Who Wants to be a MILLIONAIRE?! (Corrections Edition)

How can I start to budget? Is a budget necessary? Why should I have an Emergency Fund? How can I increase my income? Can I avoid debt? Should I expand my financial education?
Kenzie Koch
Kenzie Koch
Contibutors:
Jeff Kovar | Strategic Account Executive
Paul Baze | Director of Sales
Daniel Quam | Director of Jail Operations

You should know now before reading further, this blog isn’t going to be your every “get rich quick” reading. In fact, this is not a quick fix at all. This blog is going to be an elongated list of steps to help you save money over time. If you’re still reading this, you must be interested in what steps it takes to become a millionaire. So, let’s rewind a bit. We have all heard the old expression, “You will never get rich working in corrections.”  While the term “rich” is subjective, it’s possible to achieve financial independence and retire as a millionaire. Jeff Kovar, Strategic Account Executive at GUARDIAN RFID, has worked in corrections for 23 years. During this time, he has observed individuals who successfully managed their money and achieved financial independence, as well as those who have squandered their money and lived paycheck to paycheck. Retiring as a millionaire is an attainable goal for anyone working in corrections if they put in the work. This blog will highlight the stepping stones leading to financial independence.

What is a Budget? Is a Budget Necessary? 

A budget is simply an estimate of income and expenses over a set period of time. Whether you summarize your monthly bills in a notebook or in a spreadsheet, it’s a smart idea to track all of your monthly expenses and review your budget to ensure that your income will cover your costs. The first step is simple. Write out a list of fixed expenses that you can’t live without, such as rent, groceries, auto payments, etc. Then, determine the expenses such as taxes and insurance that are billed every so often. Lastly, think about the flexible expenses that you could live without, such as entertainment and expensive clothing. If you notice unnecessary or recurring flexible expenses that you can cut out, cut them out! For example, skip your daily Starbucks coffee. Cutting out that one item will save you at least $1,000 annually. Sounds simple, right? While it sounds easy to cut unnecessary things out of your expenses, many people, including correctional officers, still do not follow a budget. If you fall into this category, it may be time to start thinking about building out a list of expenses to keep track of.

If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.
Benjamin Franklin

Why Should I Have an Emergency Fund?

“Shit happens.” We have all heard this phrase before and know it to be true. And shit tends to happen when you least expect it. Many people tend to think that having an emergency fund is made just in case of health emergencies, and although it definitely can be, it is typically spent on non-health related emergencies. For example, your refrigerator decides to stop working, or your air conditioner goes out. These are items you use on a daily basis and don’t realize how much you need them, until you don’t have them. Items like this can cost thousands of dollars to repair or replace. If you don’t have an emergency fund, you will likely have to charge these items to your favorite credit card. If you think, “That’s OK because I’ll use the airline miles to help fund my next vacation!” then you will need to read this blog a couple more times until the point sinks in.

Find Ways to Increase Your Income

We’ve all seen the “get rich quick” schemes. Whether it means buying lottery tickets, day trading, or perhaps joining a pyramid scheme. Most side hustles won’t necessarily help you become a millionaire. And although some part-time gigs can be fun, they are also time consuming. Working in corrections, you don’t have a lot of free time, much less the energy for wanting to do much else outside of work. Anyone who works in corrections would probably agree that the profession is one of the most underpaid and unappreciated jobs. However, when we chose this profession, we probably didn’t do so to become extremely wealthy. Let’s examine a few avenues that you can take to increase your income while working in corrections.

Promotion

Being promoted to a higher rank and higher paying position is one of the quickest ways to increase your monthly income. An increase to your base pay is fixed and can be added to your budgeted income. As you continue to advance your career, your pay compounds with every pay raise you receive and increases more quickly the higher you are promoted. Take the time to prepare for the promotion. Study your policies, procedures, case law, and anything else that may be asked on your written exam or oral board.

