Join the US Military - Part 3 - You're Rich


Social Media Man's hair catches on fire every time he thinks about all the military education possibilities ...

Watch over your money

  • If you watch over your money like Scrooge - you will always have it.
  • If you do not - other people will have it (your money).


  • If an E-1 new service member places $100 in a savings account once a month - for twenty years - she or he will be a millionaire when he or she retires from active duty (this has something to do with compounded interest).
  • Do it on your own way with a personal savings account and forced discipline (automated with an allotment - to an account that you can deposit into, but cannot withdraw from - so you can't touch the money).
  • Or let the US government do it with matching funds and TSP, but don't play the stock market with your TSP - unless you want to later lose tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars - just let your money grow like a tree with the aforementioned compounded interest and the simplified default TSP program. If you've never heard the story, the way people make money from the stock market is by making money from the people who do not know how to make money from the stock market.

Other Authorized deductions.

Now that you are beyond the recruit stage - you are a freshly minted US soldier, sailor, airman or marine - you may be required to pay for certain things.

Mr. Naive - that would be me - was surprised that I had to pay federal income tax when I first joined the Army. I thought service members were exempt. Nope.

So that was the first dent in my paycheck - and then I went on to spend 18 years overseas paying state taxes to a state in which I did not live - because you have to pay tax to one of the 50 states - unless your home of record is in a state that does not have state income tax, such as Florida or Texas.

During basic training, your drill sergeants were your conscience for authorized deductions from your paycheck - and where to spend remaining dollars.

  • You were probably allowed to visit Post/Base/Navy Exchanges to buy toiletries and items.
  • And you heard about the service members who got caught trying to order an unauthorized pizza - the ones who received their first dose of punishment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice? So you understand the difference in an authorized and unauthorized expenditure.

The two fees that stick out in my mind during basic training were the optional charge for having off-base civilians shine our boots (shinier boots, more efficient than teaching privates how to spit shine) - and the pay-as-you-go Quartermaster Laundry clean and press services - which was great for certain clothing items.

Similarly, when I arrived at Fort Lewis in 1980, we were one of the first groups of soldiers who had to purchase the first government issues of Battle Dress Uniforms (BDUs - a huge improvement over the pickle suits we were originally issued) - with the money being automatically drawn from our paychecks. Later, the same thing happened with the new grey physical training uniforms (again, much nicer PT uniforms than the pickle suits or banana sweat suits). New clothing item charges often come out of your military earnings because you personally wear the items, and you are also usually required to purchase replacements at a military clothing exchange for items that you wear out or lose.

Not-so-authorized deductions.

On the flip side, as you now have a consistent paycheck arriving in your bank account every couple of weeks or once a month - you are a sure bet for a car or other loan - because the bank can depend on your ability to repay the loan.

You will also be targeted with the following:

  • Every encyclopedia salesman known to mankind. Maybe not anymore - thanks to Wikipedia. But “encyclopedia sales” is a great example of the shopping category called things-you-do-not-really-need, that-you-will-be-offered-at-a-great-price - usually at a monthly fee to keep the money rolling in to the salesperson/business - and away from you.
  • Life insurance salesmen. You are automatically authorized up to $400,000 in SGLI life insurance when you begin basic training and thereafter while on active duty. I was worth over a million dollars in term life insurance during the first Persian Gulf War - but only because I could see the writing on the wall in August of 1990 before the insurance companies began selling life insurance policies with war clauses that were added specifically because service members were headed into a combat zone. You can acquire additional life insurance beyond SGLI, but do not allow salespeople to talk you into purchasing something that you do not really need.
  • Payday loans. Many of these are patently illegal. Manage your money well and you won’t have to borrow money. If you do borrow money from a financial institution, it should be from a bank or credit union that is physically located on a US military installation; and/or a quality US military-oriented bank such as USAA.
  • $400-pretty-women-beers. The price is a slight exaggeration, although I can almost guarantee that somewhere on the planet, at least one intoxicated US service member paid at least that much for a glass of alcohol (a few college boys and other young men around the globe probably have, too). You can find these establishments everywhere - it is likely there will be one near your first duty station. The beers may only cost $12, but the concepts associated with the mega-expensive alcohol will be the same. If you're single - try to travel far, far away from your first duty station for your social life - you'll be a much happier camper over the long-term. Not sure if something similar exists for female service members - please, by all means, feel free to comment below if you know of something along those lines.

The list goes on:

  • While doing what service members soldiers do. Young US service members drink beer in the barracks - and they carouse. Everyone knows this. I am not condoning alcohol abuse - I am merely stating that it happens. At my first duty station our first sergeant would always be the first to go "intravenous" on a keg of beer during company social functions - but that was an entirely different US Army than the one you are serving in now. Young men and women in college do similar things. The first thing my roommate and I did when I arrived at Fort Lewis was to head for downtown Seattle - where we were immediately confronted by drug dealers - and then threatened if we didn't make on-the-spot purchases. We didn't purchase - but we did leave the area - because we were obviously unwelcome without some sort of quid pro quo. A number of the street people actually tried to intentionally bump into us as we were leaving. I'm sure downtown Seattle is a much nicer place these days.
  • See the world. Whether during your first off-installation pass in basic training - or at your first duty station - be careful, as you are likely to literally be mugged. I still had soldiers being mugged in places like Amsterdam in the mid-1990s - while stationed in Germany. Obviously, mugging is not a new or dated concept - and, of course, my soldiers were hanging out in red light districts and similarly dangerous locales - which means they were dummies. Likewise, not naming any specific overseas US military bases, but there used to be a pedestrian bridge that connected two fenced-in installations at a base in Germany (the bridge crossed over a major local off-base automobile thoroughfare). Every once in a while a drunk soldier would get mugged - on the base - in the unlit area at one end of the pedestrian bridge (the NCO club was located near the other end of the bridge).
  • Travel fees vs. “fees.” You pretty much have to carry cash and change with you every where you drive in the United States these days - because of toll booths on the roads (until you get settled at a new duty station and can get some automation going with the fees). Just watch for added fees that may not be necessary in everything from taxis, to air travel (in the news a lot these day). Try to use free military shuttle transportation when possible (Space Available travel works as advertised - I caught a KC-10 Tanker from Ramstein, Germany, to Travis Air Force Base in California a couple of years ago). There are horror stories involving service members being taken advantage of the world over (in some foreign countries the taxi drivers knock the wallets out of unsuspecting, inebriated service members as they exit the taxis near their barracks, for example).

The point for the above discussion is that if you make the mistake of handing various people portions of your rather cool monthly paycheck - there won't be anything left for you. Any monthly fee - other than an inexpensive telephone or Internet service, rent, utility, or allotment into some sort of savings account - has "suspect" written all over it. You'll see what I mean the first time you do it.

(A separate topic, but higher learning education investments - paying for university coursework on your installation or at a nearby university - are worth every penny, regardless of how you pay for them.)

I am often mislabeled a "cynic." I am the exact opposite. I was forced to assist with chaptering a number of soldiers from active duty (kicking them out of the Army) for financial difficulties - often involving a spouse - sometimes for stuff as simple as not being able to pay large, overdue telephone bills. Ironically, some of the soldiers were the best field soldiers you could possibly imagine - highly capable and competent individuals - the kind of guys you wanted in your foxhole during an incoming artillery strike.

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JT Walters profile image

JT Walters 5 years ago from Florida

HI Sean,

I am always eagerly waiting for your next publication and I always thrilled to read about your experiences in the military. Great article.


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