve amount, you also need to put money away for your long-term future. Do not depend on Social Security benefits for retirement. Social Security is designed to supplement retirement savings, not serve as a primary source.
Many employers provide financial investment opportunities, such as 401k, 457, IRA, and other plans, which provide short-term tax savings coupled with long-term returns on investment. I encourage new officers to take advantage of these long-term opportunities by initially putting $10 or $20 per pay check into it. When a raise comes along, take half of the raise and put that towards the fund as well. Every so often, take a few more dollars a paycheck and put that money into the fund. Before you know it, you will be making substantial contributions while feeling minimal financial impact. The officers who follow this advice, including myself, today earn far more from those investments than the police pension.
Seek out the advice of financial professionals and listen to what they have to say. You worked hard, took risks, and earned the right to enjoy your retirement. Managing your money and living within your means today will allow you to save and plan for the future. Coupling short-term and long-term financial planning will enable you to enjoy all that retirement has to offer.
About the Author: Dr. Chuck Russo is the Program Director of Criminal Justice at American Military University (AMU). He began his career in law enforcement in 1987 in Central Florida and was involved all areas of patrol, training, special operations and investigations before retiring from law enforcement in 2013. Dr. Russo continues to design and instruct courses, as well as act as a consultant for education, government and industry throughout the United States and the Middle East. His recent research and presentations focus on emerging technology and law enforcement applications, in addition to post-traumatic stress and online learning.