3 Easy Steps to Passing the APFT

Odds are, if the name of this piece got your attention, you’re in bad shape. I’ve been there.

For many soldiers in the Guard and Reserves, the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) is the largest military source of anxiety. Weekend warriors find a way to be “too busy” to exercise, and subsequently struggle to pass the APFT. This can be fixed. It’s not a permanent problem unless you decide to let it plague your career.
My focus here is to help with two things. First, I’ll share 3 tips to help you pass an APFT with very little prep time. Secondly, I’ll share a modified list of 3 similar things that will keep you in shape year-round, so you’ll be ready for an APFT at any time.
Be advised, if you struggle with the APFT, the Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT) is going to kill you. Keep your eye on October 2020, and my blog – I’ll be preparing a similar piece designed for that test.

For now, we still live and die by the APFT though, so here we go.
In 2012, I moved from Oklahoma to Wisconsin. The Oklahoma Guard had created a medical military purgatory for me, so it took two years to clean up the paperwork and allow me to transfer. I did not work out during that period. You could imagine my disappointment when I got to my new unit and had to take a PT test. Surprise! No warning was given – just had to change into my PT uniform and give it a shot.

That day might be one of the top 3 most embarrassing days of my life. I knew I was better than my score, and I set out to prove it…quickly. I had 30 days to get ready. My program revolved around these 3 key practices.

1.) Set an alarm on your phone and do pushups every hour you’re awake.
2.) Start and finish every day with sit ups until you experience muscle failure.
3.) Run.

The push up event always surprises me when I grade PT tests. I’ll never stop being surprised when kids that weight 120 pounds can’t crank out more than 25 push ups. It’s a clear sign of simply not working out between drills. There’s no substitute for a good diet and daily exercise, but if you have a PT test coming up at your next drill, you don’t have time for the right way to work. You must cram for it. Here’s how. Set an alarm to go off when you wake up – and every hour after that you’re typically awake. When that alarm goes off, do pushups. Start with 5 at a time, work up to 10, then 15, etc. In a couple weeks, you’ll notice immediately when you start doing each set that you feel stronger and more comfortable. Feel free to take weekends off for recovery, but for this to get you any traction, you must do it every weekday. This should take about 15-30 seconds of your time while you’re awake. I don’t want you thinking or saying, “I don’t have time.” That’s complete BS.

Sit ups can be just as surprising. If I lined up ten soldiers and asked you to pick which 3 suck at sit ups based on their looks, you’d probably fail. There are some skinny folks out there who just suck. There are other soldiers built like tanks that can crank out 70 without breaking a sweat. Preparation is usually the difference-maker, like most things exercise related. Need to fix your sit ups before next drill? Start and finish every day with a set of sit ups that take you all the way to muscle failure. Chances are, if you decided to read this, that should take less than two minutes if you suck at them. Your benchmark – the thing to watch for – hitting muscle failure after the two-minute mark. This is a good indicator that you’re going to pass if you’re not running out of gas before the two-minute mark. Abs don’t need heal time – you want to break them down repeatedly. It’s okay to take weekends off, but at a minimum you must stick to this plan on the weekdays. This takes less then 10 minutes of your day, perhaps less than 5…don’t start with the “I don’t have time” crap.

So that leaves the run. The two-mile run is the most dreaded event. Running sucks. So, while fixing push ups and sit ups is easy and takes almost no time from you, this event can only be fixed one way. You must run. This can be tricky. I live in Wisconsin, so without a gym membership or a treadmill, I can’t get a lot of running done during winter. I pay $10 per month for a Planet Fitness membership. If you can’t afford that, find a nearby armory. If you live in the south, you can run outside pretty much year-round. Figure something out though and run 3 miles every other day. Put it in your schedule wherever you must, but it must be done.

Here’s why running 3 miles is crucial. If you only practice running the two required miles, all it takes is a head wind or a bad day to wreck the time you thought you’d have. Your brain will have you programmed to start quitting too early, and you will fail.

