Many people think of the military as a place people go to run away from home, serve their country, or where unintelligent people go when they can’t do anything else. Before I joined the military, I thought the pay would be horrible and that I would just have to get through my 4 years to attain free college so I could eventually make some money.
The funny thing about the military is that it is very good pay, many people you work with are quite intelligent, and you learn a ton of new things about life as well some life changing new skills.
People that I worked with would commonly say things like “We didn’t join to get rich.” THEY’RE WRONG! When joining any branch as an enlisted member you commonly start as an E-1 – E-3 rank. This pay varies quite a bit and it seems quite low if you just look at the base pay. As of today, the base pay is between $1,650 and $2,104 per month. Now, that is indeed low pay considering you may be laying down your life and you have given up most, if not all your freedoms. It is also low pay considering the long hours and the hard work.
This pay is misleading! As an enlisted person, not only do you get this base pay, you also get money for food, and for housing. This means that if you live on base, food and housing is free, so your base pay is all spending money. If you live off-base you will get additional TAX-FREE stipends for food at housing which change based on where you live. The housing stipend in Wyoming or in San Francisco is thousands of dollars different per month.
In addition to the dollars that are deposited into your bank, you can receive free college while in the military through tuition assistance as well as free college after you get out of the military through the GI bill, I consider this a form of income because it saved me tens of thousands of dollars once I separated. You also can have certifications paid for which can vary from sky diving to AWS (Amazon Web Services). Everyone also receives full health insurance, dental insurance, and vision. Which is hundreds of dollars per month saved.
Another benefit was receiving very good training, which depends on what branch and job you do. For me this was 6 months of technical training on how to do computer networking and this training as well as my experience through my years of service is enough to land me a job outside of the military quite easily with the potential of making a lot of money.
The last thing which is hard to say how much has saved me are veteran discounts. Random things like subscriptions, dinner at a restaurant, or coffee may be discounted 10% or more. This has probably saved me hundreds of dollars.
Depending on how you add the numbers this brought my actual pay up a significant amount of money (and this was just my first 4 years and pay goes up a lot over time). I will now add up an estimate on some of these benefits and how I calculated my income:
Base pay average: $2100 per month
Housing average: $1200 (it may be more, but lowest is about $800 and highest is about $3400 if you’re single E-4)
BAS (food): $300
Healthcare: $300 saved (this varies greatly, I tried to go on the low end)
School TA (optional): up to $5-6k while enlisted and up to 30k per year when you get out
Certifications: up to $4.5k for entire career
I will not include school and certifications but overall, this ends up being about $3900 per month (not to include all the tax benefits) which is almost $47,000 dollars per year and that is only after 3 years’ experience. If I climbed the ranks, my income would have increased substantially and if you become an officer it’s nearly double starting pay. If you count school as “income” or savings, you can add $10,000 or more per year. Check out my blog post about the GI bill and how to maximize how much money you get out of it.
With all of this said, due to having no commitments and being 18 years old making some OK money, it allowed me to save a good chunk of change. No mortgage, no car payment, no debt, and a solid income means saving $10,000-20,000 per year was quite attainable for me and not very difficult to achieve because my spending and saving was in check. On top of that, making good investments and probably some luck and good timing allowed me to grow my account greatly.
So, like my previous article stated I was able to save over $100,000 by age 22. Even though my income wasn’t extraordinary it was high enough to give me a net worth of six figures when most other people my age were going to college getting into debt and spending money. That is how I got to become in the top 1% of people my age and on the way to becoming worth millions of dollars in my lifetime. Don’t let it fool you, there are thousands of people in a similar spot as I was, and they didn’t take advantage because they were making other things their spending priority. It’s ok to decide not to save, I personally would regret having nothing saved after 4 years of service.
Everything in this article is my experience. I’m not telling you how to invest. This is just what I did personally.
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