Saving Money in the Military
“I don’t get paid enough!”
This is the battle cry of far too many service members.
The reality is that we get paid quite well but have poor financial habits.
The moment you joined the military you achieved level one financial freedom. Any debts you had prior to joining were cut down to only 6% interest, and most of your expenses were covered.
Service members have a bad habit of throwing this financial freedom away by financing vehicles and buying fancy cell phones, shoes, tattoos, etc. Unfortunately, this seems extremely prevalent in the military and especially in the lower ranks.
Maybe it is because it’s the first time we receive a decent (and consistent) paycheck, or maybe it is because we justify spending with “I may get deployed and die, so YOLO!” Albeit, this is much less likely now than it was a decade ago.
No matter the justification, it is our responsibility to get our finances back under control. Here are some frugal tips and tricks for service members to keep in mind! Also, saving money in the military is easier than you think!
Shaving is not a large expense, but it is a constant one. From the day you enter the military until the day you retire the uniform, you will be expected to shave every morning.
Technology has made disposable razor blades very convenient. They have also become quite expensive!
A pack of eight Gillette Fusion5 razor blades costs $21, and eight of the new Fusion ProShield blades cost a whopping $33! In my experience, each of these blades will last a full week (comfortably) and two weeks at the most. Assuming a blade a week, this is $136-$215/annually spent on just razor blades.
When you’re saving money in the military, it is important to look at every expense you can mitigate.
A great alternative is to go old school and buy a safety razor like this one! $17.88, for a razor and ten blades, is cheaper than just a refill of blades would be for Gillette. You can buy 100 blades for less than $8 on Amazon. Safety razor blades are no more than $0.10 a blade on the high end!
Worst-case scenario you can buy a year’s supply of razor blades for under $10/annually…what an easy way to save hundreds of dollars a year!
You can also buy straight razors for relatively cheap. I got a custom engraved one for less than $50, but there are some on Amazon for less than $20. The strop (used for sharpening the blade) is less than $15.
It takes some practice to use an authentic straight razor without cutting yourself, but they can save you a lot of money since they don’t require razor blades!
While we’re at it, don’t buy cans of shaving cream—buy a shaving brush and cream to lather…much more cost-effective!
5. Credit Cards
Wait, isn’t this post about being frugal? How do credit cards belong here?
Well, credit cards aren’t inherently evil, and as long as you pay them off every month, it is nice to earn cashback for purchases you would have made anyway.
Annual Fees Waived
The benefit of utilizing credit cards while active duty is that many cards waive the annual fee for service members.
My American Express Platinum card affords me access to lounges in airports, free meals, $15/month in Uber credit, and so many other discounts. Since the annual fee is waived for active-duty service members, this is my favorite credit card for military members!
Again, the ONLY way this makes sense is if you pay the balance off completely immediately after you charge the card. Do not allow the card to incur any interest.
4. Uniforms and Clothing
Uniforms, especially dress-uniforms, can be quite expensive.
Luckily, there is an annual clothing allowance the military gives you to keep your uniforms serviceable.
You should definitely budget this clothing allowance out for the year in order to cover all of your uniform expenses.
Thrift Store on Base
To maximize your clothing allowance even more, you should take full advantage of the base thrift store(s). Every base I have ever been stationed on has had a thrift store where you can buy used uniforms for dirt cheap.
Buying used uniforms may not be your preference, but a $10 dress-blue jacket absolutely beats paying $140 for a new one.
You should join every garage sale, “for sale,” or “curb-alert” Facebook page for the base where you’re stationed. You would be amazed at how many garage sales happen on base, especially during the summer months.
When service members rotate to their next duty station or retire, they almost always throw a garage sale to get rid of excess items.
They will also try to sell all of their cleaning supplies and other items that cannot be packed by the moving company.
This is a great opportunity for you to acquire cheap uniforms, clothing, and household goods for much less than full price!
The fastest way to save money on food is to mitigate eating out.
Every time you eat at a restaurant, you are adding unnecessary costs to your monthly food bill.
Eating out periodically is okay, but include it in your budget and don’t spend more than you budgeted.
