A friend recently shared The Outline’s “Being Frugal is For the Rich” and the article got me thinking of something I started talking about while pursuing my first graduate degree. For new readers, my access to VA benefits helped me transform my family’s circumstances these past few years and I opened up about this matter to help give others some transparency on the issue from a direct user perspective. For those who’ve been following me along my blogging journey, yes, I’m talking about veteran entitlements and privileges again!!!
A few years back I read The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Parents are Going Broke by Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Warren Tyagi and it inspired me to be more curious about how people spend their money. I won’t say I found the book “out of the blue.” For almost the past ten years, my reading tastes have gravitated more towards non-fiction but my interest in learning more about financial spending happened when I took the chance and attended a Financial Peace University class friends had at their church in Cody, Wyoming.
My husband and I started our lives together as a dual-income military family. During our active duty days, we did quite well for ourselves. (Note: I served on active duty when we started dating in October 2005 and separated from the Marine Corps July 2007.). I wish I kept our Leave and Earning Statements (LES) from this time to give you concrete numbers regarding income, but in lieu of that information, our spending helps give you an idea of the privilege associated with our military service (and also not being parents at that time).
We started our married life (2006) in a one bedroom, one bathroom apartment in Oceanside, CA. As super lazy millennials who didn’t want to pay for moving expenses, our second apartment was the one right next door. When the other neighbors moved out we upgraded to a two bedroom, two bathroom 854 sq. ft space for $1,440 a month in 2008. (That second apartment now rents for $1,764 on the low-end. Trust me, I don’t miss overpriced rent in southern California.)
I won’t lie. That time in our lives was a lot of fun because financially we could afford to do almost anything we wanted (but buy a home). It’s interesting too because so many people think that service members are grossly underpaid for their efforts and I don’t fully agree with that segment of our population. If you look at information below from Federalpay.org this way of life is pretty good although it continues to frustrate me to see people and organizations, including nonprofits geared towards veterans and service members, use ‘basic pay’ as a way to say service members are broke people. This approach is not inclusive of all forms of pay people receive while serving.
For those unfamiliar with the concept of BAH, it differs based on where one is stationed. Some service members may choose to live on base (and therefore do not receive a housing allowance) in order to live in a bigger home than how far their BAH would go in the local area. Other times, service members may choose to live on base because they have one family car and base life is more convenient for their family or they are overseas and not comfortable renting out in town. Getting back on point though, how many young adults do you know that don’t possess a college education and make this kind of money?
Over the years, our financial wellbeing has looked more like the dips and rises of the stock market than a steady improvement. Ours lows come from a combination of personal behaviors (typical things like going above our dining out budget) and unfortunate circumstances (two unexpected bouts of unemployment, unexpected veterinary bills, and unexpected air conditioning problems to name a few big-ticket issues). After the rocky financial patches we’ve found ourselves in, I do find myself drawn in by people, such as the Frugalwoods, who say, “It’s super easy. Just save money.” It’s nice to hear because it reminds me to have hope that things get easier, to see people who may have accumulated more debt than we’ve carried turn their lives around.
But I know when I talk about how we overcame obstacles in our past (and those down the road) I must be transparent that there’s a lot of privilege I’m standing on, just like the Frugalwoods. The social capital and financial resources at my feet may not be that important to people outside the veteran community, but an ‘honorable discharge’ is an important form of privilege. It’s one thing to have access to good employment benefits while serving in the military, but it’s another to have door after door open up after earning an honorable discharge. It allowed me to use 48 months’ of GI Bill benefits. It allowed me access to a VA home loan. It might permit me to receive VA disability compensation to help offset the costs associated with managing the anxiety related chest pains I started experiencing after my first tour in Iraq. (Side Note: New readers, I’ve covered the last issue a lot in past entries, but my lack of evidence in my service record has made my case with the VA difficult. I’ll update you on this issue when I receive an update on my Notice of Disagreement.)
As someone who made a pretty good transition from active duty Marine to possessing a Master’s degree, openness is important in sharing a narrative and I encourage others to think about what someone does or does not share regarding his or her privilege. Here are some small (or not so small) things you might want to know about me:
- I’ve received over $105,000 worth, 48 months, of GI Bill benefits through a combination of the Montgomery GI Bill and the Post-9/11 GI Bill. I’ve talked about this funding along the way here and here more recently. I owe everyone an update now that I used the last month and 9 days I had remaining so the full sight picture is available.
- I’ve learned outside of school, privilege is not always steady. Trust me, it was weird during our home search to find out some homes did not qualify for a VA mortgage.
- Occasionally, I receive low cost or no-cost opportunities available to veterans such as a student veteran scholarship to participate in the Desert Nights, Rising Stars Writing Conference which I did and a trip to Aspen to Huts for Vets which I will do later this summer.
- Anytime I’ve applied for a post-Marine Corps job, I annotate any veteran category I qualify under because I know these categories can only help me be considered. What I’ve learned though is I must change how I talk to my service to not scare or confuse hiring committees. It’s true we don’t always speak the same language, but most people I’ve met have a positive orientation towards honorably discharged veterans like me.
If you want to look at privilege in another way, here’s what some of those things look like for me and what I encourage you to consider when you think of your own life experiences. We may be deposited in the same world, but that does not mean we get to experience it on equal terms and we have a responsibility to acknowledge the unearned advantages and the support teams that help us live our lives the way we do.