The Military and Financial Independence
The military isn’t for everyone (hell, it was barely for me!). But the military does offer a lot of benefits, and if you do decide to join, these benefits can be a great boon to your quest for financial independence.
Although I didn’t realize it at the time, joining the military was a huge step towards financial independence. There is absolutely no way I would be in the financial situation that I’m in if not for the benefits that I received from joining the military.
The best thing about this is that almost anyone can join the military and gain these benefits. I promise, I am not an Army recruiter! But it is true that many people feel like they will never be able to achieve financial independence because they don’t have a STEM degree, or aren’t good at math, or college is affordable. There is a path, if you are physically able and meet the age requirements, and that path is the military.
Full disclosure: I hated being in the military. It was fun during ROTC, but it got old once I got into the National Guard. There were too many rules and I’m too much of a free spirit. Also, as I got older, I realized that a lot of what we were doing probably wasn’t right. I don’t blame the Soldiers for that though, I blame the politicians who put the Soldiers into that position. But I digress.
Even though I didn’t necessarily enjoy my time in the military and I don’t necessarily agree with how the military is being used, I still think it’s a great opportunity for people without a lot of options to start working towards financial independence. If you join the guard, you make an extra few bucks every month (it’s the ultimate side hustle!).
how did the military help me?
Paying for College
First, the military paid for my college education. I went the ROTC route, so the military paid for my tuition. Unfortunately, I still had to take out student loans for housing, but I graduated with only 20K in student loan debt, while most of my peers had over 40K. That’s a huge difference. The year I graduated, they changed the rules so that the ROTC scholarship could cover either h
ousing or tuition, so if you can find a grant to cover tuition, you will be set! But the military also amazing educational opportunities if you decide to go the enlisted route. Check out the GI Bill for more information.
The second huge helping hand my military service gave me was a VA loan. VA loans are amazing. They are backed by the Veterans Administration, and make it super super easy for Veterans to buy a house. There are two huge advantages to using a VA loan. The first is that you don’t need a down payment. There is no possible way I could have afforded a down payment on a home in Southern California, even at the bottom of the market. Condos and town-homes were selling for above 200K, so to afford a traditional loan I’d have to come up with 40 thousand dollars! That’s a tough thing to do for a twenty-something year old from a lower middle-class family.
The 2.5-5% down payment needed for a FHA loan is more reasonable, but even that’s between five and ten thousand dollars, and when you add in closing costs, that gets un-affordable as well. Also, after the crash of 2008, borrowers have to pay Primary Mortgage Insurance if they can’t come up with a down payment, which sometimes makes the mortgage itself un-affordable. Another big plus of the VA loan is that you don’t have to pay PMI, even if you don’t have a down payment! There is a funding fee which depends upon the value of the loan, but they can roll that into the mortgage so you don’t have to pay it up front. The VA helped my buy my first home with only 10 grand up-front for closing costs. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without them.
Military service also offers an additional bonus that may help you gain financial freedom: healthcare. Obviously the VA doesn’t have the best healthcare, but its definitely better than having nothing. I don’t currently use the VA for healthcare and I actually don’t plan on using it anytime soon, but its nice to know that I have that option to fall back on.
These are the financial perks of military service that I have been able to capitalize on, but there are others as well, such as sign-on bonuses, retention bonuses, free job training, and Basic Allowance for Housing to name a few.
The military is also a great equalizer. It doesn’t care how smart you are, where you came from, how much money your family has. The military treats everyone the same, and offers everyone the same benefits. It just cares that you are physically capable of doing the job.
Although I hated my time in the military, I’m glad I did it. It gave me a hand up out of the lower middle-class. It also benefited me in other, immeasurable ways. I wouldn’t be the confident leader that I am today without the experience that I gained in the military.
I understand that the military isn’t for everyone. It is definitely a lifestyle adjustment, especially active duty and deployment. There are many physical, emotional, and political things to consider before deciding to join. But its a great option for people without any other options. It’s a great path out of poverty, and a great way to start on the road to financial freedom.