Military Finance Report

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Military Retirement Plan

A majority of the people I've helped with their finances have been military members within 5 years, or even days, from retiring. They're concerned about only receiving 50% of their basic pay and not receiving BAH or BAS anymore. Anytime is a good time to start getting your finances settled but the earlier you start in your military career the better.


If done correctly, military members can retire from working at 40 years old. Imagine not having to work at the end of a 22-year career and only being 40 years old. When military members retire, after 20 years in the military, we get 50% of our basic pay (only basic pay) and an additional 2.5% each year after. If you start at the beginning of your career, you can have enough to make up the remaining portion of your basic pay when you retire.


For example, an E-8 at 22 years makes $5,115.30 a month (in 2014). The E-8 is entitled to 55% of his or her basic pay in retirement. 50% for twenty years and 2.5% for both years after. This would be $2,813 every month for the rest of his or her life, or $33, 756 annually and if you start saving now, you can earn enough income to get paid like you did when you were in active duty. You can potentially make enough to earn what you were getting in Housing Allowance (BAH) and Food (BAS).


To make up the remaining pay the E-8 would have to save up $552K and earn 5% when he or she retires. This may seem like a lot of money to save up, but by starting your Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) right away, investing in an Individual Retirement Account (IRA), buying real estate, living within your means and keeping debt to a minimum you can easily save this much money (or near it). $552K earning 5% a year would earn you $27,624 a year.


This discussion is theoretical because you can't withdrawal those savings from your TSP and IRAs until you are 59 1/2. But the point is, starting early and saving as much as you can will put you in a prime retirement position.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

30 Sep End of the Fiscal Year is Coming

It's getting close to 30 Sep and, for us Department of Defense finance folks, that means it's time for the end of the Fiscal Year. For some people, conversations about the military budget may sound like a foreign language but regardless of your rank or position in the military, it's a language worth learning. Understanding the budget process can help you immensely in your career from the lowest ranking enlisted member to a 4-star general. Here are some common terms you may need.


  • Fiscal Year - Our fiscal year goes from 1 Oct to 30 Sep. So FY14 started 1 Oct 13 and will end 30 Sep 14.
  • Appropriations - These are the different types of funds we receive from Congress. Article 1 of the U.S. Constitution states, "No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law; and a regular Statement and Account of Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published from time to time." This means we can only spend the money given to us by Congress; no more, no less. 
  • "O and M" - Your Operations and Maintenance (O&M) appropriations are the types of funds that 90% of the military use in their day-to-day operations. There is also Procurement, Investment and R/D.
  • Obligations - An obligation simply means we've spent the money given to us. You may also hear "commitment" which means we've committed to spending money but we haven't actually completed the transaction. By 30 Sep, the DoD must be 100% obligated which means in the month of September, a lot of End-of-Year spending happens. Some of this spending may get frivolous as each level or organization ensures it doesn't have to return the funds given to them. For tips on how to prevent this frivolous spending, check out my post earlier this year. End of Fiscal Year Discussion
  • Bona Fide Need - This is a law that states we must have an immediate need for something when we purchase it. So you can't use FY14 funds to buy something you know you won't need until March FY15. The law allows us to purchase some items that have lead time so we have necessary supplies and equipment the first couple months of the new FY. 
  • Form 9 - Certain requirements need to be purchased through your Contracting organization. In the Air Force, we call this a Form 9. I'm not sure what the other services call it but this is the Form your resource advisor will help you create to get the requirement you need. It can take a significant amount of lead time, so if you need something, get the leg work done sooner than later. 
  • MIPR - This is an intra-agency form we use to send other agencies money to execute a requirement for us. If you have a requirement that will require a MIPR, then you'll have to get with your Resource Advisor to find out what information you'll need.
  • "CRA" - Continuing Resolution Authority (CRA) is a temporary, yet restricted, authority to spend money until Congress passes the budget. Starting 1 Oct to the time the budget is passed, the DoD is under CRA which means you'll be restricted in how much you can spend and you're unable to start any new projects. Many units become risk averse and severely restrict spending during this time.
  • Initial Distribution - Once the budget has been passed, each organization will eventually get its Initial Distribution, which just means it will get its budget for the whole year and normal spending can resume.
Hopefully, this helps you understand some of the conversations you'll hear this month. A lot of military members get bogged down with arguing and fighting how the system has been set up, but the successful ones learn the system. If there is a term you hear that you want explaining please leave a comment and I'll explain it.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Started from the Bottom Now...Wait..I'm Still Here

