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White Belt's Military Journey to FI

Posted: Sat Mar 19, 2016 5:15 pm
by white belt

I am a young military officer currently living in Georgia (USA). I first stumbled upon ERE around 2011 and subscribed to the philosophy with varying levels of strictness for my entire college career. I have been working for nearly 6 months and am making some progress with my savings, so I decided to share my journey here in order to further refine my strategies and goals.

Financial Snapshot
Net Worth: 53000
Monthly Income: 3700
Monthly Expenses: ~1000

Net Worth
Vanguard (~33k)
-VFIAX: 12500
-VBMFX: 4000
-VTIAX: 10000
-Traditional IRA (Money Market): 6500

TSP (~6k)
-G Fund: 2700
-I Fund: 3000

Bank (~16k)
-Checking: 4000
-Savings: 12000

The net worth figure comes in part from some money that my parents had initially earmarked for my college education, but since most of my tuition was paid with a scholarship, they decided to generously gift it to me. The rest of the total comes from money I saved up during college and over the past 6 months. I dump a lot of my savings into Vanguard index funds and always try to maximize my IRA. I need to do more reading on IRA and TSP allocation because I'm unsure on exactly what to do with that money.

Monthly Income
My income stays consistent from month to month and I can even extrapolate what my income will be several years from now. The total listed is my military income, however I also generate some income with travel rewards cards and bank bonuses.

Over the past year or so I’ve been accumulating rewards points with large signup bonuses on credit cards. I don’t have high expenses, so I can’t hit the $3000 spend in the first 90 days more than a couple of times a year. However, I’ve found that the cards synergize well with my travel expenses, thus far most of which has been airfare. I also get my credit card fees waived under SCRA for some of the major banks, so that provides me with some extra opportunities (especially travel credits on premium cards like Amex Platinum and Citi Prestige).

I am trying to apply for a few bank bonuses a year to help boost my income. Thus far I’ve made $200 from a checking account bonus. It requires a similar attention to detail as tracking my overall finances and the hourly wage is higher than most other part time work I can do.

Monthly Expenses
Rent+utilities: 350
Cell Phone: 25
Work related stuff: ~75
Transportation: ~10
Food Expenses/travel/other: ~550?

My monthly expenses vary a lot from month to month, but seem to average around $1000. I live on-post in a house with 2 roommates, which helps to keep my rent and transportation costs low. Some months I spend a lot of time in the field, which means my meals are provided to me and I don't have any free time to spend any money. Other months I spend money to travel and eat out, although some of these expenses are offset by credit card travel perks and points. Work related stuff can be anything from uniforms to various things I need for the field. I'd like to work to lower my food expenses by eating out less and cooking more. Being in the military has some perks, such as free healthcare and free access to recreation facilities on-post.

I don't own a car, so my transportation expenses are virtually zero. Sometimes I will rent a car for the weekend to travel somewhere, but I usually categorize that as a travel expense. Other times I carpool with friends nearby and I usually bicycle commute to work. I like my bike a lot and I've put nearly 500 miles on it since moving down here. I plan on buying a car in the coming months, so I expect my transportation expenses to increase.

Stuff I know
-Cutting hair
-Basic bicycle repair
-Guitar (just for fun these days)
-Wine making (although I haven't done it in awhile)

Stuff I want to learn (short-term)
-Hunting (maybe)
-Basic car repair/maintenance
-Drive a manual


Short Term
Max out my IRA and TSP ($23,500 annually)
-TSP Contribution - $18,000
-IRA Contribution - $5500

Establish other streams of income
I'm a salary man with few other streams of income. I've done a little research into generate different income with skill I already possess, but nothing seems to be that lucrative when I break down the hourly wage. Additionally, I'm currently in training as an officer, so right now I don't have the time to commit a lot of hours to developing another stream of income.

Clarify my investing strategy
I need to do more reading into asset allocation. As of now I've focused a lot of my investing on low-cost index funds, but I'm unsure how to optimize my investments across different platforms (TSP, IRA, taxable accounts, etc). I'm more interested in simple investment strategies that require little management time (Permanent Portfolio maybe), rather than active investing or more time-intensive strategies.

Long Term
I haven’t thought about long term goals a lot, besides that I want to arrive at FI within the next 6 or so years (with a 3% SWR). I’m unsure of how long I’ll stay in the military, but I’d like to be able to walk away FI after 8 years. This will give me the opportunity to command and will provide me with GI Bill benefits. I'm certain I will refine my long-term goals in the coming years, but for now I'm focused on my work and trying to make myself into a Renaissance man.

I will go into more detail about my life in future posts, this is just intended as an introduction. Any and all comments are appreciated.

Re: White Belt's Military Journey to FI

Posted: Fri Mar 25, 2016 2:18 pm
by white belt
My next series of posts will more closely analyze my situation using some of the paradigms outlined in the ERE book. My geographic location will change every 1-3 years in the military, which means my housing, transportation, supermarket, etc situation will change also. This makes it hard to predict what my lifestyle will be like in coming years, but by accounting for flexibility I can still create a strategy.


Biking around base has actually been more pleasant than I expected overall. Every installation is likely a different situation with pros and cons, but the following is what I’ve encountered:

Low speed limits, quiet residential areas, and polite drivers have all helped to make cycling more pleasant. It seems most drivers on base are wary of getting speeding tickets or doing anything that could get them pulled over, which makes cycling among traffic pretty safe. My commute is very short and along back roads, so I actually don’t encounter much traffic anyway.

There is some cycling infrastructure on base like bike racks at most buildings and some separate recreational bike paths. The local Riverwalk may be the best part about the area. It allows me to ride from base to the local town (~10 miles) without having to deal with traffic, stoplights, etc. I make the trip once every couple of weeks when my body isn’t too broken down from time spent in the field.

Like many places in the US, drivers are not used to seeing cyclists on the roads, especially on weekdays. The base itself is very car-centric, with an expressway connecting different parts of the base with a speed limit of 45 mph. Additionally, the area surrounding the base is all highways and high speed roads. This means that for cycling purposes, you really can only use one gate entrance.

