Memorial Day: A Tale of Two Lifestyles

Memorial Day is a holiday I dread.  The Google snapshot will probably give you a bit of a clue as to why:

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Memorial Day is a holiday that very much, in my opinion, divides this nation.  We have the supporters that recognize the holiday represents a moment to honor the loss of human beings who died while serving this nation.  The second group enjoys the holiday as the dividing mark that summer is here and sales are to be enjoyed.  This dichotomy was captured quite well in an article I found this morning, How Memorial Day Went From Somber Occasion to Summer Celebration.  Not mentioned in the article, but also of great importance, is the reality as more and more people forget this time as a means to remember the sacrifice of our nation’s deceased service members veterans and currently serving military personnel are being thanked for their service.

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This image, floating around social media, gets right to the point.  There IS a difference!

I definitely cringe when I see veterans being thanked for their service on Memorial Day.

It is also equally awkward for me when I’m told, “Happy Memorial Day!”

I know it’s said with the best intentions but for me, I experienced our unit losing one of our own.  I have not corrected those closest to me who make this mistake but as they get a better sense of my first deployment we tiptoe into this area of what means what and why certain things are important.

My unit held an in-country memorial service for Captain Sean Brock who died as a result of his injuries on February 2, 2005.

To me, Memorial Day will never be about the start of summer.  To me, Memorial Day will never be about the sales.

On this day, I wonder how his family is doing.  I will go about my day doing quiet activities with my own family but I will wonder how his siblings, parents, and widow are holding up.  I will (and always will) want them to know he was cared for by our command.  He was respected.  His sacrifice does not deserve to go unnoticed because the meaning of this holiday gets muddled by society’s focus on attributing other meanings upon this particular day.

Those of us in the camp staying true to the original purpose behind today do not ask for much.  Take a moment for those we lost.  That’s it.  A simple moment of silence to pay respect for every person who served and died for this nation.





Money Talks & The Good Life: Part 2 of 2

In probably the last year or two I’ve started to recognize the term “side hustle” on a number of the sites I frequent.  It’s become quite popular, in fact.

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So what exactly are we talking about when we say ‘side hustle’?

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A side hustle is a fancy term for a [insert whatever amount of time commitment] job.  My top frustration with the talk of a ‘side hustle’ is how it’s being toted, in some places, as an easy commitment of your time to make additional money.  I think this misunderstanding drives a lot of people away from the idea of taking on additional work because they think it must be boring, unskilled tasks that no one would otherwise want to take on for ‘real work.’  (Note: Again, not everyone sells a side hustle as this sort of labor, but I see it and I’m sure I’m not the only one.)

There are some stories of pretty great side hustles.  The ones I notice most are when people take on a side job that interests them (writing, baking, etc.).  There also doesn’t seem to be a limit on available side job opportunities.  If you are lost for ideas you can do what I did and Google “Side jobs for [insert an interest, profession, or skill].”

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If you need or want to make extra money, opportunities are out there but it will take a commitment of your time and energy.

Yesterday, I spoke about my relatively low income and how it’s become more of a frustration for me.  Like Erin Lowry and her article How I Went From Making $23K to $100K in Just 4 Years I, too, get sick of scrapping by.  For this reason, I wanted to share the end results of my “side hustle” aka getting paid to go to school to compensate for the low pay at my current position.  However, before delving into my current finances, I know it helps to share my background as well.  Different areas of employment offer different incentives and pay; those occupations also require different educational backgrounds and skills.  These factors cannot be overlooked in any conversation regarding money.

2003 to 2007: United States Marine Corps

I’m using numbers from the DFAS website as I cannot get Marine Online to view my historical pay and I no longer have the bank accounts I had back then.  There are numerous allowances one can receive: basic allowance for subsistence, basic allowance for housing, clothing allowance, hazardous duty pay, etc. which is why I just wanted to focus on just basic pay numbers.

