Starting your Career

Who is this guide for?

This guide is for you if you want to get your finances off to a strong start. It will help you develop the good financial habits you need to be successful with your money.

How do I use this guide?

This guide is designed to be read from top to bottom. Some sections contain a short video that provides an overview of the topic. Some also have activities to help you get your money sorted, with optional activities for those that really want to get ahead.

If you have limited time now, we suggest reading each section and watching the videos, and perhaps completing activities later. If you have more time, and are motivated to get on top of your finances, you might read one section at a time, completing relevant activities as you go.

How long will it take?

We estimate it will take around 50-60 minutes to read the guide and watch the videos. Expect to take longer if you want to do some or all of the activities along the way.

Be financially fit

Being financially fit will help you focus on your job and perform at your best. This short video will give you tips on how to set yourself up for financial success.

ADF members receive competitive salaries, attractive superannuation arrangements, subsidised housing and other allowances and entitlements. This provides a strong foundation to build your financial future.

Getting on top of your finances doesn’t have to be hard or complicated. We’ll provide you with reliable sources of impartial information, useful tools and other resources to guide you along your path.

The earlier you start the better!

Goals & budgeting

For a simple overview on budgeting and goal setting, watch this video from our Principles of Financial Success series. It offers simple tips and tricks on how budgeting can help you achieve your financial goals.


A budget lets you see what you currently spend your money on, making it easier to make decisions about what’s important to you and what habits you might be willing to change to achieve the goals you set.

Using a tool like our budget calculator or a free budgeting app can make the task easier. Don’t forget to include less frequent expenses like utility bills and car registration and insurance. 

Hopefully, your budget will show a surplus. This is the amount you should have to save towards your goals. If it doesn’t, you’ll need to take a closer look to see what expenses you could reduce so that you don’t get into financial difficulty.

Review your budget regularly to ensure you are still on track.

Download the Excel version of our budget calculator to your own device so you can complete a personal budget later, as you’ll want to spend a bit of time doing it properly.
If your income is less than your expenses, read our money guide on problems with debt.


Setting goals

To be successful in any field, you need the ability to form, commit to, and work towards meaningful goals, exercising discipline to achieve them.

Think about what you want to achieve financially over the next:

  • 1-2 years (short term)
  • 3-6 years (medium-term)
  • 7+ years (long term)

Even if you start with just a single goal, write it down, work out how much you need to save each pay and how long it will take to reach.

You can re-assess and update your goals each year.

Tip: If you don’t already have an emergency fund, a good short-term goal might be to open an online savings account and build a buffer of 3-6 months’ worth of expenses, to act as a safety net for when life doesn’t go according to plan.


  • Set yourself at least one short-term and one medium-term financial goal. Use Moneysmart’s savings goals calculator to work out how long it will take to reach each goal. Make sure the required monthly savings are within your budget. Monthly savings x 12 ÷ 26 = fortnightly savings
  • Write them down as a savings plan to help keep you focused.

The following table is an example of what your savings plan might look like:

Goal Amount Timeframe Fortnightly Savings
Holiday $5,000 1 year $192
Car $20,000 2 years, 6 months $308
Total Fortnightly savings to reach current goals $500



Superannuation is a compulsory retirement savings scheme. It’s a way of putting money away now to live off of later in life. Superannuation may also have tax advantages for you.

Defined benefit super

If you joined the ADF before 1 July 2016, you will likely be a member of MSBS (Military Super). This is a defined benefit fund, where your retirement benefit is a lifetime indexed pension based on your years of service and final average salary. You will also get additional contributions back as a lump sum.

If you have pre-1 July 2016 service and re-enter the ADF, you should automatically re-join MSBS. You may choose a different fund (e.g. ADF Super) however, we suggest you think carefully before doing this and consider getting financial advice before making a decision.

Accumulation super

If you joined the ADF after 30 June 2016, your super will be paid into an accumulation super fund. Your retirement benefit will be a lump sum based on contributions and investment returns accumulated throughout your working life. You can choose the fund your super is paid into. If you do not make a choice, it will be paid into ADF Super.

For accumulation fund members, Defence pays super at a rate of 16.4% of salary and some allowances, well above the legislated minimum requirement.

You can choose how your super is invested.

Why you should care about super?

Taking an interest in your super now can mean a lot more money in your pocket down the track. Keep in mind that you will need your super to generate an income for you when you stop working. The more you accumulate, the more lifestyle choices you will have when you retire, or maybe the earlier you can retire.