 A lot of my readers really enjoyed one of my previous blog posts, "Started From the Bottom", where I quoted a famous hip hop song by Drake. The target audience was for young junior enlisted, but was general enough for anyone just starting out in the finance world. But some readers reached out to me and they were concerned about being over 30-years old and having very little flexibility to start improving their finances. They felt like they were at the bottom and couldn't go anywhere. Here are some steps to take if you're at the bottom and nearing the breaking point with your finances.
  • Find flexibility. Most people feel like they have no flexibility with their finances. They've reached a point where there is no money left over between paychecks and they may even be adding more to their credit cards each paycheck just to get by. This is the standard negative snowball effect which will ultimately lead to bankruptcy. You must stop this process. A good way to find additional savings is to track everything you spend for 30 days. Inevitably, you will find some savings; whether it is: not going out to eat one night, reducing your cable or phone bill or finding a cheaper alternative to a routine expense. Use the flexibility you find to stop using your credit cards each paycheck.
    • Finding this flexibility is the single most important step. A lot of people start to feel "suffocated" about their financial position and they ignore it making it worse. Track everything for 30 days and find the flexibility. I know it's there. Contact me at bjone6@gmail.com anytime and I'll help you find the flexibility (for free, I'm not selling anything, absolutely free). 
  • Pay down your credit cards. Some people find themselves having no money after they pay their normal bills and their credit cards. You must pay down your credit card debt quickly, even if it's only adding $5 to your minimum payment. This extra $5 will go straight to the principal and it will start building momentum to paying of the credit cards quicker. You'll start noticing the minimum payments go down and you'll start to open positive options in your financial life.
  • Seek assistance. If you're a military member, go see your First Sergeant or your service-specific Family Readiness center. The Family Readiness Centers are an underutilized benefit we all have in the military. They employ or have access to professional money managers who could help you with your finances for free. Financial advice in the civilian world could cost $50-$200 an hour.  If you're financial situation is really bad, they can grant you a no- or low-interest loan to help prevent bankruptcy.
Starting from the bottom can be difficult but there are many ways to get out. If you're staying up late at night because you're worried about your finances then you need to find help. Finding flexibility and paying down your credit cards can be a slow process but it'll be worth it when you can finally say, "Started from the bottom, now I'm here."

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Why I'm Not a Billionaire Yet...

To date, I’ve been unsuccessful at “beating the market” and becoming a self-made millionaire/billionaire through investing. In some years, I’ve beaten the market and professional investors; however, over 12 years of investing myself, I’ve managed to barely get a decent return compared to inflation. If I had put all my money into an Exchange Traded Funded (ETF) and have done no research or any active managing, I would have a significant higher rate of return. Here are some lessons and some recommendations I’ve learned which I’m hoping could help other self-managing investors.
·         Investing takes time. To be successful at investing, you must do a significant amount of research, all the time. You have to read books, stay current on events and research all types of market patterns, ranging from coffee prices, labor disputes, droughts in Russia to major political changes. The more you know about an investment’s “circle of influence” the better you’ll be at making a decision on when to buy. Personally, I do not spend the appropriate amount of time it takes to be extremely successful. Those who are successful make it a priority in their lives.

o   Recommendation: I recommend going to SeekingAlpha.com, Fool.com and Morningstar.com and Marketwatch.com to keep you updated.

·         Investing takes patience. One of the causes of losses in my portfolio has been a lack of patience. I jump into investments without sufficient data because I was impatient and was hoping to “get rich quick.” Or conversely, I’ve sold out of stocks because I was impatient with the slow rate of return. You have to be able to shut down your emotions while making investment choices. My obsession with becoming a millionaire has stopped me from being able to shut down my emotions. I recently joined some young people doing quick options and penny stocks and my emotions got the best of me and I jumped in without controlling my emotions. I’ve lost quite a bit of money doing the same thing with other investments.

o   Recommendation: Don’t jump into any investment unless you are fully prepared. Know where your entry and exit points are. Know how much you expect to profit from each investment.

·         Investing takes persistence. Gone are the days when individual investors can invest and forget. If you are going to manage your own investments then you must be active. This doesn’t mean day trading but it does mean spending a lot of time each day evaluating your investment objectives. I don’t have persistence and if I do, it’s inconsistent. If I pick some good investments, I start to become complacent. If I lose too much money, I’ll become disheartened and turn away from investing. My lack of persistence has left me on the sidelines during bull market runs and left me holding on while all my stocks dropped during bear markets.

o   Recommendation: I recommend checking your news sources daily and then focus on your strategy’s results on the weekends. Utilize trackers to measure your performance and compare to the market or similar investments. You may have earned a profit but was it less than a passively-managed strategy? This persistent evaluation will keep you on track with your goals and help make minor corrections at the correct time.