  • 2003 E-1 w/less than 4 months of service= $1,064.70/month
    • Joined in July: Approximate basic pay for 5.5 months $5,855.85
  • 2007 E-4 over 3 years of service=$1,883.10/month
    • Left the Marine Corps in July: Approximate pay for 6.5 $12,240.50

2007-2009: Kay Jewelers

  • $10.50 an hour/typical hours worked: 30
    • Annual pay $16,000

2011: Unpaid internship with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service

  • $0.00 (16 hour a week commitment/10 weeks)

2013: Working for Public Health

  • $48,942 is the listed annual salary
  • I worked there for 6 months so my salary was $24,471 (40 hr week commitment)

2013-2017: Working at a 4-yr Institution of Higher Learning

  • 2013 ($15.63 hour/$32,500 annual)
    • Approximate 2 months worked=$5,000
  • 1st pay increase ($15.94 hour/$33,155 annual)
  • 2nd pay increase ($16.31 hour/$33,924 annual)

As you can see my pay has not been substantial.  My side hustle of using GI Bill benefits, by comparison, has greatly provided for my family and I.  Below are the numbers from my direct payments.  I received 36 months of the Montgomery GI Bill that was enhanced by paying into the $600 Buy Up program and having the Marine Corps College Fund.  I’ve also already received most of my 12 months of the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

It’s important to keep in mind the Montgomery GI Bill is paid to students and students still make their tuition payments to their respective institutions.  The Post-9/11 GI Bill pays out tuition and fees, a book stipend, and a housing allowance for eligible persons.  Percentages vary from 40% to 100%.  (By the way, if I made a mistake about the two January 2011 payments my apologies.  I cannot open up eBenefits to ensure I didn’t make a transcribing error when I downloaded information from the site and entered it into Excel. It’s quite a long time ago and I no longer have the same bank account my GI Bill benefits went to at that time.)

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My Post-9/11 GI Bill provided greatly for me.  The amount of housing I’ve received alone make a monumental difference in allowing me to stay in my current place of employment as long as I have.

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The amount paid to Arizona State University is as follows:

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To make it easier to consume together, here’s my significant “side hustle” from 2008 to 2012 and 2014 to 2016.

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The reason I’m ok calling my education a side hustle is there are plenty of service members and veterans who end up not using their GI Bill entitlement.  It’s the same thing from a payment perspective as not taking any other sort of odd job you are qualified to do but choose not to do.  You are not taking advantageous of an opportunity to get paid for your time and effort.  (For my veterans reading this article, you have 15 years from separating from active duty to use your Post-9/11 GI Bill.  Do not let it go to waste.)

The money I’ve received from my paycheck versus my GI Bill entitlement is more important in the fact I pay into the Arizona State Retirement System.  Over 11% of my income is taken out for retirement and while my employer also pays the same amount, it’s hard to have this much money taken out as the only regular income my family receives.  When I worked for the Public Health and was later not offered full-time employment, I had to make the hard decision to withdraw my money and pay the penalties for early withdrawal.  At the time, the state’s unemployment system was three months behind and after already coping with a yearlong deployment my savings account was not sufficient to survive the second bout of unemployment.  Ironically, I gained employment again at the time I was finally eligible for unemployment benefits.

In a short while, I will find myself ending my journey in my current place of employment.  At this time, I need more freedom in my take home pay which can only be offered by a company that utilizes a 401(k) and I also want a work environment that lets me be more flexible in my hours.  My daughter is still young so working around her school commitment is a high priority in my life.   The reality of our family situation is also why I’m being a bit more honest about my pay.  I recognized the hard way your traditional job does not easily pay the bills (and for the wants that naturally we all have as people).  I used a great tool available to me and was paid to attend school.  Thankfully, I enjoy learning so my side hustle wasn’t a chore although completing papers late into the night after working all day wasn’t fun.

My diligence paid off.  My side hustle earned me a total of three degrees and gave me extra money in the bank at the times I needed it most.  The best part is my GI Bill benefits, as opposed to my income, is also non-taxable.