For example, a 21-year-old ADF member, with an income of $65,000 pa, employer contributions of 16.4% and a current super balance of $5,000, estimates their super balance at retirement. The graph shows the difference between getting:

  • An average return of 5% pa.
  • An average return of 7% pa.

The result shows that compounding investment returns over the member’s working life could potentially increase their super balance at retirement by more than $330,000.

This does not take into account member voluntary contributions or pay rises that would increase the difference.

You can also make extra personal contributions to super, either before or after tax. With the benefit of compounding investment returns, small contributions over a long period of time can also grow into a substantial boost to your final super balance.

For more information on MSBS (Military Super) or ADF Super, head to


  • Go to your super fund’s website and login to your account to see your current balance and investment option.
  • Use Moneysmart’s superannuation calculator to estimate your super balance at retirement.
Optional tasks

  • Choose an investment option for your super and change your current option if necessary.
  • Decide whether you want to make additional personal contributions and if yes, put the necessary steps into place.
  • Nominate a beneficiary to receive your super in the event of your death.

Saving & banking

If you’re serious about saving, this short video will explain how easy it can be to develop good savings habits.

Use separate accounts for spending and savings

If you’ve completed the Goals and budgeting section, you will have set at least one financial goal and done a budget, so you know how much you can afford to save towards reaching your goals. This section is about putting a system in place to actually achieve those goals.

Managing your money will be easier if you open separate bank accounts for bills, spending and savings and have your pay automatically split into each account.

Choosing accounts

A comparison website can help you find suitable accounts for everyday transactions like bills, spending and savings. Look for accounts that have the features you want, like the ability to set up direct debits and credits, without charging account fees.

Some savings accounts will have conditions attached to them, for example, you won’t pay account keeping fees if you deposit a certain amount into the account each month, or you’ll earn a bonus rate of interest if you don’t make any withdrawals. Make sure you can satisfy the conditions before opening the account.

Don’t be afraid to move your money around if higher interest rates are only offered for an introductory period. Opening a new account and transferring money to yourself is a pretty simple process with most financial institutions.

If you have a partner, consider whether you want joint accounts or whether you are keeping your finances separate for now.

Use a comparison website to identify suitable savings and transaction accounts. Type ‘compare bank accounts’ or ‘compare savings accounts’ into your internet search engine and look at least two comparison websites to get a good idea of what’s available in the market.
Optional task

  • Open separate bank accounts for bills, spending and savings.
  • Have your pay split directly into each account.

Paying bills & managing debts

Managing debt is a critical part of good money management. Here’s a short video to help you keep your debts under control and create a positive credit history.

Paying bills

Making sure bills and loan repayments are paid on time, is critical if you want to avoid late fees and interest charges. Late payments can also affect your credit rating.

Set up direct debits or credits to pay each account on or before the due date so your bills get paid on time, every time. This will make managing your money much easier, letting you focus on other things.

Maintain a minimum balance in your bills account to cover all your bills as they fall due, and keep an eye on your balance if you know a large expense is due for payment.

Optional task

Set up direct debits or credits for each of your bills so they get paid on time, every time.

Managing debt

Try to avoid getting into debt for things that go down in value, like new cars. It will be a lot cheaper and far more satisfying in the long run, to save for large purchases.

If you must borrow money to make a large purchase, use a comparison website to find and compare loans with lower interest rates and useful features, like the ability to repay the loan early without penalty.

Credit cards

Credit cards may seem convenient, but if you’re not careful, they can quickly become a financial burden. Typically, credit cards are a high interest, high fee form of credit.

Before you apply for a credit card, we suggest you:

  • Consider using a debit card instead.
  • Understand the fees and charges – read the fine print.
  • Pay your balance in full each month to avoid paying interest.
  • Minimise the number of credit cards you have – you shouldn’t need more than one.

Buy-now-pay-later schemes

Be careful with buy-now-pay-later schemes. They may seem like a convenient way of spreading out payment of a purchase, but it makes it a lot more difficult to track your spending, especially if you have more than one going at a time.

These types of services encourage you to spend more than you can afford, which is great for them because they can then hit you with account fees, payment processing fees and missed payment fees if you’re late with a payment.

If you find yourself in trouble with debt, our money guide ‘Problems with Debt‘.

Income tax

Do you know what income ADF members must declare, or what expenses are allowed as deductions? This short video tells you what you need to know to get your tax right.

In Australia, individuals pay tax on a Pay As You Go system, which simply means you pay income tax on your money as you earn it. Defence deducts an appropriate amount of tax from your pay each fortnight.

We work on a sliding tax scale, so the more you earn, the higher the percentage of tax you pay. The highest rate of tax you pay is known as your marginal tax rate.