To get to a passing score quickly, divide your required time by 2 – then make it your goal to run three miles in that time. For example, if you need 16:00 to pass, then divide by 2 and that give you 8:00. So now your goal is to run 8-minute miles. Track the time after each mile. Pay attention to whether you’re meeting or exceeding your goal. The good news is that by running every other day, you are conditioning even if you’re not meeting or exceeding your goal. By simply getting out there and doing it, you will already be on the right track. Stretch your goals out so they are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and scheduled to time. For example, earlier I used the 16:00 example. If you need to get to where you can run 3 miles at 8 minutes a piece, take the difference of your old time and divide by 4. So, if your last run was 18:00, you were 2 minutes off. 2 divided by 4 is 0.5 (or a half). In this scenario, your week one goal should be to run your 3 miles 0.5 minutes faster, then week 2 should be another half a minute faster, and so on. The last week leading up to your PT test, if you’ve stuck to this plan, you should see gains. Best part is, because you conditioned to run 3 miles, when you hit the 1-mile mark, and feel you need to pick up the pace, this should not be a problem as you’d only have one mile left. Even while your muscles are resting from pushups and sit ups, you can still run without messing that up. Run a day, recover a day, run a day, recover a day. You should complete about 15 runs between drills assuming you have a month to prepare. If you stick to this, and don’t quit and make excuses, you will improve.

Remember, same rule applies to all three of these tricks…give yourself two days off before the PT test to be fully recovered. You don’t want to be sore for your APFT.
Even if you fail, if you put this in place, you will see improvement, and reduce the amount of work needed to pass if you repeat the process one more time. That should motivate you. Once you pass, it will be a huge relief – but you can’t stop for another year and put yourself back into this situation. You must sustain your improvements and set your goals higher. Passing is cool, exceeding the standard is better. Besides the annual test the unit makes you take, you’ll need to pass additional times to secure spots at schools. These schools are necessary for promotions.

Now that you aren’t in “cram mode” you can implement the following schedule to sustain your growth and get even better. We’re still working on push ups, sit ups, and the two-mile run. However, to get the best performance, you must work all the other muscles too. I designed a very, very simple schedule to get you started. Once you’ve become a full-blown gym rat, you can start doing your own thing. Everyone needs a starting point though and a schedule that’s easily compatible with busy personal schedules. Don’t try that old, “I don’t have enough time” crap. Wake up 30 minutes earlier and you can follow my plan. Either that or go to bed 30 minutes later. That’s the minimum amount of time necessary to take care of your body, but more is better if you can find a way. That doesn’t mean over-do it. That’s why I plan rest periods.

The schedule looks like this:
Monday – chest/tricep/abs
Tuesday – run 3 miles
Wednesday – legs/abs
Thursday – run 3 miles
Friday – back/bicep/abs
Saturday, Sunday – off, but stretching or even going for a short walk is better than doing absolutely nothing

To keep the schedule compatible with your schedule, plan each day’s activities to be 30 minutes.

On Monday, before you start any chest/tricep workouts, do push ups. It’s the exercise you are tested on, so use that to get to muscle failure before doing any bench press, dips, etc. Finish with sit ups until muscle failure.

On Tuesday, run 3 miles. Use extra time for stretching.

On Wednesday, do any and all leg exercises you can do, but do not run. Finish with sit ups until you encounter muscle failure.

On Thursday, do exactly what you did on Tuesday.

Friday will be curls, pull-downs, pull-ups – any back/bicep exercises you can do. Finish with sit ups until you hit muscle failure.

Recover on the weekends.

If you start this, and find you have more time than you realized or want to become a fitness freak, add to it, change it up, talk to your gym rat buddies…do whatever, but make it a part of your daily routine. Once you get to this point, that APFT is a minor detail. You’ll be pushing for 270 or better instead of just passing it.

This last piece of advice might be the most important detail of all these best-practices. Write down your goals and track your results. Perhaps weigh-in and record your weight too. Sometimes adding muscle and shedding fat can get you unplanned results as your body changes shape. You’ll like what you see in the mirror, but that’s just a fringe benefit. The success rate of people who write their goals down and track their progress is exponentially higher than people who don’t. Make a chart, download a fitness app, whatever it takes, but there’s no substitute for good old-fashioned pen and paper. Do it.

Know a battle buddy struggling with PT? Please share this with him or her. Please subscribe for easy access to future posts, and as always, I invite you to share your thoughts. Good luck!

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Can Everyone Really be a Millionaire?

When I watch the news, this is what I hear. Half the time, I hear Democrats trying to free up the 80% of America’s wealth being hoarded by less than 2% of the population – and the Republicans tricking their cult-following into believing that this is “socialism”. The other half of the time, I hear Democrats actually starting to endorse the “everything for free” campaign – and give Republicans credibility. It’s exhausting.

If you take the extremists out of both sides, I have a feeling there would be more agreeing than we’re used to seeing in our government – or maybe not. These thoughts flowed through my mind after listening to an NPR story the other day. After driving for nearly 15-20 minutes and letting these thoughts stream, I came up with an interesting question. What if everyone was a millionaire?