Down the road I know I will become better at advocating for myself and hopefully in sharing my story today, others feel inspired to assess their current situation and future goals.  Money is an important part of that personal assessment.

We shouldn’t be afraid to ask for financial compensation but also be willing to take steps to accomplish our end goals when traditional routes just don’t cut it.







Money Talks & The Good Life: Part 1 of 2

Don’t mind the detour but I’m talking puppies and money today!

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I am quite happy to share with you all we added a second Cane Corso to the family.  I stayed up with this cute fur ball last night and now it’s my husband’s turn for the night shift.  My newest kiddo is not actually the focus of today’s writing but I couldn’t help but share.  Month after month I make promises I’ll write more often and when I make you–my dear audience–wait, I owe you something special.  Hence sharing our good news.  Honestly, who doesn’t like seeing photos of puppies?! (Thanks for sticking around. If we lived closer, I might just bake you something, too.  I am quite handy in the kitchen and my friends enjoy the alcohol-infused treats I make plus the non-alcoholic versions.)

Tonight’s entry is really an appetizer; tomorrow’s blog post is the entrée.

I am on Refinery 29’s email list and there was an article that spoke a lot to me recently.  I graduated last year with my Master’s degree and the author Erin Lowry pointed to an area that is a bit of a weakness for me, the art of negotiating money.  As a veteran, I feel I am in a position many other veterans know as well.  When we served our pay was based on pay grade and time in service.  If you want to check how those numbers have changed over time, please look at the military pay charts on the Defense Finance and Accounting Service website.  The amounts are not inclusive of all pay, just basic pay, but this information gives you a decent starting point to understand negotiation is not a thing.  If you want more money, you get yourself promoted ASAP.

For some military occupational specialities versus others, that’s a fairly easy task to accomplish.  I won’t go down that road today.

Her article resonated with me quite well recently as I’ve struggled to find a comfortable wage after separating from the Marine Corps.  After starting our family in 2010, I’ve become more financially focused as I realize money doesn’t stretch as far as it used to and many unexpected events–like my two bouts of unemployment–add further stress.  I try not to let money be the dominant factor to express I am a successful person but there is a level of financial stability I have not yet obtained that frustrates me.

The level of financial transparency through sites like Refinery 29 where people talk about the debt they carry, the cost of their mortgages, and how much income they make becomes a motivator for me to advocate for my particular needs.  In the almost four years in my current position, I never thought I needed to negotiate my pay.  In a couple different ways over the past year, I learned of pay discrepancies that I felt could not be overlooked.  Armed with the confidence my work prowess speaks for itself and I bring many useful lessons from my educational background directly into the work environment, I tackled one of the toughest conversations I’ve ever had.  I told my supervisor I am sick of getting grossly underpaid.  I don’t want to feel like I need to be one of those extremely frugal moms who gets a kick out of extreme couponing, making their own soaps and stuff, and shopping only secondhand.  (Trust me, I like food sales, but not couponing.  I like using a homemade vinegar cleaner and also using the heavy-duty store-bought name brand clog remover.  I equally like buying new things and finding something special on Thredup for $8.)

While working on my degree, my lower pay was not as much of a setback as I had the ability to use my GI Bill entitlement to compensate financially.  Without my tax-free cushion, I know I cannot yet afford certain experiences I’d truly like, such as saving for a trip to Hawaii or going on a cruise.  I am leery to put the cost of three plane tickets to visit family back east on a credit card because I know my husband won’t be employed for two more years while he completes his education.  I don’t want to cut back on some of my favorite gourmet ingredients, like the Trader Joe’s creamy Toscana soaked in Syrah, because I am more the woman who likes a killer home-cooked meal than a packed restaurant, even though I’m not getting the treat of being waited on and someone else cleans the dishes.  I just want to earn money to support my family and provide for the fun things in life as well.

In talking more about the good life tomorrow, I’ll focus a bit more on the positive numbers that compromise my good life and those pesky numbers that put a damper on where I want to be for personal and professional satisfaction.