The table below shows the current marginal tax rates for Australian residents and illustrates how tax would be calculated for an individual earning $60,000 a year.

The tax year, or financial year, runs from 1 July to 30 June.

Resident tax rates 2020-21

Taxable Income Tax on this income
$0 – $18,200 Nil
$18,201 – $45,000 19c for every dollar over $18,200
$45,001 – $120,000 $5,092 plus 32.5 cents for each $1 over $45,000
$120,001 – $180,000 $29,467 plus 37 cents for each $1 over $120,000
$180,001 and over $51,667 plus 45 cents for each $1 over $180,000

This means that if you earned $60,000 per year, your tax would be calculated like this:

Taxable Income Tax payable
$18,200 NIL = $0
$26,800 ($45,000 – $18,200) x 19c = $5,092
$15,000 ($60,000 – $45,000) x 32.5c = $4,875
Total: $60,000 Total: $9,967

If you are completing your own tax return, using the myGov website, it needs to be lodged by 31 October. If you are using a registered tax agent or accountant, you’ll have until 31 March the following year.

Don’t be tempted to make ‘dodgy’ claims, chances are you’ll be caught and issued with fines and other penalties. The ATO has guides for ADF members on what income must be declared and what expenses are allowed as deductions. You can find the guides at


  • Using the tax table and example above as a guide, calculate your annual tax based on your current ADF salary.
  • Find the detailed income and expense guides for ADF members at

Insurance for personal possessions

Life doesn’t always go according to plan. This short video explains how you can protect your assets through insurance to minimise financial losses.

Protect yourself from loss

Don’t risk suffering unnecessary losses, protect the things that are most important to you. Insurance is a way of managing risk.

Make sure your cover is up to date and that insured values are current for things like your car, home and contents.

Before you renew an insurance policy, shop around to make sure you are still getting value for money. We suggest doing three things:

  • Go to your current insurer’s website and pretend to be a new customer – you may be surprised to find the premium offered is cheaper than your renewal notice.
  • Use a comparison website to see how much you would have to pay for comparable insurance with another insurer.
  • Armed with this information, phone your current insurer and ask them to match the best price you’ve found for the cover you want.

Many insurers offer a discount if you have more than one policy with them. You still need to be satisfied that even with the discount, you are getting value for money.

When comparing policies, take note of what is and isn’t included, insurance cover is not cheap if it doesn’t cover you for what you want covered. See our insurance money guide for more detailed information.

Make a list of your personal possessions and estimate how much they would cost to replace.
Optional tasks

  • Review your current insurance policies to determine whether you have an appropriate level of cover for anything you could not afford to replace.
  • Call your insurer to update your policy if necessary.

Will & power of attorney

This short video explains the importance of having a valid will, and what to consider before granting someone a Power of Attorney.


A will is a legal document that states how you would like your assets distributed when you die. If you die without a valid will you will be said to have died intestate and your assets will be distributed according to intestacy laws in your state, which may not be in line with your wishes.

For a will to be valid it must meet certain criteria, which is why we recommend seeing a lawyer (ADF LEGALOs can usually help). Never use a will kit.

Store a copy of your will in a safe place (DMFS stores wills of permanent members and some reservists) and tell your executor and next of kin where it is.

Review your will whenever your personal circumstances change, for example, you get married, separated or divorced, or become a parent, and make arrangements to update your will if necessary.

Optional task

If you don’t have a current will, make an appointment with an ADF legal officer to get one written.

Power of attorney

While a will is something that all adults should have, a Power of Attorney (POA) is something that you might want to think twice about.

When you grant someone a POA, you are giving them the power to manage your money on your behalf. That means they can operate your bank accounts, buy or dispose of assets, and make financial decisions as if they were you.

You can limit a POA, for example, you could make it valid only for a specific period of time, or only allow transactions up to a certain dollar amount.

There are different types of POA, for example:

  • General – ceases if you lose mental capacity.
  • Enduring – continues to operate after you have lost mental capacity.
  • Medical – allows your appointee to make decisions about your medical treatment if you become mentally or physically incapable of deciding for yourself.

Only grant a POA to someone you completely trust and get appropriate legal advice first.

First Nations Development Program

How do you feel about money? What is your money story? Download the Taking Control of Your Financial Future Workbook to help you make good financial decisions through useful tools and information.

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Here’s a handy checklist summarising the actions suggested to get your finances off to a strong start.



Watch our short videos about the principles for financial success.



Here you’ll find calculators and other resources to help you get your finances sorted.




Head to our Referral Program to find an advisor who is free from remuneration-based conflicts of interest.



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