[The following is an awesome guest article by Kalen from MoneyMiniBlog.com. Who gives us an in-depth look at a career in the military, as well as the finances behind it. Hoo-rah!]
You know how military stories usually begin:
There I was. [Insert Basic Training Location]. [Insert year].
We’ve all heard it. So why do they always begin with Basic Training? Because it’s… the beginning. And because it’s an amazing feat to accomplish. A feat that they will talk about for the rest of their life. Usually to the point of complete and utter annoyance for everyone around them.
So where do I begin?
There I was. Lackland Air Force Base. 2013. (I know…not quite as impressive as say…1942)
Coming off the bus, I encountered my first Technical Instructor (T.I.), which is the Air Force Drill Instructor. I remember having all kinds of thoughts and of course, getting yelled at… a lot, but I expected that.
That’s when it all started. My Air Force career. But it really started way before that. I had to accomplish some great feats before I ever arrived at Lackland AFB.
So there I was. Behind the Mall Movie Theatre. 2007.
My wife and I had just finished watching some military movie, which I actually don’t recall the name of, but somehow the movie triggered a conversation about me joining the military. I had always wanted to join, but without ever bringing it up to my wife, I just assumed she would never go for it. Apparently all it took was a 5 minute conversation for me to realize she was 100% supportive of the idea. And yes, our communication has improved since then.
That day I made the decision to join the military, but I had a lot of changes to make. I had to lose 50 pounds, lower my run time and condition my body to meet Air Force fitness standards. Basic Training can whip you into shape quickly, but showing up with a slow run time and minimal body strength is a quick way to get a bus ticket back home.
But there was something else that my wife and I had to accomplish before I could officially join the Air Force: We had to pay off $20,000 in debt.
The Air Force invests a lot of money in training and developing Airmen. They look at your debt, your credit history and your current financial situation. In Basic Training, we were often reminded that it costs the Air Force over $30,000 to train one Airman. Furthermore, financial problems are one of the main reasons that people are kicked out of the Air Force. It’s really no surprise that they want you to have control over your finances before you join. They want to make a wise investment.
Looking back on it, I feel like I had 2 Basic Trainings. One for our finances and one for the United States Air Force. Basic is all about starting, persevering and completing. That’s exactly what my wife and I had to do. We had to make the decision to pay off $20,000 in debt, persevere through hardships and roadblocks and ultimately accomplish the goal of becoming debt free.
How We Paid Off $20,000 in Debt
It wasn’t easy. It didn’t happen overnight. But it was worth it.
The desire to join the military gave me an attainable goal and a reason to actually pay off our debt instead of making excuses about why we couldn’t do it.
We both worked…a lot. I remember, at one point, I worked at an auto body shop full-time during the day, a pizza place full-time at night and I delivered a paper route when I got off work. Sometimes I even worked a part-time job as a laborer on a construction site too! We did what we had to do. We did whatever it took.
The first important decision we made for getting out of debt was to not get in any new debt. It was more like a pact than a decision. Then we started with the debt snowball and worked hard on every single item until all our debt “melted.” We figured out that getting out of debt is not easy. It’s not a quick process, but the good news is that you determine how quickly it happens. And we wanted it done fast.
We paid off all of our debt in less than 4 years. I knew that if I could get in the physical and financial shape to join, then I could handle Basic with no problems.
Delivering Pizzas and Conquering My Finances
Before I joined the military, I delivered pizzas. Not the most prestigious job, I know, but I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for that job.
Everything is an opportunity if you view it as such and that’s exactly how I viewed delivering pizzas. I was able to listen to 30-40 hours of audiobooks and teaching every week as I delivered those pizzas. Now I run a finance blog to give away all of the knowledge that I amassed in those years. I have listened to over 100 books on finances. I know how to stay out of debt, how to invest and how to build wealth for retirement.
Now I work with classified information and I have to enter a code just to walk into my office. I play a large role in deploying people all over the world. Basically, I do some pretty cool things that impact our country in one way or another. I have reached a goal by being where I am today. However, I do miss getting paid to listen to all of those audiobooks!
“On a Military Income”
I didn’t join the military for the money. It was always a dream of mine to serve my country, but I was surprised to figure out how much money you can make in the military. The Air Force pays for housing (BAH), groceries (BAS), college, my medical expenses, my family’s medical expenses and oh yeah…they give me a paycheck too!
