Like many of us, I recall exactly where I was at and what I was doing when the events of 9/11 hit America. Since then, I’ve always wanted find a way to give back to the military especially during this time where it marks our generation with change, self-responsibility and renewed patriotism.
This year, friends on the West Coast (Thiel Ruperto, Ricardo Ayala & Junior Velega) who happen to be financial professionals, asked if I could help share some ideas when talking to a group of young Marines stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma in Arizona. They set up a Skype connection and BAAAM...I was talking to my brothers-in-arms on the flat screen.
- Gotta get my "OOOORRRAAAAAH, Devil DAWGS!"
Being on active duty for eight years and climbing through the ranks from Private to Sergeant, meritoriously, it was easy to drum up some ideas on how to better handle money while in uniform and prepare for a life as a civilian.
Here’s what I shared with them:
- You’re Richer Now Than You Think - most Marines come fresh out of high school or early in their twenties. Before having the time to pile up college debt, credit card bills or a fat mortgage...most deployable Leathernecks just manage a monthly cell phone payment and car insurance payments. With your financial obligations low and income high (even if it doesn’t seem like it), you can really build a nice financial cushion using paycheck allotments every two weeks. You won’t miss the $100 or $200 each paycheck while establishing a great habit of savings...or better, paying off the car loan faster so you don’t have a car payment when you get out. Don't force yourself into another enlistment because of financial problems. Lastly, don’t rush to get married before a deployment thinking that the increase in monthly pay is an incentive...you just might find yourself unprepared emotionally and spiritually costing you everything financially. Trust me on this, divorce (I have my first award, that’s IT!) is one theater of combat even the most elite Marine Corps warriors end up in defeat...especially when your ex-spouse still gets 20% of your paycheck after all the blood, sweat and tears you put out.
- Think About Tomorrow, Today - a typical enlistment of 4 years go by fairly quickly. A few pumps on US Navy ships and an overseas tour finds you quickly back in the USA. Either you are ready to re-enlist for another 4-6 years (hopefully with a bonus!)or find a similar job in the civilian sector that you can still make use of your military-trained skills. Here’s the catch. Uncle Sam has been currently paying for your house, food and to some extent, your gas/transportation the whole time you’ve been in uniform. Regardless of how nice you’ve hooked up a home theater in your room at the barracks or how good Marine Corps cooks make morning chow absolutely irresistible, you’ll have to budget for these daily essentials (a place to live, food, gas, cable, internet, etc) when you grow your hair longer as a civilian and still ironing your shirt with Magic Sizing. That way, when the Career Jammer (oops, Planner) asks you what you plan to do with your career, you’ve got some confident answers. Don’t be reactive. Do your homework now. I’m sure you’ll find plenty of TIME on firewatch to dream going forward whether in uniform or not.
- Don’t Settle - you’re in the middle of a tough economy where jobs are harder to come by. Fight for opportunities in the Marine Corps to get more military training and education since it all gets documented in your Service Record Book and serves as your working resume. Many colleges today will award your credits based on what you can accomplish in the classroom. Work with your chain of command to create opportunities to take college classes before leaving active duty at locations on, or off base...even online. In my case, I worked nightcrew so I could intern at a financial firm during the day. Employers LOVE hiring Marines. We just bring an intangible to the work place that can’t be taught on a college campus. In addition, don’t burn any bridges, maintain good relationships and network with fellow Marines. The ass you untactfully kick in today (while not the enemy’s) may be the same ass you kiss tomorrow. Today’s Private First Class may be tomorrow’s Sergeant Major. Today’s boot butter bar lieutenant may soon inherit $4M dollars one day to become the next Fred Smith of FedEx.
Lastly, the VA loan program for veterans is practically the ONLY no-money down loan program left in the nation (limit for single-family home is $417k w/620 credit score). Utilize this privilege smartly. Doing so will help you find a place that you call home without feeling financially stretched your every month at a bargain price compared to several years ago.
Whether you decide to stay in the “suck” or leave for the civilian world, continue to apply the same values, discipline and commitment towards your employer or your own small business. They’ll still call you the Few and the Proud...for a lifetime.
Semper Fi, Devil Dawgs...OOOORRRRAAAAAAAH!
- "Base to Matt...System Check Complete!" Junior Velega tests Skype connection before Marines arrive.