·         The power of dividends. For almost a decade, I had ignored the power of dividends. I spent most of my time trying to find the next Apple (AAPL). Many investors who focus primarily on dividends may never see their portfolio totals skyrocket in a couple of days or months, but over time they will consistently match or exceed the market because the dividends are reinvested during bear markets and then the stock rebounds giving you more capital gains and more dividend income. Many “boring” companies also increase their dividends throughout the years. So your $1,000 investment earning a 4% dividend 10 years ago but would now be getting an 8% dividend because the company kept increasing its dividend yield.

o   Recommendation: When using stock filters always consider dividend yield and dividend growth. If you are investing in mutual funds, consider high-yield or income based funds.
 If you are looking at becoming a self-made millionaire/billionaire in the stock market, then I hope this has helped you. But even for those just starting out, I hope this information has helped.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Four Letter Word Killing Your Finances...Fees


In 2013, banks charged over $30 billion dollars in overdraft fees and were caught posting the highest charges first, to expedite the overdraft situation.[1] While overdraft fees can be controlled by closely monitoring the balance in your bank, what about other fees? Every January and July you should go through your financial statements and see if you’re being charged any fees you might not know about. Eliminating fees and maximizing rewards, where you can, should be a semi-annual task for your finances. Here are some common fees to look for.

  • Overdraft fees – Overdraft fees are the worst. You inherently don’t have money and then you have to pay even more money if you were to find yourself in that situation. The fees can be over $30 regardless of the amount overdrawn. Imagine if it were an interest rate. You could have to pay $30 for a $3 charge leaving you with an instant 1000% interest rate. The best way to avoid these fees is to monitor your bank account daily or weekly. You don’t have to balance to the penny, but checking your online account daily can be very helpful to make sure you don’t overdraw your account.
  • Minimum balance fees – Ever since the financial crisis of 2008, these fees have become rare. But a lot of times people won’t read the fee breakdown or the bank simply won’t make it easy to find the fees. Reviewing your statements monthly can help you identify the fees. If your bank is currently charging you those minimum balance fees, then change banks immediately. Most banks no longer charge those types of fees, so finding a new one shouldn’t be a problem.
  • ATM fees –USAA doesn’t charge a bank fee for using other ATMs and will refund you up to $15 a month in ATM fees (USAA serves military members and their dependents). A lot of people may be getting double charged and may not know it. If you use a non-bank ATM, the ATM may be charging you a fee and then your bank may be charging you a fee also. Some people can be losing $4-$7 each time they take out $20. This will quietly, yet quickly, drain your account and you may find yourself with overdraft or minimum balance fees because you weren’t tracking the ATM fees. To avoid these fees, find banks that don’t charge these fees or try to utilize your bank as much as possible to avoid the fees.
  • Statement fees – In an effort to do the right thing and “go green” many banks will charge upwards of $3 to send out paper statements. It’s marketed as a positive initiative, but I assure you, it is a money-making scheme. You may have to go paperless with your bank to avoid these fees.
  • Annual fees – These are common with credit card companies. Some credit cards offer fantastic rewards while charging an annual fee. You’ll have to do the math to determine if you’re making a profit with the rewards after the annual fee. If not, then switch credit cards to avoid those annual fees. That being said, I pay more in annual fees because I have the Air Force Club card which donates money to the Morale, Welfare and Recreation Fund. Also, when I first joined the Air Force, it was considered a professional courtesy for NCOs and Officers to be club members. But generally speaking, you should try and find a credit card without an annual fee.

There are many types of fees you should avoid. A quick search through your financial statements can help you identify these fees and then eliminate them. I helped one Airman (E2) recapture $25 a month by reducing all the fees. This was several years before the 2008 financial crisis, so hopefully everyone saw a decrease in the fees they were paying.



[1] http://www.forbes.com/sites/greatspeculations/2014/05/29/banks-hike-overdraft-fees-after-regulatory-clampdown-hits-revenues/

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Started from The Bottom, Now We’re Here…

