One weekend a month…for 20 years. That’s 25% of my weekends for over half of my life…for my entire adult life. All of the extra weeks, summers, years away from my friends and family. Missed occasions and opportunities. Never being able to experience the raw power of a mullet. I finally have the chance to walk away with my retirement benefits earned, yet I’ve decided to keep going. Perhaps like the character Brooks from the Shawshank Redemption I’ve become institutionalized and fear having to fill all of those weekends with fun and relaxation. I’m not going to get into that, but I’ll discuss the more objective decision factors that have gone into deciding to stay.
Since I’ve already made the decision to stay some years ago this article will subconsciously be biased towards convincing myself that I’ve made the right decision (well, consciously now). I’d rather focus on the positive aspects rather than rant about the negatives- all of which will already be well known to anyone who served. Plus, I can always submit retirement paperwork anytime I decide I can’t sit through the information assurance CBT one more time.
The first thing to consider is how the military plays into my overall life “plan”. I’ll dive into greater detail in the next installment but if you’ve read any of my other blog posts (mom?) you’ve maybe picked up that my plan includes retiring early through financial independence.
Since my goal is to save a bunch of money now it makes sense to have a part time job to help get me there faster. As far as part time work goes, the military reserves is a pretty good one. As an E-7 I gross just over $600 for a drill weekend. Factoring in the long weekend days and time I spend on admin stuff during the month it’s not really that great of pay, about $25 an hour. For someone on the frugal FI path, however, $600 is considerable. And for me, the work is currently not unenjoyable. I have access to put this money into the Thrift Savings Plan; the government’s retirement plan that has the best rates out there.
There is also a financial consideration of increasing my retirement pay. If I do a “normal” year of drills and AT I can expect to earn about 77 retirement points. This roughly calculates to an additional $29 per month in retirement pay (more if I make it to E-9). I should factor in the net present value of this annuity 20ish years into the future but I’m going to save the math and assume it’s close to 0. If I end up doing 90 days of active duty time in a year that will reduce my retirement age by 3 months as well, but I’ll discuss that in the next installment.
Another special consideration for me is the reenlistment bonus. I was offered $15k for 6 years – payed in installments over the 6 years. I won’t actually get it until I finish my retraining and I’m not holding my breath that there isn’t some clause somewhere that makes me ineligible. This will be just a nice “bonus” if it comes (heavily taxed of course).
Staying in give me access to the Service Member’s Group Life Insurance (SGLI). This is $400k in life insurance plus $100k for my spouse for a total of about $30 per month. If I’m ever diagnosed as terminally ill with less than 9 months to live the SGLI will pay out some of the benefits in advance in installments of $5k so you can ball it up (although I assume it will take them >10 months to process the paperwork so you can spend your last months frustratingly jumping through bureaucratic hoops one more time).
The final, and perhaps tastiest, icing on the “financial reasons for staying in” cake is the health insurance. Anyone pursuing or learning about FI knows that not having employer sponsored health insurance is a big hurdle to leap, often costing $1k or more per month for basic coverage. As a reservist, we can buy into Tricare Reserve Select at a rate of $44 for an individual and $228 for a family and the coverage is actually decent. It’s so decent that I choose to use it over my employer sponsored plan (and I work in healthcare!). You are also eligible for Tricare retired reserve after you retire for $444 as an individual and $1,066 as a family. So, you can see significant monthly savings for staying in. At some later date I’ll look into and write about the overseas coverage of Tricare as well. As a global trotter, getting medical care overseas is not covered by most insurances but given the global nature of military service Tricare does have overseas coverage. I’ll research this more in the future when it becomes more pertinent because reading through health insurance fine print is not exciting.
