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.







The Veterans Project: Added Insight


On November 13th, I attended The Veterans Project on ASU’s Tempe campus. The Director of our center, Steve Borden, and our Military Advocate, Joanna Sweatt, were two of the four veterans who shared their stories on stage. Their stories are drastically different from the plight of AJ and his wife whose stories were the focus of Basetrack Live, which I saw earlier this semester. As audience members, we were privileged to hear the voices of service members who are called POGS (Persons Other than Grunts), a derogatory term bestowed upon support services individuals by infantrymen who feel that their service is honestly superior to the rest. Things are changing and the Marine Times recently wrote about this internal conflict.

I can’t entirely fault infantrymen for this language because Marines often feel our service is superior to the other service branches. I think it is exposure to one another’s service that ultimately teaches us how our viewpoints are wrong. We walk around with an essentialist approach until we are taught to see others in a different light. At work, I am building many friendships with former sailors, airmen, and soldiers as well as infantry Marines, who I rarely interacted with while on active duty. We are playful with each other in our discussions about how respective service branches are better. However, we are constantly building camaraderie in our veteran community and building a new sense of family for ourselves.

PTSD and Collegiate Life

IMG_5810 IMG_5811 IMG_5812 IMG_5813This week kicked off a series of Salute to Service events among the different ASU campuses.  It is a privilege to attend many events as an employee but also in my role as an ASU veteran student. I was most excited and nervous to attend the staff/faculty awareness training on Tuesday regarding PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury). ASU does amazing things to bring attention to veteran issues and I hope the non-veteran staff and faculty understand the impact their service has to returning veteran students.

Dr. Adam McCray, a clinical psychologist, who works at the West Valley Vet Center led the training and brought up key points I don’t think non-veterans may be educated about; he gave me permission to share his intellectual property (shown in the photos above).

Honestly, there can be a lot of stressors when individuals return home from a deployment.  I had my fair share with deteriorating relationships (a romance and family troubles), family deaths/illnesses, financial burdens, and taking on a new role at work when I became a Non-Commissioned Officer.  I’ve discussed with my ex, Nathan, before about how there was some counseling we should have gotten, but as Marines we chipped away at our own troubles.

There is a bit of a double-edged sword regarding receiving help.  Service members are taught that help is available and that they should use it; we are also taught to look for troubling behavior among our peers and subordinates and to get them access to help (Note: I said get them access.  We are taught that we are not a substitute for professional medical assistance.)  However, there is also the stigma of receiving help.  As a Marine, one of the significant issues I encountered is the perception of being a malingerer by going to medical. I’ve felt this way about Marines I’ve known and have also worried that I may be perceived as such should I get an appointment that conflicts with my training schedule.

Another significant issue is the lack of quality care.  I cannot say my experience is indicative of what all service members face but there were times that I felt my care was shoddy.  In particular, I reached out to an Ob-Gyn on Marine Corps Air Station Miramar regarding an issue and she tried to tell me what I was experiencing was normal and tried using her own gender as a reason why she wouldn’t let me have an ultrasound.  That and she tried to push NuvaRing on me as a means of birth control. At that point, I sought medical care at Camp Pendleton and found a male doctor who honored my request for an ultrasound.  One of the best things I found in the service with having male doctors is they cannot say they know through their own experience something I am going through since they do not have the anatomy to support those statements.

I am fortunate that I do not have many medical issues as a result of my service, but it is still awkward at times telling people I suffer from stress-induced chest pains.  It’s not a normal part of my conversation but if I suffer a chest pain and grimace, I let someone know what’s going on.  I was unable to get them properly diagnosed when I was in for a few reasons.  One, I was very hesitant to seek a lot of medical treatment for them because I knew it could interfere with my ability to attend training opportunities to further my career.  Second, I felt the assistance I was getting wasn’t giving me the answers I needed.  On my second deployment, I had chest pains for numerous days in a row so I did inform my command about them and went to medical.  I had a chest x-ray done and EKG’s which did not reveal any abnormal patterns.  Although I had chest pains for several days, I did not experience any during the EKG’s and matters were further complicated by the fact the adhesive on the monitors wasn’t sticking properly because of the high heat exposure.

