One of the most personally beneficial aspects of being in the military is having opportunities to make and save extra money when mobilizing. During my wild ride in the Marine Corps I was mobilized to Central America and was able to pay off more than $15,000 in debt; in just four months! I would not say I was making a ton of money, but I was certainly not spending much of it. Here is a little bit of that story.
While I was mobilized we were living in a place where almost everything was paid for. The only things I needed to pay for were food, my car insurance for the car back home, and leisure items like Netflix. That was it! The average monthly expenses were about $600 or so. In my last post I spoke about zero-based budgeting and how important it is to know where every dollar is going. This budgeting method was key to paying off $15,000.
My budget was the same every month with the exception of “bonus money” coming in as reimbursement for additional travel requirements. What did I do with this money? All the “bonus money” went straight to the debt. I had accrued quite a bit of debt on a credit card, but I also had those pesky students loans to contend with. My budget and behavior both made lowering this debt possible. Every dollar earned had a place and I said “no” to anything that was not budgeted. I remember my First Sergeant poking fun at my “fun budget” being so low ($40/month), and he was right. So I upped it to $60! Some of the Marines were going to try and put together a sports team, but I said “no” because it would cost me $10 I wasn’t willing to spend. Behavior matters!
An estimated percentage of my income having gone to debt was probably close to 75-85%. Budget, behavior, and minimal expenses made this possible. I anticipated my expenses to ensure every dollar had a place each month. Extra money immediately went to the debt. The budget looked roughly like this:
- $320 – Eagle Cash (card to pay for food, etc. on base)
- $140 – Car Insurance
- $100 – Storage Unit
- $60 – Fun Budget (includes eating out)
- $15 – Netflix
Although I did not hold much cash, I still used the fundamental idea of the envelope system when keeping track of expenses. For example, when it was time to renew the Eagle Cash card, the card would always be reloaded the first of the month with a $320 total balance. Any money left on the card from the previous month would roll over and I would load less money on the card to equal $320 (i.e. $140 remaining = $180 added vice $140 remaining = $320 added). The excess money went straight to the debt. I was able to keep this up for about three months (I had “too much money” set aside at the beginning of debt repayment so I used some of that to jumpstart the intense repayment). Why did I only do this for four months while full steam ahead? My future monthly budgets slowed me down.
After a few months with this aggressive behavior for debt repayment, I had to think about the flow of money eventually slowing and my return to the United States. There were two key funds I created for future months of budgeting: post-deployment fund and iPhone fund. I needed to make sure I had money in the bank when got home so I could take care of expenses and moving costs. Another thing I needed was a new phone. I refused to make monthly payments so I saved up and bought the iPhone 8 outright; an awesome feeling.
When I got home there were all sorts of crazy things going on that made continuing my budget and behavior difficult. Thankfully I had my post-deployment fund to assist me in the months following my return. Unfortunately I fell away from budgeting and intense behavior for many months, but I am at it again! Though I am not perfect when it comes to budgeting and behavior, the intensity for debt freedom remains within. I am on a path to be debt free by this time next year!
This financial journey of The Wild Ride is intended to hopefully teach people what I’ve learned if not at least inspire someone to keep pushing toward their financial goals. I repeat this constantly: I am not a financial professional. These posts are just me sharing stories, ideas, and tools that have helped me along the way. Although you may not be in the same scenarios, I know that taking the fundamental steps in regards to finances can help tremendously. If you don’t get anything else out of this post then remember: budget and behavior matters!
Be strong. Love God. Love others.