Car Culture In My Corner of the Military
From what I’ve seen around base, there are a lot of pickup trucks, jeeps, and sports cars. A common stereotype in the Army is the new soldier that blows his entire paycheck on car payments and gas for one of these high cost vehicles. In that way, the average military consumer is not much different than the average civilian consumer. I think that the rock-steady military pay check (it is very difficult to be fired or laid off), makes military personnel even more tempted to purchase a car with high monthly payments.

I grew up in densely populated suburbs and attended school in a large city, so utilizing alternate methods of transportation is typical for me. However, I’ve come to realize that in less densely populated areas and in the South in general, most people view a car as indispensable because other transit options are inadequate or non-existent. In addition, many military bases are located in places where the land is cheap, which also tend to be less-desirable places far from population centers.

I’d like to see a lot more people using a bicycle as a means of transportation on base. It makes a lot of sense because it fits into the military’s ideals of efficiency and physical fitness. A military base is actually a very socialist place. I estimate that nearly every soldier who lives on base at my installation, from Private to General, lives within 4 miles of his work. Families live close to schools and parks. A military base could be a cyclist’s paradise, but the cultural push and funding for bicycle infrastructure just doesn’t exist. The military is such a hierarchical institution that I think getting leaders on board with cycling could have a dramatic effect on getting everyone down to the lower enlisted at least thinking about riding a bike to work.

Car Considerations
I do plan on purchasing a car in the coming months for a number of reasons. Since I will move every 1-3 years for as long as I am in the military, I may find a car even more necessary if I move to a very isolated duty station. Additionally, at times I have to bring a lot of gear to work, which makes biking to work more difficult. Finally, it seems expected that an officer has a car for when they need to get somewhere on the other side of post or when they need to deal with an emergency situation.

I plan on minimizing car costs as much as possible by only using it when absolutely necessary. For work purposes, I can often carpool when I need to bring a lot of gear. I’m hoping that it is feasible to live in biking distance of my work at future duty stations as well. Therefore, I can minimize car use to only occasional weekend trips and road trips to other places when I feel the longing for a more metropolitan environment.
I’ve gotten by thus far by carpooling, biking, and using rental cars for weekend trips at a rate of about once every 2 months. However, my entire platoon is made up of my peers in this training environment, which makes it much easier to carpool. In the future I will not be able to carpool with enlisted members of my platoon. Additionally, since I am not responsible for anyone besides myself, I’ve yet to need a car for emergency situations. This will change at my next duty station.

Re: White Belt's Military Journey to FI

Posted: Sat Mar 26, 2016 10:00 am
by Gilberto de Piento
A common stereotype in the Army is the new soldier that blows his entire paycheck on car payments and gas for one of these high cost vehicles.
I wasn't in the military but this has been my observation. If you can avoid that you'll be ahead of the game.

Looks like you're doing great so far! Keep up the good work.

Re: White Belt's Military Journey to FI

Posted: Sun Apr 10, 2016 9:55 am
by gholden
I'm on my phone so its difficult to quote, but I will mention something about transportation.

I have lived as close to accross the street from my unit when I was living off-post in Germany (the Kaserne I worked at was inside city limits of where I lived and worked). I also have lived as far as 15 minutes away from my unit while still being on post (you will discover that many bases are big).

The "norm" if there is such a thing, is expect to be 20-30 minutes door to door. You certaintly can have longer commutes. I know a person here in Bragg now that lives in Raleigh and commutes EVERYDAY (that is a 1.5 hr commute each way). I've chosen to live just right outside the gate.

Biking to work can certaintly be an option, but it will depend on where you get stationed. Some places are more bike friendly than others.

FI: It's funny how time flies. Im actually sitting at 8 with 4 more years left in my commitment. I'm planning to stay at least until 20 for retirement. I really love what I do. Always remember that the military is what you make of it. YOU have to actively manage your career, or else you leave your future assignments, choices, etc. to someone else. If you have any questions, feel free to PM me. Good luck in this journey. :)

Re: White Belt's Military Journey to FI

Posted: Sun Apr 10, 2016 2:55 pm
by Noedig
Hey White Belt, interesting journey you are on there.

You seem to have decided to stay in the military for your career. I truly have very little idea of how that would compare to having a mere job. I think it must offer certain supports and also pressures of which those of us outside, have no inkling. Tell us of those, if you think fit.

Glad you love it. It sounds like you have yet to acquire, er, personal commitments: those have a way of changing things when they come along!

Clear goals and an environment that is friendly to self-disclipline: soldier, something tells me you are going to achieve FI without stress. All the best.

Re: White Belt's Military Journey to FI

Posted: Sun Jun 19, 2016 6:00 pm
by white belt

I’m still alive. I spent the past few months preparing for, participating in, and then getting dropped from the Army’s premier small unit leadership and tactics school. For a lot of that time I wasn’t focusing much on ERE stuff, although I probably gained some experience applying the principles of stoicism. For now I’m grateful to be back to “normal” life.

Financial Snapshot
Net Worth: 58000
Monthly Income: 3700

Net Worth
Vanguard (~39k)
-VFIAX: 12760
-VBMFX: 4220
-VTIAX: 9570
-Traditional IRA (VTSAX and Money Market): 12300

TSP (~14k)
-G Fund: 11000
-I Fund: 2910

Bank (~8k)
-Checking: 4000
-Savings: 4000

My net worth has actually gone up, even though I spent money on preparing for the course and then buying a car. I’m trying to get back into the swing of cooking at home and hobbies I’ve been neglecting.

The biggest change in the past couple of weeks (aside from what I mentioned above), is I got a car! I scoured the internet for a used hatchback and managed to find a 2005 Pontiac Vibe with manual transmission on eBay. Thanks to the help of a friend I spent a few days learning how to drive it and now I’m pretty comfortable. The car has 120k miles and I’m hoping to at least make it last to 200k. I roughly estimate that I will drive 10k miles a year, so that means hopefully the car can last me at least 8 years.