Joining at the age of 25 gave me a different perspective than most of the 18 year olds that I went to Basic with. I understood what it was like to live on your own. When you’re in the military, you are never on your own. This is ironic since the military instills discipline, but they also take care of you and monitor you like they’re your parents.
I hate hearing people talk about living “on a military income”. People that come straight into the military out of high school think that they earn far less than they would in the “real world”. Not true. How many people do you know with a college degree that barely earn more than the poverty level? I know a few. So many people don’t realize how much you earn in the military compared to civilian jobs and that’s after the military pays all your expenses for you.
My wife and I are living a luxurious debt-free life and building wealth “on a military income”.
Your money habits are usually developed by the people you surround yourself with. People have a negative view of a military income because they listen to all of the other military families who complain about how little they earn. They complain about how little they earn, while simultaneously trying to keep up with the Joneses. The key is to stop taking financial advice from financially unsuccessful people.
This goes to show you that your spending habits are just as important as your earning habits.
How Much I Actually Earn
The funny thing about military income is that the information is available to everyone. There are military pay charts, Housing allowance calculators and other pay figures all over the internet.
Let’s get specific.
Right now as an Airman First Class (E3), I am near the bottom of the totem pole, but I still earn a nice wage. [On a sidenote: military pay is the same across the board for your pay grade. Contrary to popular belief, the Air Force does not get paid more than other branches. Yes, it is a common belief!]
- Base Pay: $1,805.40/mo
- Housing Allowance: $930.00/mo (This is for Oklahoma. It fluctuates depending on the cost of your area)
- Food Allowance: $357.55/mo
- Tuition Assistance fo College: $5,500 used so far.
It’s hard to really explain how much I actually earn in the military. It’s not just about the money. I am grateful for everything the Air Force has done for me and my family.
The pay is nice. The 30 vacations days every year are nice. The benefits are nice, but I joined to serve my country and I can’t believe how much they give me for doing that.
I know it’s common to talk about how little our military members earn. We see pictures on the internet about how much congress earns and how much the average professional athlete earns compared to our military salaries.
But none of those jobs give you the satisfaction of serving your country the way being in the military does. And let’s be honest, the pay’s not that bad!
Since Joining the Military
Joining the military has impacted my life in ways I can’t explain. I have developed some awesome new habits and learned some new skills. It is weird being new to the military and having the financial plan that I have. I know it’s not common to be an Enlisted Airman that runs a financial blog, invests heavily and has his entire retirement mapped out.
I’m in a weird position that usually leads to me giving financial advice often. The worst part about that is how people often people ask for advice and then they don’t apply any of it. It’s really just sad to see that most people aren’t taught much of anything about finances, though the military teaches you much more than the school systems.
I finally realized that I really can do anything I set my mind too, and you can too!
Since joining, I have:
- Started waking up at 5am everyday.
- Started a blog to help people with their finances.
- Started regularly setting and achieving my goals.
- Started practicing more self-discipline in every area my life.
- Discovered that Walleyball is an actual sport. A great sport!
Most of these habits aren’t “normal”. I prefer to be successful rather than normal. One thing the military has taught me is that if you want to be successful, you can’t be normal. Normal is being in debt. Normal is living paycheck to paycheck. Normal is being mediocre.
You Don’t Have to Be Normal
Everyone’s situation is different. I know our situation is unique. We are not normal. Simply being in the military puts me in 1% of the population. It’s not normal that I joined the military at age 25. It’s not normal that we are a happy, financially independent, debt free military family.
I would say that the main take-away from my story is that you don’t have to be normal. It’s perfectly fine to do things differently. In fact, it’s usually better! I always used to refrain from doing things that were uncommon, but I have learned that the best things in life are uncommon.
Before I go, let me give you a list of 5 financial things that aren’t normal:
- Buying a home without a mortgage
- Buying a nice car without a payment
- Giving what you want, not what you can
- Being completely debt free
- Having over $1,000,000 to your name
It’s your decision. Do you want to be normal?
Kalen is the founder and main finance writer of MoneyMiniBlog.com. MoneyMiniBlog is full of short, entertaining, informative articles on personal finances. Kalen is a Christian, husband, father, Airman, writer, web designer, musician and an avid food connoisseur.