Overtime

If there is one common theme in corrections, it’s that correctional facilities are short staffed. This is somewhat done by design. Over the years, administrators and financial gurus have realized that it is much cheaper to pay an officer overtime rather than to hire additional staff and pay their insurance and retirement benefits. For those having to work the additional overtime to make up for the lack of personnel, you may look at this as a negative or a positive. It’s negative in the sense that you may be forced to work at the last minute when you have plans with your family. However, it is positive in the sense that it gives you the opportunity to increase your income. 

Law Enforcement Extra Jobs

Many correctional officers who work in a county jail are also certified Peace Officers. This means they successfully completed their state's Basic Peace Officer Academy and have arrest powers. Some agencies allow these specific staff members to have another job in law enforcement. These jobs may include working security at a mall or working a road closure, sitting in your vehicle behind a barricade on the highway. When deciding if working overtime and/or an extra law enforcement job is worth it, there are many factors to consider: how the hours of the job fit within your schedule, the job assignment, pay rate, etc. It's important to keep in mind that in many instances, if you get injured working an extra job, your agency will not allow you to collect Workers Compensation. Also, if you are working an extra law enforcement job, you will be considered a 1099 employee and will have to pay taxes at the end of the year. Benefits to working overtime at your agency may result in more money being contributed to your pension or retirement plan, as well as your agency automatically taking out taxes. Each person and agency are different, so you will need to evaluate this carefully and choose what is best for you.

There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.
Colin Powell
Former U.S. Secretary of State

Live Within your Means and Avoid Debt

No matter what profession you are in, you should always live within your means and avoid debt whenever possible. If you have a leftover sum from your income, that’s great news! But it’s important to use it wisely. Extra income does not mean you should buy that new Corvette. Your budget should always be predicated on your base income. If you live within your means and do not include extra sources of income as part of your budget, you will avoid debt. When you get those credit card offers in the mail, tear them up.  When you get the idea that a brand new $50k vehicle sounds nice, ask yourself if this is an asset or a liability, review your budget and see if you are able to afford it, and then consider getting a much cheaper, used vehicle. Put money towards what will appreciate and save money on what will depreciate. 

Increase your Financial Education

More than likely, your education and experience are in corrections and not finance. For this reason, you should consult with a financial advisor when planning for the future. Be transparent with your advisor and discuss your income and expenses and develop a financial plan. In addition, find a mentor within your agency that can help keep you on the right track. There are also many books you can read to increase your financial education. Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover is a useful resource for anyone starting out or struggling with their finances.

Invest, Invest, Invest… and Invest Some More

Albert Einstein was once quoted as saying, “Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it; he who doesn’t pays it.” This is true. This blog is intended to be a basic guide to financial independence and show you how you, as a correctional officer, can become a millionaire. There are many books and classes you can take to learn about this topic. There are also several financial calculators that do the math for you and make financial planning easy. In “Time Value of Money Calculator”, you can edit the fields and determine how much you will need to save for a specific amount of time to achieve a specific amount of money. The earlier you start investing, the quicker you will achieve your goal.   

Life is About the Decisions You Make 

Taking the time today to look at your career or working life from a long-term perspective, you have a much higher chance of achieving your goals in the future. Identify and start planning for what will occur in your life, next week, next year, and over the next twenty years. Nowadays we often make goals for five years out, but if we stay focused, we can achieve these goals in a much shorter timeline. When you have larger plans organized, the day-to-day decisions between wants (a.k.a. Starbucks) and needs (a.k.a. groceries) become much easier to stay on target.

Begin with the end in mind.
Stephen R. Covey
American Educator

The earlier in your career you start saving and investing, the more money you will have when you retire. The later you start in your career, the more you will have to invest per month in order to achieve financial independence. This is even easier to achieve if you have the ability to work overtime and/or an extra law enforcement job to supplement your base income and live very flexibly within your means. If you can do this, invest as much as you possibly can so you can achieve your goal more quickly. Keep building. Keep saving. Keep investing. And lastly, get your team home safe.