I still plan to primarily commute to work by bicycle, but the car will be used for the occasions when I’m required to go to remote corners of base or haul a lot of gear. Additionally, I can use it on weekends for the occasional road trip, which gives me a lot more flexibility than rental cars. Finally, I will use it in a couple of months to move to my next duty station.

One of my goals is to learn basic auto maintenance skills, so in the coming weeks I’m looking forward to gaining some experience while also improving my car for years to come. I’ve included the costs of parts and upgrades that I plan on completing before I move in late July or August.
So far I’ve changed the cabin air filter, rear windshield wiper, and topped off some fluid levels. In the coming weeks before I move I plan on doing the following:

-Install new stereo - 88
-Change oil+filter - 25
-Change gear oil - 45
-Change spark plugs -30
-Change engine air filter - 13
-Install tow hitch, wiring, etc – 135?

I’ve ordered most of these parts off Amazon and thanks to the internet and a repair guide, I’m feeling somewhat knowledgeable. I plan to utilize the auto skills center on post for most of the repairs. I haven’t been there before, but they should be able to help me with any specialized tools that I may need.

Here is what the car has cost me so far (not including gas):
-Purchase Price – 4050
-Registration – 38
-New Tires+Install – 576
-Belt Replacement - 85
-Cabin Air Filter – 7
-Windshield Wiper Fluid – 2
-Coolant - 10
-Total – 4768

I went with USAA insurance because I have heard good things about it, but I will likely shop around some more once I move. I primarily carry liability insurance, along with some renter’s insurance to cover the cost of military gear getting stolen/destroyed, and finally umbrella insurance for a total of $75 a month.

My bike was out of commission for a few weeks because of repeat flats on my rear tire. Upon further inspection, it turns out that the rim tape had a small tear, which was causing the rim to rub on the tube from the inside. I replaced the rim tape with some Velox cloth rim tape, which seems to work a lot better. I’m happy to be riding again rather than driving/walking everywhere.

Upcoming Stuff
In the next couple of months I will be moving again. This time I think I’ve got the PCS process dialed in to maximize my allowances. I’m trying to work out a roommate situation with a buddy of mine who is also moving soon, if things fall into place than I expect my rent to be around $400 before utilities (BAH for the area is $900). In other words, not as sweet of an arrangement as I have now, but still pretty good.
I’m still trying to figure out the best way to track my expenses. I like Mint, but it is still hard to dial in exact expenses for a specific period of time because of how it categorizes credit card purchases (it doesn’t seem to count a purchase as an expense until I pay my credit card bill). The next update will have a breakdown of all my expenses.

Re: White Belt's Military Journey to FI

Posted: Sun Jun 19, 2016 6:10 pm
by white belt
gholden wrote:I'm on my phone so its difficult to quote, but I will mention something about transportation.

I have lived as close to accross the street from my unit when I was living off-post in Germany (the Kaserne I worked at was inside city limits of where I lived and worked). I also have lived as far as 15 minutes away from my unit while still being on post (you will discover that many bases are big).

The "norm" if there is such a thing, is expect to be 20-30 minutes door to door. You certaintly can have longer commutes. I know a person here in Bragg now that lives in Raleigh and commutes EVERYDAY (that is a 1.5 hr commute each way). I've chosen to live just right outside the gate.

Biking to work can certaintly be an option, but it will depend on where you get stationed. Some places are more bike friendly than others.

FI: It's funny how time flies. Im actually sitting at 8 with 4 more years left in my commitment. I'm planning to stay at least until 20 for retirement. I really love what I do. Always remember that the military is what you make of it. YOU have to actively manage your career, or else you leave your future assignments, choices, etc. to someone else. If you have any questions, feel free to PM me. Good luck in this journey. :)
Thanks for the input. Doing some recon of my next duty station, it looks like I will still be able to bike to work when possible even though I will technically live off post. I may resort to leaving my car at work during the week depending on if I need the car to drive around base during the workday.

Noedig wrote:Hey White Belt, interesting journey you are on there.

You seem to have decided to stay in the military for your career. I truly have very little idea of how that would compare to having a mere job. I think it must offer certain supports and also pressures of which those of us outside, have no inkling. Tell us of those, if you think fit.

Glad you love it. It sounds like you have yet to acquire, er, personal commitments: those have a way of changing things when they come along!

Clear goals and an environment that is friendly to self-disclipline: soldier, something tells me you are going to achieve FI without stress. All the best.
I'm still very new to this whole military officer thing, so take my opinion with a grain of salt. The military is viewed as a more of a profession than a job. What that translates to is longer hours, harder work, but also more personal growth and satisfaction. Although everyone values self-discipline on the job, off duty I'd say it is selectively applied (consumerism runs strong in the military). Additionally, in my job field we spend quite a bit of time away from home in austere training environments, which can lead to one developing a YOLO attitude on off days when it comes to spending money.

Re: White Belt's Military Journey to FI

Posted: Sun Jun 19, 2016 7:52 pm
by Dragline
This is a great journal. Thanks for creating it.

Re: White Belt's Military Journey to FI

Posted: Sun Sep 11, 2016 8:13 pm
by white belt
Financial Snapshot
Net Worth: 68500

Vanguard (~41k)
-VFIAX: 13000
-VBMFX: 4200
-VTIAX: 10200
-Traditional IRA (VTSAX and Money Market): 12700

TSP (~18.5k)
-G Fund: 15000
-I Fund: 3000

Bank (~10.5k)
-Checking: 6000
-Savings: 4000

August 2016 Income: 3800
August 2016 Expenses: 2500

I know that this isn’t a detailed breakdown of my expenses, although I expected August's numbers to be inflated because of moving expenses (which I will eventually be reimbursed for). I’m still working towards getting a better handle on monitoring my expenses. I can tell when I’ve been spending more than usual based on the frequency I go out for food/drinks, etc. Although I use Mint, I’ve never closely scrutinized every expense. However, I know this will probably help to give me the motivation to change some of my habits that I’ve fallen into.