Time is the most valuable commodity in our life. For your financial success, starting early is the best decision you can make. Regardless of your age, it’s always a good time to start planning for financial success. For those young 17/18 year olds just entering the military, the future is limitless. Here are some quick steps to start right now (complete in order listed).
·         Establish an emergency savings account. $1K-10K depending on how much bills you have (no more than 6 months’ worth of bills saved)
·         Reduce/eliminate debt. Reducing or eliminating debt is the bed rock of financial success.
·         Max out available tax-sheltered investments. Start an IRA and max it out. If you have additional funds, consider starting your Thrift Savings Plan (TSP). I usually don’t recommend saving all your money in retirement savings because you should have short- and medium-term goals you will need to save for.
·         After the IRA is maxed out, then start saving more in a taxable accounts or max out your TSP. Start investing in everything after you have an emergency savings account established, your debt is reduced/eliminated, and you’ve started saving for retirement. Buy stocks, mutual funds, gold and houses.
I enlisted in the military at 17 with no prior financial knowledge, absolutely no money and only two or three pairs of clothes. In the beginning, there weren’t as many resources available for me to learn from and I paid a lot of fees. But the banking industry has changed and information is available 24/7 and fees have been significantly reduced. After 15 years in the military, and following the steps above, I now have zero debt and have a significant amount of money saved up. I started from the bottom and now I’m here. At my 10-year mark, I crossed over to the “dark side” and became an officer. I hope to retire when I’m 40-years old. I’m not going to lie and say it was easy, but it’s worth it. It’s hard to see your friends spending all their money right away and having nice clothes, nice cars and a big house. But time can be just as cruel and it can be rewarding and after 15 years, I’ve seen time catch up to the big spenders and take everything away.
While blogging, I’ve met a junior enlisted, military-finance blogger, who’s well on his way to becoming financially secure. His investing style is focused on dividends. At the end of his military career and all the reinvested dividends, he will have no problems in the retirement years. Like his blog title states, he’s starting from bottom and he’ll soon be here. Go check out his blog and watch his net worth sky rocket: www.startingfromzeroblog.com/
There’s no reason you can’t do the same. Start today!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Military Spouses At-Home Business Success Stories

I’ve recently discovered that our military spouses are finding success and wealth with in-home businesses. Being stationed in Germany for four years, where jobs for our spouses are typically hard to come by, I noticed the direct-sell companies like “Pampered Chef” and “Stampin’ Up” were prevalent. Success often brought huge discounts and free products within the company. I’ve also noticed more military spouses are finding success in Multi-Level Marketing businesses too. Even more recently, I’ve noticed military spouses involved in photography, graphic design and craft businesses.

Companies like “Pampered Chef” are considered direct-sell companies. The companies, and the spouses who work for them, focus on selling the products first and foremost. The workers will host cooking shows to showcase the products. As a military husband, I was pleased to be the benefactor for some of these shows with all the leftover food. As a secondary money-making venture, you can invite friends to become Pampered Chef consultants and earn money from recruiting. I personally know a spouse of an E-5 who is now known as an Advanced Director. We haven’t talked about annual income, but according to the Pampered Chef compensation plan, she could be making anywhere between $10K and $80K a year. (http://new.pamperedchef.com/make-money#)

Companies like “*Wake Up Now” are considered Multi-Level Marketing companies. These companies focus on recruiting people to become Independent Business Owners (IBO) first and foremost while a secondary emphasis is placed on their proprietary products. They require monthly subscription costs from each IBO and then your upline makes money, but the company ultimately makes the money on these subscription costs. Now, while they’re literally pyramid schemes, many spouses have done well and are making a lot of money with them. A military spouse I know is making $1K a month passively after recruiting several people under him (military spouses can be males too). (https://hub.wakeupnow.com/resources/cmsHubResources/286.compensation_guide.pdf) 

Small businesses like photography, graphic design and crafting are great. There are usually no start-up costs and the owner is in full control. Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram are great ways to advertise and there are low barriers of entry, unless there are many spouses in your circle operating the same type of business.
The downside to these businesses, and can also be found with any small business, is when you’re starting out you usually depend on your immediate friends and family to support you. As one of my friends eloquently put it, it then becomes a Friend-2-Friend or Family-2-Family business and you’ll quickly notice that no one will want to talk to you anymore. If the business doesn’t start well, you’ll become desperate as the monthly costs go up and you’re not earning the income you’d hoped you would. Most at-home businesses fail because people jump in too quickly and have unreasonable expectations. For every one success story there are three failures with some spouses having hundreds of dollars of unused product they have to ship every PCS, reminding them of their failure.
Regardless, our military careers often uproot our military spouses and sometimes bring them to places where job opportunities are hard to find.

A lot of spouses have found wealth and success in starting at-home businesses. Do you have any success stories from your at-home business? Are you currently an MLM operator or want to use my blog to advertise? E-mail me at bjone6@gmail.com and we can discuss advertising space.

Here are some interesting Military Spouse success stories:
Spouse hosts “Trunk Shows” for artists:
http://www.military.com/spouse/career-advancement/military-spouse-jobs/spouse-owns-successful-home-based-business.html

A Spouse’s Article on Forbes about MLM success:
http://www.forbes.com/sites/chicceo/2012/09/27/is-mlm-a-bad-word/

A Military Spouse’s Success Story about Rodan + Fields:
http://www.militaryspouse.com/articles/money-maker/

*FULL DISCLOSURE: I’ve been researching and contemplating running a Wake Up Now MLM.