Another variable in the decision to stay or go is that sweet, sweet military discount. I don’t know if I want to go through life without knowing I can get 10% off at Hot Topic (I actually haven’t shopped there in >15 years, but it’s good to know I can get my savings). I tried to track how much I saved in a year with military discounts but found I spent so little outside of non-discounted items such as groceries, it would take me the rest of my military time in to come up with a decent number. However, I love pulling into a national park, showing my ID, and being handed an $85 annual pass for free, and then getting 50% off the campsite fees. I like getting $850 worth of floor tickets to a Taylor Swift concert for free through vettix.org (mostly to annoy my brother who is a big fan and couldn’t go). I like having access to the militaryonesource.com library
On a similar vein, I like having access to all of the other benefits that come with access to military bases. This will become even more valuable as we FIRE. One of these perks is lodging. While not the Ritz, most military lodging (hotels) is serviceable and affordable. There are hidden gems out there such as a decent trailer or townhouse in Key West for under $100 a night…even when the crappiest hotels on the island are going for $400 a night. We actually camped on the military base for $10 a night during Fantasy Fest one year when the Days Inn was around $500 a night. I also just learned about this little gem in Wisconsin that I hope to check out soon.
I also have access to other base resources such as the Base Exchange (Post, and Navy Exchanges as well) and commissaries. Neither of these is very exciting, but I did just pick up a nice little Bose speaker at the BX for $10 less than lowest online price… plus no tax. What excites me more is maintaining access to Outdoor Rec for the great rates on rental equipment or maybe sweet back country ski trips in the mountains of Germany. There are thousands of other little perks that I don’t take advantage of, or have yet to learn of, but these are the heavy hitters.
Next comes the travel opportunities. It’s relatively easy to pick up some extra orders somewhere in the world. For my current role, that could likely be in Hawaii. This give me a fall back to earn some cash if the market is down or we have a large expense come up. Additionally, once FI and not concerned with getting back to a real job, I would have the option of extending my stay for a period of time (having to provide my own lodging) but still having my travel expenses covered.
Part of the travel opportunities comes with attending various trainings. I consider myself a life long learner (I’m working on college degree number 6 after all) and I enjoy learning new things. The military is good at providing training related your career field, and some things that aren’t, such as continuous process improvement. I can get paid to learn new things and build my resume (which, ironically, I’m working towards not needed). Trainings are often located in places like Hawaii and Florida…and scheduled in February.
While on deployments and at these trainings you get to meet interesting military members from around the US (sometimes world). Being naturally introverted, I don’t take full advantage of the global network of friends, but I have acquaintances from around the US who are often stationed around the globe. It’s nice to have friends who could show you around South Korea, for example, when you get there. In addition to that is my local network. Once a month I get to together with hundreds of people from around the Minneapolis area (mostly) who have a variety of skills, experiences, and employers. I would contribute having my current job to the Air Force network. In applying through jobs and looking at linkedin.com I found someone doing the job at the company I was applying for who was in the Air Guard. I was able to connect with him and learn all about the role before the interview. I’m assuming he helped translate my military experience to his boss and put in a good word for me.
Assuming that we’ll “FIRE” sometime in the next 13 years (when I’ll hit my higher year of tenure- or; you’re too old, get out of the military!) the significant drawback of the monthly 12 day work stretch (regular work week>working the weekend drill>regular work week) becomes: 30 day weekend > 2 day work week. This seems far more manageable. There is the inconvenience of having to be at the location where you have to do your weekend training on a monthly basis (this would really interrupt our plans of spending 6 months on a Greek island). I have mitigated this by 1. Joining the Air Force Reserves vs. the Army. I have found the Air Force to be far more reasonable in allowing one to reschedule a weekend here and there. 2. Joining a unit as an Individual Mobilized Augmentee (IMA). I’ll write more on this in a separate post but high level as an IMA you are attached to an Active Duty unit and theoretically have more flexibility when you do your training. Since they are Active Duty and there all the time and you don’t need to be there when the rest of the Reserve wing is. You can, in theory, do all of you weekend obligations at once and be done for the year.
As for the other cons of staying in, I think I addressed many of them already while biasedly minimizing them (like I said, I’ve already made the decision and am subconsciously justifying it to myself).
Stay tuned for the next installment of the next 20 (13 years) plan. One that will no doubt change entirely several times, but you can at least see my thoughts for now. Plus, I’ll be able to look back at it in a few years and laugh at myself.