I just turned 20. I'm in the Army, I came back from over overseas 6 months ago. In January 2016 I invested 5500 in a Roth IRA and 9500 in stocks with Edward Jones. Altogether as of now I've gained about 5k in 6 months. That was going to be my "don't touch until years to come". But I have 30k in my bank account with regular pay checks accumulating with only a phone bill and grocery bill. I also have a retirement plan with the army (TSP) that takes 20% from every paycheck. I wasn't going to get a car until my 21st next year. Don't really know what to do with the money in my bank account right now besides buy more stocks. Any other ideas I'm missing out on?


Thank you for your service.

My first suggestion since your car is a planned for the near future is keep that amount in savings and just pay cash. There are plenty of attractive offers to entice you to finance your vehicle but there really is no compelling reason to do it considering the savings you have.

Second I would keep an additional portion of savings as a rainy day emergency fund. How much is based mostly on what you feel comfortable with. The number of possible emergencies that can come up is limited and your expenses are limited which is normal given your age. This fund might be for something such as emergency travel for a sick family member, cover a deductible for an auto accident, whatever unforseen event might occur (hence the name emergency fund).

What investments you are comfortable with will be determined by risk tolerance. While in the military individual stocks that are aggressive risky investments may not be a good idea because of the extra attention they require and you can't really babysit a portfolio while deployed but there are many good low or no cost mutual funds or ETFs that you could get into. I would look into setting up a recurring purchase with a set dollar amount monthly so you will continue to accumulate whatever option you are investing in regularly even if you are deployed. Which fund or ETF you pick will depend on your goals and risk tolerance but you could very easily pick several for diversity.

Good luck and thank you again for your service.


If you have already maxed your TSP contributions, the "401k" for military folks, you could consider a Traditional IRA contribution. They are tax-deductible, based on some limits, so it may reduce your tax liability. Many online services (Vanguard, Fidelity, etc.) offer quick and free setup of Traditional IRA accounts.

If you have already maxed the Traditional IRA as well, you could look at making taxable investments through an online service. Like homer150mw, I would recommend low-cost funds. For reasons why, see this article by John Bogle.

  • 1
    Nice Bogle article. Expenses really do matter. Jul 27 '16 at 2:30
  • I would recommend a Roth, as you're already doing, over the traditional IRA. I think the tax deductibility for you isn't too big a deal, but the policies of a Roth (no RMD, ability to withdraw contributions after 5 years with no penalty, not treated as income upon withdraws and thus no impact to taxation of any Social Security) are huge.
    – davmp
    Jul 27 '16 at 21:24
  • Also, given your time horizon, I'd recommend a mix of individual dividend growth stocks and low cost growth funds. There is no fee whatsoever for the individual stock after you buy it (if you have the right broker,) and given you are only 20, there's a potential very long term holding period involved. Even a 0.1% fee, compounded over 40 years, is gonna add up. I recommend the website Seeking Alpha for education on dividend growth investing, on stock valuation, and for examples of portfolio building strategies.
    – davmp
    Jul 27 '16 at 21:33
  • @davmp I'd suggest creating an answer saying this! It would give me the proper place to bring up the "Roth Ladder" idea, which lets you convert Traditional IRA to Roth IRA, potentially tax-free.
    – timato
    Jul 28 '16 at 13:56

You don't state a long term goal for your finances in your message, but I'm going to assume you want to retire early, and retire well. :-)

any other ideas I'm missing out on?

A fairly common way to reach financial independence is to build one or more passive income streams. The money returned by stock investing (capital gains and dividends) is just one such type of stream. Some others include owning rental properties, being a passive owner of a business, and producing goods that earn long-term royalties instead of just an immediate exchange of time & effort for cash.

Of these, rental property is probably one of the most well-known and easiest to learn about, so I'd suggest you start with that as a second type of investment if you feel you need to diversify from stock ownership. Especially given your association with the military, it is likely there is a nearby supply of private housing that isn't too expensive (so easier to get started with) and has a high rental demand (so less risk in many ways.) Also, with our continued current low rate environment, now is the time to lock-in long term mortgage rates. Doing so will reap huge benefits as rates and rents will presumably rise from here (though that isn't guaranteed.)

Regarding the idea of being a passive business owner, keep in mind that this doesn't necessarily mean starting a business yourself. Instead, you might look to become a partner by investing money with an existing or startup business, or even buying an existing business or franchise. Sometimes, perfectly good business can be transferred for surprisingly little down with the right deal structure.