Work Life
Being the new guy at work can be frustrating, but I’m starting to get the hang of things. It is a stressful work environment with at times irregular hours, particularly during rotations in which we work for 14 days straight. I’m still working on ways to reduce stress in a healthy way and maintain a work/life balance. My immediate supervisor is very good at his job, but I can tell lets his work take over his life and is very stressed.

I haven’t really been doing many value-creating hobbies in my spare time. I think having hobbies that give me a sense of satisfaction will help me with work/life balance. However, I’m unsure of what I want to do. Past hobbies that have brought me satisfaction include playing guitar and practicing Chinese. Hunting and fishing are very popular in this area and the idea of preparing something that I catch/kill to me is appealing, but I haven’t taken the plunge yet. Maybe I’ll start with fishing, as it has lower barriers to entry.

ERE Mating
I’ve been listening to quite a few of the "Mating Grounds" podcast and even have read some of Tucker Max’s book Mate. It appeals to me as it illustrates an empirically backed strategy to increasing mate value. It’s a systems approach, much like ERE is a systems approach that leads to a richer life (both financially and otherwise). I haven’t gotten to the synthesizing phase yet with all of this new information, but I know that the Mate system is intertwined with the ERE system. I look forward to writing more about how the systems fit together.

In terms of mating markets, the area I live in, although perhaps better than an offshore oil rig with no women, is plain awful. I live on a military base in a rural area (I estimate that the single male to single female ratio is in the range of 10 to 1). It is difficult to participate in activities in which women also participate because of my geographic isolation and irregular work schedule. I haven’t figured out a way to establish even casual relationships in cities 300+ miles away that I may only visit once every couple of months. Every problem has a solution, and I have a feeling I can eventually figure this one out as well.


I changed my own oil for the first time and my car is running a lot more smoothly. I’ve been driving a lot more since moving to my new base, and have averaged ~1100 miles a month. I’m hoping to reduce that mileage by only commuting one roundtrip a day and biking on days that I can. I need to keep my car at work, but I’ve come up with a plan where I can ride at least one way each day that I’m not in rotation.

City Life
I’ve been listening to a few podcasts about urban development and reading a lot of articles on Streetsblog. I spent my entire life up until last year living in densely populated areas, which I of course only began to appreciate after living in sparsely populated army bases in the south. I like everything the city offers, from transportation to social connectivity to energy. I know that I will return to the city after I leave active duty.

Re: White Belt's Military Journey to FI

Posted: Tue Sep 13, 2016 6:13 am
by FBeyer
white belt wrote:... I’m still working on ways to reduce stress in a healthy way and maintain a work/life balance...
My best tactic for maintaining some peace when not at work, is to reduce the amount of obligations/things you have to maintain to an absolute minimum. Say no a lot. Refuse to get things that need maintenance.

If your private life has very very few obligations, then at any time you need to sit still for two hours and do NOTHING, absolutely nothing, you won't be pushing chores into the future, where a future you will have to deal with it. If your free time is totally free you cannot waste it, you can spend it any way you choose.

It's the simplest solution I've found to an incredibly annoying problem.

In case you're too itchy to do nothing I advice exercise and/or meditation daily to relieve stress. 20 minutes should be plenty so you won't be spending all day recuperating. In case you think meditation is something for chakra-believing incense-smelling hippies, know this: I'm a caricature of an ENTJ personality. I'm a scientist. I care only for what works and mostly for what works most effectively. Meditation fucking rocks! ... indfulness

Re: White Belt's Military Journey to FI

Posted: Sun Sep 18, 2016 6:30 pm
by white belt
@FBeyer I'm familiar with the benefits of meditation and I plan on trying to make it part of the daily routine.

In my quest move towards ERE Wheaton Level 7 (see here) in all life areas, I’ve decided to organize my list (web) of goals in a different manner. That is, I plan on categorizing them by the areas that make up the Renaissance man framework. They are the following:

• Physiological
• Intellectual
• Economic
• Emotional
• Social
• Technical
• Ecological

The idea is to focus on improving my life in the above areas, which will then result in saving more money. I feel like in the past I’ve been focusing too much on financial goals as an end to themselves. I don’t want to be only a salary man; in the long term I think that will have a net negative impact on my well-being. Eventually I will achieve financial independence, but by that point I hope that the Renaissance ideal has become second nature.

First, I will try to offer analysis of my current status in regards to each of those areas. Each area of course has room for improvements, but the breakdown goes as follows:

• Physiological
• Economic

I exercise regularly, eat somewhat of a Paleo diet, and have good sleep habits. I also have a pretty good bearing on where my money goes and have distanced myself from consumerist habits.

Middle Ground
• Intellectual
• Technical

I have been working on learning basic technical skills, particularly bicycle repair and car repair. My job can also be intellectually engaging as I often am challenged to learn about new subject areas.

Weaknesses (most room for improvement)
• Emotional
• Social
• Ecological

I need to work on improving my social intelligence and strengthening my social network. Although I have cursory knowledge of environmental issues, I have little knowledge about the natural world, gardening, local ecosystems, etc.

I will go into more detailed plans about how I specifically hope to improve each area in the coming days.

Re: White Belt's Military Journey to FI

Posted: Sun Oct 07, 2018 5:15 pm
by white belt
I am happy to resurrect my journal from the dead. A quick summary of the past few years:

I've been focusing on my full time job and my social life with financial independence more in the periphery. I did improve a lot my social/interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence, however I didn't focus too much on my spending. According to Mint, I spent an average of ~30k a year between 2016 and 2018. My current net worth is $133k. Fortunately, being in the military is a multi-dimensional job which means even though I mostly just focused on work, as a result I also improved my social skills, intellectual skills, mental toughness, and physical fitness.

My new monthly budget is as follows:

Rent+Utilities - $700
Phone - $40
Insurance - $75
Gas - $100 (average of last 12 months)
Auto Maintenance - $30 (estimated)
Groceries - $400
Restaurants/Social - $150
Dating - $50
Music/VPN - $15
Shopping/other - $40
Travel - $200

Total: $1800 a month

Note that for 2018 I've been averaging $2500 a month in spending, so this will be a >25% reduction in expenses. So far I'm on track for October after the first week.