The commissary is the cheapest place you can buy groceries. They are dirt cheap, and your purchases are not taxed.
You can’t beat that!
You should buy your food at the commissary unless you live so far away that it isn’t worth the gas!
There is a reason most articles about saving money in the military mention the commissary, after all.
The chow hall is extremely affordable!
If you live in the barracks, I would suggest eating in the chow hall for every meal possible. There is no reason for you to spend money buying groceries or eating out when you have already paid for meals in the chow hall.
Save your money.
Even if you don’t live in the barracks, it is cheaper to pay for lunch at the chow hall than almost anywhere else on base (and healthier too)!
I absolutely recommend you eat at the chow hall every chance you get!
Alcohol is fun but so is building wealth.
I will never tell you to stop drinking, but I will definitely advocate for drinking in moderation and not buying drinks at the bar.
Alcohol is much more expensive out in town, and I would definitely suggest buying it from the store on base for cheap whenever possible.
Also, drinking too much will lead to a lack of productivity the next day, which is even more detrimental than the financial expenditure itself!
It never ceases to amaze me how far people live from work in the military. I have had friends commute over an hour each way.
This is crazy on so many levels.
For one thing, our hours in the military are unpredictable at best, and our days often start and/or end when the sun is down. I don’t know why you would voluntarily add two hours of driving to that.
I much prefer the idea of seeing my family.
For another thing, even if you save $500/month on housing by living that far away, your gas bill will eat most of that “savings” up. On top of your high gas bill, there will be additional oil changes and maintenance issues due to the excessive amount of mileage you’re racking up on your car.
In my opinion, it rarely makes sense to live more than thirty minutes away from work when you consider both the cost and quality of life in the decision process.
Carpooling with others is a great way to save money.
If you live close to some of the people you work with, you may consider commuting together. You drive one day, they drive the next, etc. The more people who ride together, the more money you can save. You could also offer to drive but have your passengers pay for fuel.
The downside to commuting is that you can’t leave work until everyone is ready to leave, and you may be stuck without a car during the day (on days you didn’t drive).
Another viable option in most cities is public transportation.
If I lived in Washington DC or a similar city, I would absolutely ride the metro/subway to work!
Not only would this be much more affordable than driving, but you could read a book or listen to audiobooks and podcasts for the duration of your commute!
This would be a very productive way for me to spend my commute, and if I could save a little money doing it, I would absolutely jump on it!
Although there is risk associated with riding a motorcycle, they are quite affordable for commuting! They get amazing gas mileage, even when you ride around at full-throttle.
In California, there is another benefit to motorcycles: it is legal to lane-split!
This cuts your commute down vastly because traffic is no longer a hindrance to you at all!
I have seen this cut commutes in half in the cities surrounding Camp Pendleton, California.
If you live close enough, cycling to work is one of the best ways to save money on your commute! There isn’t much that beats knocking your cardio out, eliminating fuel costs, and listening to audiobooks, all while commuting to work!
Not to mention, it is environmentally friendly if that matters to you.
If you live in the barracks, walk to work.
Walk to chow.
Walk to the gym.
Seriously, young service members who live in the barracks could survive their entire first term without owning a car. If you’re going somewhere with friends, carpool. If you absolutely need a ride somewhere, Uber!
I know this isn’t a popular opinion, but it is a brilliant financial decision. Automobiles are one of the worst purchases you can make because they depreciate so fast.
1. House Hacking
The single largest expense for most families is their housing.
Therefore, if you can figure out a way to mitigate or even eliminate this expense, you will jump leaps and bounds closer to financial freedom!
House hacking is the indisputable best way to eliminate this expense, and saving more money in the military.
There are many strategies you can use to hack your housing expenses.
You can buy a duplex, triplex, or four-plex and live in one unit while renting the other unit(s) out.
Another solid strategy is to rent out individual rooms in your home. You can do this with long-term roommates or through Airbnb!
Saving Money in the Military summary
You won’t get rich by saving $100 on razor blades, but little things add up.
Try to decrease your expenses every chance you get, and you’d be amazed at how much more money you could be saving!
Here are a few more frugal living ideas.