Every penny counts.
Ever since my wife and I got married, we have diligently spent time making sure that every penny we spend is allocated properly so that we don’t end up in the red at the end of the month. Every month we religiously sit down and go over the bills. From there we start breaking things down. This month we will be blessed with the birth of our child. It will undoubtedly be the start of many months of further budgeting as diapers and other baby items become necessary.
In October I will have severed five years in the military, and during those years the only time I was financially stable was while I was deployed. When you come back from your tour there is a certain reflex that tells you: “You deserve something.” Usually the impulse leads to buying cars or electronic devices, getting geared up. Some men even spend money getting back into the dating world. Just like anything, there is recourse for every splurge — responsible or not — you make finically. In my case, certain situations while deployed had me coming back to what I call “a cold, empty vault.” On both of the tours I have been on there have always been sad stories of spouses taking a service member for all they had, leaving nothing but debt, which in turn led to anger that sometimes overflowed when the service member returned. It is no secret that when soldiers come back domestic abuse can occur. Money is a big issue along with spouses being unfaithful.
This week I decided to talk to some other service members and military spouses to see how their families manage financially.
One service member’s wife, speaking anonymously, said, “I don’t like it when he goes on tour, but in reality, him being gone helps the family out immensely.” Another married soldier, speaking anonymously, said, “I hate living from check to check, adding to not being home, always out in the field. The ridiculous stresses of the job often make me wonder if this is all worth it.” One soldier, who wanted to be referred to only as Jake, said, “I live in the barracks, and even though I am good about saving money, I am always finding myself eating meals ready to eat or pawning something of value just to stay afloat.”
I didn’t request a spending report from these individuals, so I can’t say if they’re good stewards of their money. I just wanted off the cuff answers. Sometimes you can get a complainer, and sometimes you can get a dead honest answer; it’s just the way it goes when doing a report of any kind
To report fairly, I made my way to the other side of the pay scale. A senior enlisted, soldier who wanted to be referred to as Mike, said, “There is no reason why soldiers should be eating MREs or pawning things to stay afloat. The job of a leader is not just to make a soldier combat effective, but also teach life skills such as money management. OK, granted, when we are deployed the pay is better, helping out at home. But let’s look at the big picture. You didn’t join the military to be rich; you joined to serve your country, and sacrifice comes in many ways. The military offers many things you won’t get in the real job market. If you take (into consideration) the benefits you receive, you’re really not doing so bad.”
Taking into play both sides of the pay scale, there are financial woes among men in the ranks. Over the years, the government has helped service members with raises, and there should be more in the future.
The other day I talked to a financial advisor. I gave him our financial records, and from there he gave me some answers and solutions to making life better. He held nothing back, pointing out that having a house off post that tops my BAH is one of my biggest issues. He said that married soldiers as well single soldiers who have come to his office all have seemingly the same issues; they just can’t keep up with the ever-changing economics, such as the rise in gas and food and, for some, rent prices as well as mortgages. His advice to soldiers is pay close attention to your spending. The rule: “How much you spend matters much more than how much you earn, and in your case as a service member more than not, you’re staying on a tight path. I have seen men coming in saying that if their car broke down the payments just to fix the car would have their family not eating. Saving just twenty-five bucks a week can add up over time. You just must be disciplined and always be thinking ahead.”
He finished by saying that from the reports he has read government officials are trying to get things changed for soldiers, but he thinks the war really is a prime factor. The military is just living in the red.
One of the things I am most proud of is owning a house. Living off post makes me feel like I am still a part of the civilian world. Over the last few months I have refinanced my home and started fixing things up, trying to push the value up. The only problem with upgrading a house on a strict budget is you may start something and finishing it could take awhile simply because you can allocate only a certain amount to the project. Living on a military salary is very interesting. You learn quickly that every day you must live by the rule.
This article is not really to complain about how little service members make or how some families struggle paycheck to paycheck. Rather, it’s a reality check about the facts of life and, for me, having a child and learning how I am going to provide. Some people say, “Don’t have a child until you are financially ready.” But will you ever be totally financially ready? Probably not. I look back and remember when I was young, living in an apartment that was $350 a month and there was really no ceiling on my how much I could make in my job. The reality of the situation is if you bite off more than you can chew you’re going to pay for it in the long run. My wife and I live from one day to another. Doing this we have really learned a lot from each other and have become more of a team.
There are a lot of pros and cons with military pay, and there is no price you can put on a life, but in contrast to the real world, things are not that terribly bad.
Baby diapers, baby food and about a zillion other things will be on my family’s expenditure list rather than pizza, burgers and my beloved Diet Coke. My child doesn’t have a choice into which family she is being born; however, I have a choice to go the extra mile to see that she never goes without. I have failed many things in life, but failing my daughter is not an option.