I'll go into more details about each area of my budget in a later post, but for now I just wanted to get it on paper.

My income is $5500 a month, but I am changing jobs and get a raise in November so my new income will be almost $6500 a month.

Re: White Belt's Military Journey to FI

Posted: Sun Oct 07, 2018 8:30 pm
by white belt
A more detailed breakdown of my expenses:

Rent+Utilities - $700
I currently live in my own apartment, but I am moving at the end of the month. I will be living with a roommate in a 3 bedroom house, which should drop my rent/utilities to around $600. If we can find a third roommate it will drop to around $400.

Phone - $40
I have a pay as you go AT&T phone, with 2G of data a month I believe. AT&T has the best cell coverage in my neck of the woods and I almost never run out of data. This also allows me to have an iPhone (purchased an SE for $200 at Walmart) without the stupid expensive contracts. I am a budding privacy/security enthusiast so I prefer the iPhone to an Android device.

Insurance - $75
This is includes an Umbrella Policy for up to $2 million, along with the minimum Liability Insurance I need to get an Umbrella Policy through USAA. I'll be re-examining this when I move in the next month because it might be overkill. I'm just pretty paranoid about being sued for something and I think this provides me some good piece of mind. I'm also going to shop around and see if I can get a better deal at my new house, but I hear USAA generally has the most competitive rates for military members.

Gas - $100
Gas prices are on the rise, so this might go up or I will just end up driving less. My new house is biking distance from work, so I will be putting a lot less miles on my Pontiac Vibe. Right now, a lot of that gas goes towards taking weekend trips to cities because of the geographical isolation of my current base.

Auto Maintenance - $30 (estimated)
I do all of my own routine maintenance on my Vibe with 150k miles on it. Last month I had an oil leak that I could not locate which caused a few other issues. I was actually at a school at a different Army base, so I had to pay to get it fixed on post. They fixed it without charging much for labor, so I'm happy and don't anticipate any major issues for the next few months. Note that this cost fluctuates each month, depending if I change oil, filters, etc. This month I plan on changing the cabin air filter and engine air filter ($18 of parts).

Groceries - $400
I'm still trying to get a more accurate idea of grocery costs in a typical month. In the past a lot of my expenses have come from eating out, so I've really made a deliberate effort to cook more. I eat a lot of grassfed meat and organic vegetables; and just a lot of calories in general because of my activity level. I think there's room for optimization in this once I get settled into my new place. In college I ate a lot of organ meats purchased from a local farmer, which really cuts down on the price of grassfed/pastured meat.

Restaurants/Social - $150
My new rule is that I will never eat out alone. I have no problem sharing the occasional meal to improve my social life, which is why I've combined the category. As it stands, I'm probably looking at eating 2-3 meals a week with other people. This allows me to get more variety in my cuisine and also develop my social network.

Dating - $50
This is more aspirational at the moment, since I've only gone on one date in the past 2 months. Dating is not expensive, but I like have some money set aside for cheap first dates.

Music/VPN - $15
Music is my big hobby and I don't watch TV or have any Netflix, so a lot of my relaxation time at home is spent listening to Spotify. VPN for privacy and security.

Shopping/other - $40
These are the small expenses that don't fall neatly into any categories. For example, in the past month I've purchased linseed oil, lighter fluid, and elmer's glue to clean and set-up my acoustic guitar. I've also purchased new toothbrushes.

Travel - $200
I anticipate this expense to drop once I move to my new duty station, which is less isolated than my current one. This money usually goes towards hotels/Airbnbs or the occasional plane ticket to visit my friends and family back home. I do have some travel rewards credit cards that helps to mitigate some of this expense as well.

Re: White Belt's Military Journey to FI

Posted: Sun Oct 14, 2018 5:16 pm
by white belt
A Current Snapshot

I do find my job rewarding, but it is also very demanding. The hours are long (50-70 hours a week) and I get paid salary. However, I am starting a new job next month which I believe will be less hours, although it is likely I will deploy at some point. I do like that my job helps me develop interpersonal skills and allows me to incorporate many different things while emphasizing self-improvement.

Social Life
My job affects my social life negatively. Specifically, I have to work on Army bases which are generally far away from urban centers and boast a dismal single male to single female ratio. This means a lot of the cheap/free activities that a city offers are not available to me and that I have to rely on a car for transportation. Additionally, it means that there is just less diversity in people and activities. I like playing music and cities generally offer vibrant networks of jam sessions and open mic nights for me to gain experience and meet other musicians. Not to mention having to wake up at 5AM everyday can put a damper on social activities on weeknights.

My biggest hobby that I am starting to get back into is guitar. I did it a lot when I was in high school and have been meaning to get back into it for a long time. Right now I’m just practicing on my own, but when I get to my new duty station I will try to play out. GAS for musicians if very real and I’m trying to figure out the bare necessities I need to pursue my hobby and the best way to resource those things. I used to DIY a lot of stuff in college and I’d like to get back into doing that. I guess that counts as a hobby, although sometimes it’s done by necessity. I still have all the tools to make wine so I think I’ll make up a batch next week. I also do basic maintenance on my guitars and car. I also lift weights and exercise, but a lot of that is also part of my work. I do enjoy it, but I don’t really think of it as a hobby.

I’ve thought before that if I could do my job and live in a normal city, then that would be the ideal life for me. I’d be able to have the rewarding 9-5 while also having a rewarding life outside of work. In my line of work, location-independence is not an option so I think a semi-retirement is my best course of action.

Ideal Semi-Retirement

I’m planning a semi-retirement because I don’t have enough money saved to completely rely on my SWR and my current understanding of ERE is that SWR is best thought of as a back-up.

I realize that my interests and desires change quite a bit over the years. Therefore, is impossible for me to predict what I will want to do even 10 years from now and I don't want to pick a strategy that will lock me into a specific lifestyle. For these reasons, my guiding principles are flexibility and risk-mitigation (anti-fragility). I want a plan that is resilient and at the same time leaves as many doors open as possible for future opportunities. The time window I'm looking at is January 2021 for my date when I will leave full time employment. For now, I will just focus on the first year of semi-retirement. I also will not make any drastic moves in my first year of semi-retirement that may lock me in to a specific lifestyle.