If you're creative in any way, producing goods to earn long-term royalties might be a useful path to go down. Writing books, articles, etc. is just one example of this. There are other opportunities depending on your interests and skill, but remember, the focus ought to be on passive royalties rather than trading time and effort for immediate money. You only have so many hours in a year. Would you rather spend 100 hours to earn $100 every year for 20 years, or have to spend 100 hours per year for 20 years to earn that same $100 every year?


All that being said, while you're way ahead of the game for the average person of your age ($30k cash, $20k stocks, unknown TSP balance, low expenses,) I'm not sure I'd recommend trying to diversify quite yet.

For one thing, I think you need to keep some amount of your $30k as cash to cover emergency situations. Typically people would say 6 months living expenses for covering employment gaps, but as you are in the military I don't think it's as likely you'll lose your job! So instead, I'd approach it as "How much of this cash do I need over the next 5 years?" That is, sum up $X for the car, $Y for fun & travel, $Z for emergencies, etc. Keep that amount as cash for now.

Beyond that, I'd put the balance in your brokerage and get it working hard for you now. (I don't think an average of a 3% div yield is too hard to achieve even when picking a safe, conservative portfolio. Though you do run the risk of capital losses if invested.) Once your total portfolio (TSP + brokerage) is $100k* or more, then consider pulling the trigger on a second passive income stream by splitting off some of your brokerage balance. Until then, keep learning what you can about stock investing and also start the learning process on additional streams. Always keep an eye out for any opportunistic ways to kick additional streams off early if you can find a low cost entry.

(*) The $100k number is admittedly a rough guess pulled from the air. I just think splitting your efforts and money prior to this will limit your opportunities to get a good start on any additional streams. Yes, you could do it earlier, but probably only with increased risk (lower capital means less opportunities to pick from, lower knowledge levels -- both stock investing and property rental) also increase risk of making bad choices.


Thanks for your service.

I would avoid personal investment opportunities at this point. Reason being that you can't personally oversee them if you are deployed overseas. This would rule out rentals and small businesses. Revisit those possibilities if you get married or leave the service.

If you have a definite time when you would like to purchase a car, you could buy a six or twelve month CD with the funds that you need for that. That will slightly bump up your returns without taking much risk. If you don't really need to buy the car, you could invest that money in stocks. Then if the stock market tanks, you wait until it recovers (note that that can be five to ten years) or until you build up your savings again. That increases your reward at a significant increase in your risk. The risk being that you might not be able to buy a car for several more years.

Build an emergency fund. I would recommend six months of income. Reason being that your current circumstances are likely to change in an emergency. If you leave the service, your expenses increase a lot. If nothing else, the army stops providing room for you. That takes your expenses from trivial to a third of your income. So basing your emergency fund on expenses is likely to leave you short of what you need if your emergency leaves you out of the service.

Army pay seems like a lot because room (and board when deployed) are provided. Without that, it's actually not that much. It's your low expenses that make you feel flush, not your income. If you made the same pay in civilian life, you'd likely feel rather poor.

$30,000 sounds like a lot of money, but it really isn't. The median household income is a little over $50,000, so the median emergency fund should be something like $25,000 on the income standard. On the expenses standard, the emergency fund should be at least $15,000. The $15,000 remainder would buy a cheap new car or a good used car. The $5000 remainder from the income standard would give you a decent used car.

I wouldn't recommend taking out a loan because you don't want to get stuck paying a loan on a car you can't drive because you deployed. Note that if you are out of contact, in the hospital, or captured, you may not be able to respond if there is a problem with the car or the loan. If you pay cash, you can leave the car with family and let them take care of things in case of a deployment.

If you invested in a Roth IRA in January of 2016, you could have invested in either 2015 or 2016. If 2015, you can invest again for 2016. If not, you can invest for 2017 in three months. You may already know all that, but it seemed worth making explicit.

The Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) allows you to invest up to $18,000 a year. If you're investing less than that, you could simply boost it to the limit. You apparently have an extra $10,000 that you could contribute. A 60% or 70% contribution is quite possible while in the army. If you max out your retirement savings now, it will give you more options when you leave the service. Or even if you just move out of base housing.

If your TSP is maxed out, I would suggest automatically investing a portion of your income in a regular taxable mutual fund account. Most other investment opportunities require help to make work automatically. You essentially have to turn the money over to some individual you trust. Securities can be automated so that your investment grows automatically even when you are out of touch.

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