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Now, let me be clear. In my hypothetical scenario, I’ve removed all radical extremist propaganda. In my scenario, we did not all become wealthy by merely slicing up all the money and splitting it up equally (as Republicans accuse the Democrats of advocating). Additionally, everyone got wealthy by working their asses off (not inheriting it or being “gifted it” as many on the left imply is how all wealthy people became that way). No no no…let’s assume that everyone, starting now, everyone did the right thing in America.

  1. Everyone that could, worked.
  2. Everyone spent less than what they made.
  3. Everyone saved for retirement – aggressively.
  4. Everyone taught their kids this formula for kicking ass, and when they died, handed over their wealth to their kids and grandkids, who would eventually do the same.

Would we run out of money? Or would this ultimately over time chip away at that billionaires offshore bank accounts? I really don’t know the answer to this!

According to this piece on cheatsheet.com, America is worth about 23 trillion dollars. Money.com says America’s net value is about 84.9 trillion dollars. Federalreserve.gov says there’s about 1.7 trillion dollars in currency actually in circulation as of the beginning of this year.

Those numbers are all over the place as they speculate property value, value of assets, and straight cash. For the sake of this question I’m thinking about, let’s just simply go with the cash in circulation for our math.

Here’s what 1.7 trillion dollars looks like as a number: $1,700, 000, 000, 000.00

It’s nearly impossible for me to wrap my mind around that number, but we must. There are, according to this website, there are 252,063, 800 adults in America as of 2017…let’s just assume it’s close to that now. So check it – 1.7 trillion dollars divided between the over 252 million adults in the US is…

$6,744.32 per person. So married couples would be rocking a whopping $13,488.65 per household. This is simply cash – we haven’t counted any other assets.

If we count all assets, we can take that $85 trillion dollars and divide it between the adult population and get…

$336, 819.49 per person, with a married couple representing a sum of $673,638.98.

I’m not trying to kill you with numbers here, but before I continue trying to analyze the details of my question and subsequent thoughts, I just want to point out that according to more than a dozen similar articles I found, in 2017 the top 0.7% wealthiest people owned a little less than half the world’s wealth. Let me make it clear what that means. Of the $280 trillion of wealth apparently out there on the planet Earth in 2017 – less than 1% of our population as a planet accounted for $140 trillion of it. There were 7.53 billion people on planet Earth in 2017! So for those of you keeping score –

527,100,000 people on Earth had $140 trillion. The rest of the over 7 billion folks also had $140 trillion.

So before anyone gets ready to ball up their fists and fight about what this means, let’s just agree on two things. First of all, that’s gross income inequality no matter how you slice it. At the same time, not every single one of those 527 million folks with all the money are non-working assholes that didn’t earn it. Many might be, but they can’t ALL be. Either way, it’s irrelevant when it comes to my question – so let’s not polarize the real issue at hand.

Let’s get back on track. What would happen if everyone were a millionaire? What if excess were passed on generation after generation to equally responsible people – would we run out of money? Would we just print more?

close up photo of people holding usa flaglets
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The more I thought about this, and the more I think about it now, I really don’t know how to find out the answer to this. It gets even more confusing when I think about where money comes from. Check this out –

  1. America, according to what I referenced earlier, has a net worth of +84.9 trillion dollars.
  2. In america, according to what I referenced earlier, has about 1.7 trillion dollars actively circulating at this time.
  3. The treasury prints money – and also issues bonds when permitted to allow the government to borrow.

So here’s my NEW question. If America has a positive net worth, then this “debt” we hear so much about isn’t that big of a deal right? Or is it? How is it factored in?

I find myself wishing I graduated with an Economics degree rather than Political Science as I ponder these things. As little as I know about Economics and the way the world and currency work – I’m afraid to even guess.

As the political banter continues to escalate while America approaches another presidential election, I’ll be keeping my ears open for issues that pertain to this question and theme. Sure, you’ll never hear me argue that quality health care isn’t a human right, nor will you ever hear me denounce the value and importance of a college education – I think that healthcare and education are two of the greatest equalizers in this country when it comes to overcoming adversity, poverty, and countless other obstacles. I also acknowledge these two things account for A LOT of bankruptcy too.