I plan on moving back to the large city where my parents and many of my friends currently live. I grew up in the suburbs and attended college in the city so I am very familiar with the area. This will allow me to get rid of my car and also minimize some expenses, but my rent will probably increase unless I can score a good living situation with some friends. I plan on living in an apartment with 2-3 other roommates for the first year just to get my bearings.

The big focus for my first year is re-integrating back into civilian life and practicing music. I am a little concerned about the disconnect I feel with my millennial yuppie friends because of how divergent my military career is from the life that they experience. I think serving in the NG/Reserves will help to provide some comfort in the transition. Pursuing other hobbies will also help me to make new friends.

When I was in high school and singularly focused on getting into music school, I drew inspiration from a blog called From the Woodshed. The author of the blog was a software engineer who saved enough money to take a year off from work and focus all his efforts on practicing guitar. His insights inspired me to pursue deep practice in the same way, while also learning from his failures. He admitted that although the year of full-time practice was helpful, he would have grown even more if he had played more with other musicians. I will take advantage of open jams and open mic nights at first, which allow me to perform and meet other people at almost no cost.

My daily (Monday-Friday) schedule will consist of 4 hours of deep practice with meals interspersed, followed by exercise for ~90 min. 3 times a week I will go to jam sessions, typically 2 per a night at locations that are close enough for me to bike/use public transit. 1 night a week I’d like to volunteer at a community bicycle repair workshop. The other 3 nights are deliberately left open to pursue whatever opportunities that present themselves.

I have an interest in multi-family real estate investing. I am unsure at this point if it is for me, but I would like to research it in my particular market. I will dedicate some time each week to connect with other small time multifamily investors and learn everything I can. If it is a good fit for me, in year 2 or year 3 I may purchase a property.

Right now, I do not plan on really solely on a SWR to fund my lifestyle. For one, I will use the $200k figure as a ball park for my net worth come my retirement date, which is conservative but I am operating under the assumption that the stock market will tank at some point in the next couple of years. Most of my assets at this time are index funds. At least for the first couple of years, I'd like to explore not working full-time. Here is how I will pay for it:

-NG/Reserves drill pay before tax (18.5k)
-1% SWR (2k)

Drilling in the NG/reserves should smooth the transition from active duty to civilian life. Additionally, it gives me access to comprehensive healthcare for only $50 a month and allows me to build a social network for full-time jobs (AGR, Contractor/Gov't) This involves drilling for a 3 or 4 day weekend monthly, with a 2-4 week block of annual training (typically in a summer month). The Guard is increasing their number of training days each year, which is bad for people with full time jobs but will be good for me since I'll be able to make more money. I'm assuming 50 training days a year, but the reality is it varies from 39-60 depending on the training cycle. My pay before taxes would be ~$18.5k. Note that there is still the possibility of a deployment every 4-5 years, which will require 6-12 months straight of working (with commensurate pay). Right now I am okay with that, but I will research more and perhaps try to pick a unit that deploys less often.

Ideally, I’d like to move towards not touching any of my savings, but I’m ok with withdrawing a little bit of cash for the first couple of years while I develop my other streams of income.

I’m still uncertain of my exact spending in my semi-retirement, but I’m using the ballpark figure of $18000 in expenses per year. Compared to my lifestyle now, I will save money in some areas and spend more in others. This will likely come down after the first year and I learn how to optimize my new lifestyle.

Emergency/Escape plan (full-time jobs)
1. Contractor/Government job using TS Clearance
2. Other network security/project management job
3. AGR job (Active duty while in the Guard/Reserves)

Based on what I’ve heard, 1 and 2 are easy to come by for someone with my experience. 3 requires more political jostling and probably is not possible within my first couple of years of moving back to my home state.

Re: White Belt's Military Journey to FI

Posted: Sun Oct 14, 2018 8:05 pm
by Kriegsspiel
I like it. Looking back, I wish I had transitioned into the Guard after active duty, and after a few years of civilian work, do the semi-retired Guard-only lifestyle you're talking about. I believe Bakari (on the MMM forums/his blog) did that with the Coast Guard reserve. He also bought a multifamily property to house hack.

Re: White Belt's Military Journey to FI

Posted: Thu Nov 22, 2018 6:06 pm
by white belt
October Report

Only 3 weeks late, but still counts.

Income (after-tax): 4778.67
Expenses: 2119.07
Savings: 2659.6
Savings rate: 55.7%

Current NW: 129110

That savings rate is more on FIRE levels than ERE levels, however I'm working on bumping it up. Right now I don't see an easy way to develop other income sources outside my job, so I'm working on reducing spending by doing even more DIY. This weekend I will do some maintenance on my guitar and car.

My spending in November looks like it is about on par with October, however my after-tax income should increase by $800 a month with my move to a new location and raise. The increase in income should push me over a 60% savings rate without any decreases in expenses. My goal is to get to a 70% savings rate by the New Year, which means monthly expenses of around $1700. I have some work to do.

I've relocated for my new job but haven't really started any work because I've been working through the plethora of bureaucratic in-processing requirements. I have met my new boss and coworkers and they seem like nice people. More to follow because I believe I will start doing actual work next week. I haven't quite settled into a routine yet, but it appears that my job will be close to a normal 9-5 with weekends off.

I'm living with a roommate in a 4 bed/2 bath house. Current rent+utilities is $575 each a month. We are trying to find a 3rd roommate to take that number down to $385 a month.

Additionally, someone down the street was moving out and left a pile of "trash" at the curb. My roommate and I found a fully functional vacuum cleaner, cleaning supplies, laundry detergent, a shelf, outdoor supplies, and spray adhesive. This is my first experience getting free stuff from the curb and I will be on the lookout for more furniture for our house.

My car needs some minor repairs and maintenance. I plan on changing oil, re-attaching the splashguard, rotating tires, and inspecting the brakes this weekend. Luckily there is a place on post where I can rent a lift and use tools for a few dollars. My house is a 10 minute bike ride from my job, which means I will be able to bike to work pretty often. I think there is a locker room where I can store my uniforms for the week as well.