When I separated from the service, I had such little documentation regarding the chest pains that I was told there was no service connection.  While I don’t feel I need disability assistance to cope with these, it is (and was) frustrating to be told they weren’t service-related. They developed shortly after returning from my first deployment and persisted pretty regularly (on a weekly basis) through 2008.  When I focused more on exercising in 2009, they abated to more to a monthly basis.  I am fortunate to manage them easily right now through exercise.  This year, I noticed what has reduced the severity and the frequency of attacks further is weight lifting.  The chest pains are almost non-existent when I keep a steady routine of weight lifting (and not the CrossFit kind) and combine it with some form of low-impact cardio and some running, when possible.  I had one maybe two through the spring and summer and they’ve only recently resurfaced this fall.

Unfortunately, this semester I haven’t kept up with my workout routine as much as I would like.  It has resulted in experiencing chest pains more often.  I do what I can to manage my stress when my schedule feels too hectic to include a workout.  Sleep is a big contributor to managing my stress and I am proud to admit I love to go to bed at 9, although now it’s usually more like 10 or 10:30.  I am also very vocal to my husband about when I need extra assistance around the house so I don’t feel the majority of the burdens fall on my shoulder.

And while I am tempted to not admit this, it’s important to share that from time to time, honestly a little bit of alcohol goes a long way to calming me down.  I rarely drink, usually a glass or two a month is more than sufficient.  However, there are 4 or 5 times a year when I really get bothered by people, family included.  In those moments, exercising or reading just don’t seem sufficient to help me unwind.  When I feel there is too much going on in my personal space or too much demanded of me, I will have a glass or two of wine to relax.  I don’t like prescription medications and willingly choose not to take anything for anxiety/stress because exercise works pretty effectively for me. I allow myself those extra indulgences of alcohol because I am pretty stringent the rest of the time.

College is more difficult for me this time around because I am juggling more responsibilities.  I work 40 hours a week (and sometimes more) whereas as an undergrad, I stayed home with my daughter and my GI bill was our second income.  My husband goes to school full-time and works 25 hours a week and it amazes me how little time we seem to have left for family activities after I get home from work.  I tried to add a female veterans writing workshop into my schedule but its location down in Phoenix meant the one night I attended, I got home at ten.  I didn’t attend the three other sessions offered in October.  It’s hard to bow out of commitments but with the amount of activities (including homework) I cram in- commuting to Tempe, working all day, attending class two nights a week-I was entirely too overwhelmed.    I took one evening off from class to catch up on other things and to relax and I broke down crying one night before a separate class after two weeks of constantly being on-the-go.

I know my Marine Corps life was harder in some ways but I also juggled less.  I worked closer to my job, especially on my deployments!  My walk to work took less than five minutes the first go around and the drive on the second was probably the same.  I had meals provided to me; chow hall meals may not be the best but sometimes, there are happy surprises.  For most Sundays of the first deployment, we were treated to crab legs as a dinner option.  I said yes every time.  The New England girl in me was thrilled at this simple luxury.  Our operation tempo required 24 hour work environments  as well the first time which meant when I showed up to work, there wasn’t a backlog of things to be done.  I cannot say the same currently as a civilian as we are running with less than a full-staff and I dislike falling behind in my work.

However, I know I am incredibly fortunate and privileged to work where I do, in the position I work.  My job is not contracted so I don’t face constant worries over unemployment.  When my GI Bill expires, I can rely on an employee tuition waiver to offset the cost of my education.  ASU offer family housing, so there are cheaper rental options available as a married student and which we take advantage of while we save for a home.  My supervisors and peers are great and when I need a moment to vent, I have a handful of supporters.  My college experience may not be typical but I understand more than most some of the unique challenges facing veterans in the classroom.