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.







GI Bill Benefits: A Few Chapters

During one of my last classes, I surprised my professor, Dr. Kimberly Scott, and my peers with the fact my GI bill benefits are quite substantial. I don’t recall the exact discussion but I had made some reference to what my GI bill benefits pay for and like always, I tend to forgot that not everyone is aware of what benefits are available as a result of serving this country. As such, I added a widget on the front page of the blog to show the history of my own GI bill benefit payments.

I served from July 2003 to July 2007, which entitled me to 36 months of the Chapter 30 Montgomery GI bill. As a student, I am paid that benefit (based on my enrollment) directly and then paid the institution of higher learning for my semester program expenses. I used this chapter of benefits at Palomar Community College, the University of Wyoming, and for a brief portion of this semester at Arizona State University. It was not until I moved to Wyoming that I found out I could also qualify for Pell Grants to use with my GI bill benefits. Originally, veteran students could not qualify use the Pell Grant in tandem with earned benefits.

Now, it is also important to share that my benefits were further supplemented by two things. In 2003, when I met with the local Marine Corps recruiter, I was also offered the Marine Corps College Fund as an enlistment incentive (and one contract rank to Private First Class). This additional benefit, which added $3,000 to my educational benefits, was a privilege extended to me because I was coming in with college credits. The second benefit bump I received was by paying into the Buy-Up program. Individuals must make that decision while they are still actively serving. A service member can contribute up to $600 for Buy Up and in return receive up to an additional $5,400 tacked on to their Chapter 30 benefits. This additional cost was on top of the $1,200 I paid for the Montgomery GI bill.

I also served during a time period where I was eligible for the Post-9/11 GI bill, which I did not have to pay into to receive. I had the opportunity to switch over to Post-/11 with my remaining months of Chapter 30. So, for example, if I used 3 months of my Chapter 30, I would have 33 months available to use under Post-911. My second option, as I actually did, involved continuing my Chapter 30 entitlement and after exhausting, receiving 12 months of the Post-9/11 GI bill. For me, the latter option made more sense. 48 months of combined benefits is a pretty nice reward for serving my country.

It’s important for everyone to know that there are multiple chapters of GI bill benefits based on one’s time in service:
-Montgomery GI Bill (Chapter 30-Active Duty)
-Montgomery GI Bill (Chapter 1606-Selected Reserves)
-Reserve Educational Assistance Program (Chapter 1606)
-Post-9/11 GI Bill (Chapter 33)
-Survivors and Dependents Educational Assistance (Chapter 35)

Some of these options also provide educational assistance to dependents of service members. The Post-9/11 GI bill is unique in its transferability to dependents. The 33 Fry Scholarship is available to children (and soon to surviving spouses) of service members who died in the line of duty after September 10, 2001. Chapter 35 provides education benefits to dependents of service members who were killed while on active duty, died as a result of a service connected condition, or who are 100% totally and permanently disabled.

My Post-9/11 GI bill is at the 100% level and is graduated for service members in increments of 40% to 100% based off of one’s service time. For me, that means I get tuition and fees covered 100% at the highest in-state rate, I receive a book stipend up to 24 credits an academic year (max amount is $1,000), and my BAH. For ASU, the rate is $1,461 for a full month of attendance when enrolled full time. Fully online students only receive 1/2 the national average, $755 currently. As well, one must have a rate of pursuit in a session of 51% of higher to receive the BAH. Note: active duty students (or spouses of active duty members) do not receive a BAH because they have one already provided by the Department of Defense. This reason is also why some service members will conserve their Post-9/11 GI bill until after they get out and will use federal tuition assistance to off-set the cost of their education while on active duty.

My sacrifices were worth the benefit I received in return. However, I would not advocate that someone join the military solely on the premise of receiving GI bill benefits. We are a voluntary fighting force and there’s always the chance you could die before utilizing your benefits. You must go in with an understanding of this very real risk and think critically about the benefits and consequences associated with military service. When I served outside of Ramadi in late 2004 to early 2005, I was at a base that was frequently hit with mortars. On February 2, 2005, one of my officers was a casualty of one such mortar. He left behind a wife and he never had the chance to bring children, if he desired them, into this world. He also did not fulfill his desire to continue his education.

In other ways, his service protects the freedom of others and leaves behind benefits for his wife.

I try to remember to enjoy my privilege because I fought for our country and I was fortunate to come home. It would be a shame to waste my entitlement and let the 15 year entitlement period exhaust without using a dime of that money. So, am I nervous to share what money I received? Yes. There will probably be some flack from the non-privileged, to include veterans who did not get out honorably so they are not entitled to these benefits. But I am happy to share with the world that I am working to make full use of a benefit I earned.