I'm on the search for a local source of grassfed/pastured meat because the nearby grocery stores don't seem to carry it at reasonable prices. I have a few leads and will check out the local farmer's market this weekend. My longer term aspiration is to learn how to hunt, which will provide cheap meat and fits into my web of goals nicely because I already have some experience shooting and being outdoors from my current job. There are many people in the military who hunt, so as I develop my social network here I will keep my eyes open.

Social Life
I'm in a new location so it will take me some time to make new friends. I've been perusing a few dating apps here and the good news is that this area looks a lot more promising than my last duty station.

I'm working on developing my new guitar practice routine. There is a weekly blues jam which I plan on attending next week for the first time. It's exciting and also nerve-wracking to think about playing with other people again.

Other Streams of Income
My income is all from my salary job. This weekend I'm looking to sell off some items on eBay to downsize and also give me some extra cash. Some of the proceeds from selling guitar gear may go back into buying different gear at some point.

My new life facilitates my web of goals a lot more than my previous work/life situation. I'm excited to boost my savings rate and continue developing skills. Additionally, I've been revisiting the ERE book and really trying to better implement the strategies into my own life. I will follow up with some of my thoughts in a later post.

Re: White Belt's Military Journey to FI

Posted: Thu Nov 22, 2018 6:16 pm
by white belt
Gravy Train wrote:
Tue Oct 16, 2018 4:48 pm
Hey white belt, fellow TSP'er here. Why are you contributing to the G Fund? Seems a bit conservative for your age.
Good question.

I actually have since converted all of my TSP to a mix of the C and S Funds in a 4:1 ratio to mimic VTSAX. I went 100% stocks in the TSP because I now plan on not touching the funds until I'm at the traditional retirement age. The expense ratios are lower than the private sector and there is no way to do penalty-free withdrawals without first converting it to an IRA when I leave active duty, which I won't want to do because of the lower expense ratio. I will exhaust all of my taxable accounts and IRAs if I need to until I reach the traditional retirement age and touch my TSP (which is still ~35 years away).

My investment "philosophy" has been to dump money into index funds and bonds at an 80/20 ratio, which I know will not work forever. I need to learn more about investing, but for now I've mostly just been focused on accumulating as much money as I can.

Re: White Belt's Military Journey to FI

Posted: Sun Dec 02, 2018 6:40 pm
by white belt
November Report

Income (after-tax): 6375.4
Expenses: 2070.75
Savings: 4304.65
Savings rate: 67.5%

Current NW: 138,250

Income Breakdown
Paycheck - 4937
Moving Profit - 1438.4

The moving profit is a nice bonus for moving all of my own stuff rather than doing it at the government's expense. I also sold a guitar pedal online for around $40, but since I didn't get paid yet I will include it in December's report. I have a few other items to list so hopefully I can make some side income and get rid of extra stuff.

Expense Breakdown
Housing - 703
Restaurants - 323
Groceries - 228
Shopping/other - 208
Alcohol/Social - 202
Dating - 139
Travel - 114
Gas - 67
Cell Phone - 43
Internet - 23
Music - 10

Total: ~2071

Housing is higher because it includes prorated rent for the end of October. The search continues for a third roommate to bring down housing+internet by another $200 a month. Currently my housing and utilities come out to $600 a month.

November included a week and a half spent back home, which helps to explain the inflated restaurant and alcohol/social numbers. I also had a weekend trip to visit some friends in a nearby city which explains the travel expenses and some of the gas expense. Even so, I didn't have to pay for lodging in either case, so really my expenses were rideshares, eating out, and bars for both of these trips. I can definitely trim down the alcohol expenses by just drinking less at bars. It looks like if I'm going out with friends from college, I'll spend about $25 at a bar typically. This is something I typically only do when I'm back home for the 2 weeks in the summer and winter.

I went on 2 dates that were relatively cheap, however I'm still having to rely on dating apps since I don't have another way to meet women. My current location is better than where I used to live, but it still has an extremely unfavorable single male to female ratio (for single males). At least I don't have to travel to nearby cities and get an Airbnb/hotel for dates so I guess that's better.

The biggest chunk in the Shopping/other category was the $100+ I had to spend on new uniforms. Yay paying out of pocket for job-related expenses.

November Reflection
-lifting: I've been lifting consistently and I've been building my strength back up. I've also gained another 5 lbs of (mostly) muscle, which is a great start to my goal of getting bigger/faster/stronger
-travel: I managed to not spend anything on lodging for two great trips thanks to my social network
-financial tracking: This is the first month where I've really taken a deep dive into seeing where every dollar goes

-guitar practice: I haven't stuck to a daily routine and haven't managed to play at the blues jam, although I went for the first time last week just to watch/listen
-social network: I haven't really made friends at my new duty station, but I know that takes time and I've only been here a couple of weeks
-restaurants: I'm still spending more than I would like eating meals out by myself

Looking Ahead
I'm starting to settle into a work routine here, so I think this week I will be able to begin bike commuting. I still have some DIY projects to finish up on my guitar and haven't gotten to my car maintenance yet. I'll definitely do it before I had back home for the holidays. My goal for December is to get to a 60% savings rate (which I was only able to do for November because of the extra moving income). I'll also do a deep dive into my investment allocation in preparation for the end of the year.

Re: White Belt's Military Journey to FI

Posted: Sat Feb 02, 2019 5:07 pm
by white belt
It’s been a few months since I last updated my journal. I’ll start with a rundown of my January expenses, (haven’t compiled December Expenses, but it looks about on par with November).

January Report

Expense Breakdown

Housing - 350
Insurance - 54
Internet - 23
Cell Phone - 18
Music - 9

Groceries – 461
Dating – 204
Restaurants – 131
Shopping/other - 70
Alcohol - 46
Gas/Travel - 35

Total: 1401

The big news is that we found a 3rd roommate, which is why my housing expenses dropped by $200 a month. He hasn’t fully moved in yet, but offered to pay for all of January’s rent. This brings my rent to $350 per month and internet to $15 per month starting in February.

I’ve gotten a better hand on my insurance expenses and with the insight from this thread, lowered some of my premiums. That $54 includes auto (liability), renters (required for umbrella), and umbrella coverage.

I changed phone plans from AT&T prepaid to Mint Mobile, which dropped my phone bill by $25. The coverage is slightly worse on some parts of post, but overall the service is comparable.

My grocery expenses were higher this month than usual, but that’s because I cooked almost all of my meals. Additionally, I stocked up on a lot of frozen grassfed beef because it was in stock at the Commissary for $6 a pound.

My dating life was pretty active in January which helps to explain those expenses. I’m spending an average of $30 on a date, which I could probably lower by splitting first date expenses instead of paying for the whole thing. Perhaps because it’s mostly that I’m dating younger girls or that gender roles are more traditional in the South, but I’d say in my experience only 1 in 5 women even offer to split on a first date. I fully expect to pay for a first date every time. Right now, over a third of my dating expenses go towards dating apps. Unfortunately, since my mating market is so unfavorable and I lack a strong social network to meet women, these are necessary expenses. I’m hoping in the coming months to diversify away from just meeting girls from dating apps.

I counted 21 meals that I didn’t cook myself this month, 9 of which were in the first week of the month when I was traveling or before I had a chance to restock on groceries. 3 of the meals were eaten with coworkers and 1 was on a date (she paid for her own food so I didn’t categorize this as dating). The average cost per meal was $6.24, although I’ll admit a few (not Paleo) Little Caeser’s pizzas are driving that cost pretty low because I can get 2 meals for ~$5. Overall, I’ve been very successful over the past 3 weeks preparing all of my meals for the work week, but next month I’d like to reduce the number of meals eaten out alone to below 10.

Alcohol expenses were low this month mostly because I didn’t do any drinking at bars other than first dates (those costs I include under dating). I think if I can get a friend group that I can socialize without having to spend every Friday and Saturday night at a bar then I’ll be in pretty good shape to keep these numbers low.

I didn’t travel anywhere that required me to pay for overnight lodging this month, so all of that $35 is gas. I’ve been commuting the 5 mile roundtrip 4-5 days a week on my bike, which has really cut down my gas consumption. I actually really look forward to the bike ride and it makes those weekend car trips much more enjoyable. I know my travel expenses won’t be this low every month but my gas and vehicle maintenance expenses should remain pretty low with me driving less.

Expenses Summary
This month was a rousing success. Not only is $1400 the least I’ve ever spent in a month, but I managed to implement a lot of the changes that I’ve been talking about for so long. I cooked way more of my meals, bike commuted, and slashed some of my recurring expenses. I even cut my own hair for the first time since moving here. I’m looking forward to maintaining these habits and my goal is to keep expenses below $1500 for February.

Income Summary
I’m not going to document any of my income unless it comes from a source outside of my W2 job. I work salary and my pay is set by government regulation, so I don’t have a ton of control over my income anyway. Over the long run, I’ll be working on developing other sources of income and exploring ways to increase my income.

Net Worth Summary
I’m closing in on $150k net worth, which I might reach in the next month or two depending on if the stock market takes a shit. I don’t follow the markets too much because I’m just in index funds for now since I don’t yet possess the knowledge to pursue another investing strategy. I have one of the Econ textbooks that Jacob recommends on my shelf and I will get to it once I’m finished my current nonfiction book.

Web of Goals
I did a little bit of lifting in January and followed somewhat of a guitar practice routine. My next moves are to lift 3 times a week and document my guitar practice sessions. I’m working towards playing at the local blues jam, which I perhaps could do now but I want to get more comfortable with a few tunes before going. I haven’t played on stage in probably 7 years.

January Reflection
-cooking meals at home
-bicycle commuting

-social network: reach out to make new friends and meet girls
-guitar practice: document each practice session, attend blues jam

I’ll do another post about some of the other thoughts rattling around my head and more detailed plans for February later this weekend.

Re: White Belt's Military Journey to FI

Posted: Sat Feb 02, 2019 10:54 pm
by white belt
Thoughts on Maximizing Military Income

As I stated above, my base pay is set by the DOD based on my rank and time in service. I have no way to increase this pay. I am also paid two allowances that are tax free: BAH (basic allowance for housing) and BAS (basic allowance for food). BAH is based on zip code and BAS is also tied to rank and time in service. Not that these allowances are paid every month irrespective of what I spend on housing or food, so I can keep any profit that I don’t spend on these expenses. I will primarily focus on BAH, as I’ve determined that there are ways to optimize this.

I’ve found that BAH in high cost areas is much more profitable than in low cost areas. For example, at my current duty station I am spending $350 a month on my room in a 4/2 house with 2 roommates and my BAH is $1300 a month, which means each month I pocket $950 ($11.4k annually). Not bad right?

But let’s say I live in an area with a lot higher BAH, like the DC metro area or Hawaii. In bases around the DC area, I might earn $2.2k in BAH and in Hawaii I’d get $3k in BAH. If I try to find a similar living situation of my own bedroom in a house/apartment shared with 2 other people, I use the conservative figure of $700 monthly rent (Craigslist perusing shows I could even find $600). In DC area I would pocket $1457 monthly ($17.4k annually) and in Hawaii I’d pocket $2279 monthly ($27.3k annually). Again, this allowance is tax free, which means I pocket 100% of those totals.

In summary, if I want to maximize my income at my next duty station, I should try to go to a high cost of living area. Note that I didn’t include the $6516 yearly I’d get in Hawaii for COLA because I’m assuming that this will actually cover more expensive food and gas, though it’s possible I would pocket some of this as well.

Now certainly there are ways to maximize bonus pay, official travel, and deployments to make more money. However, I’m not going to discuss them because the key point is that I get BAH no matter what (e.g.: even if I’m deployed for 9 months in a foreign country, I am still paid BAH for my home station). Other bonuses are just a sweetener. Additionally, maximizing BAH doesn’t require me to be away from home like traveling or a deployment.