Earlier, I used some loose stats to determine there’s not enough money in the America right now for everyone to have a million bucks in cash, nor are there enough “assets” for everyone to qualify as a millionaire. I guess I’m not surprised by that. It just makes me seriously wonder where all the money would come from to account for everyone’s millionaire status if we all suddenly did the right thing and we all passed wealth on to our children – where would the money actually come from? Would it just be numbers representing “worth” rather than actual monetary value? Does this same principle make America’s debt sort of a “figurative” number? If everyone in the world instantly called everyone on ALL their debts, is there enough currency to account for such an event?

My fear is that even if someone could explain this to me, I’d struggle to understand. Nonetheless, this is where your mind goes when you have a 30-minute drive home from work and insist on listening to audiobooks on personal finances.

 

Breaking Down the Cost of an Education

College is expensive. It can be argued whether or not it’s worth it, but most data tends to support a correlation between college degrees and higher lifetime earnings. According to a 2018 article in Forbes, “College graduates are 177 times more likely to earn $4 million or more.” In 2017, USA Today published an article saying the pay gap between college grads and everyone else was at an all-time high.

That being said, nothing is absolute. College isn’t for everyone. For those who choose to pursue it, the cost must be carefully assessed as well as a plan to pay for it. Those impressive earnings will translate to something meaningful much sooner if you graduate debt-free.

So think about that – going to college can exponentially increase your chances to build wealth – but graduating with a pile of debt can play a major role in delaying your progress. Understanding the cost of an education and your ability to acquire one without borrowing can spell retiring much earlier than most, or at least having the option.

Borrowing for School

The Student Loan Hero published some jaw-dropping stats in this post. Here are some highlights:

  1. The average class of 2018 graduate that borrowed for school finished with $29,800 of debt.
  2. There’s about $1.56 trillion in student debt right now; that’s $521 billion more than the total US credit card debt.
  3. 11.5% of all student loans are 90 or more days late right now.

I like to put it in these terms. If you borrow to pay for college, you graduate with an additional car payment…possibly an additional house payment, right when you hit the real world at that first job out of school.

Talk about slowing things down! This is anywhere from $200 to $500 a month you could be investing, or money you could be using to maximize any company benefits such as 401k, HSA, or discounted employee stock, etc.

If you don’t think that’s a big deal, think again. If you graduate college at the age of 22, and miss out on 10 years of investing because you have a student loan payment of $275 per month – that means when you turn 32 and finally pay the loan off, you missed out on having a nest egg worth $48,785.88. It gets worse…lets say you end up retiring at age 60. Had you started investing right out of college instead of paying that student loan, you’d have $609,312.96 by simply investing $275 per month over those 38 years. If you waited until you were 32 and eliminated your student loan debt, $275 per month would only be $284,943.55 when you turned 60. That’s over $300,000.00 of missed retirement money by simply having a $275 per month student loan payment for 10 years after you graduated. Crazy.

The Real Price of School

So how much does school cost? That’s tricky. Private universities, Ivy League schools – those are typically much more expensive that community colleges and state universities. Plus, living in dorms is more expensive than living at home, or living with roommates. Having said that, it’s obvious the cost varies, but we need some kind of number to work with.

According to the US News and World Report, nearly half of kids that went to school in-state lived at home or with parents, so keep that in mind when I roll their numbers out. A public in-state education averaged $9716. A public out-of-state education ran $21,629. A private school ran $35,676.

Using their average costs, I recommend breaking them down further to find out what you might realistically pay cash for. For example, if I know an education in my state at a public college would be close to $9716 if I lived at home, I need to understand that if that represents a 4-year-degree, that would be $2,429 per year, and if I’m taking the summer off, about $1214.50 per semester.

Now break it down further. A semester is typically 16 weeks. So now we’re looking at $75.91 per week. This math says that if you worked your butt off your senior year of high school and the summer before college, you could easily afford the first semester and write your own personal check for the tuition.

Insist on going out of state? Fine. Have it your way.

  1. 21,629/4=5407.25 per year
  2. 5407.25/2=2703.63 per semester
  3. 2703.63/16=168.98 per week

It’s more expensive, but it can be done. It takes planning, discipline, and probably more than anything, it takes parents that can compel their kids not to be morons; that is a TALL ORDER.

Obviously the private schools get much higher and can be in a league of their own as far as affordability, but there are ways to tackle that bear if you insist also.

Subsidizing the cost

If the deck is stacked against you, there are options. First of all, if you come from a family with no money, there are typically tons of grants and scholarships just for you. Simple Google searches will spit out so many results you’d never even be able to apply for them all because there are so many.

Really, the first step should be filling out a FAFSA. This is the gateway to the easiest free money if you’re low-income or have some qualifying special need.

As of this writing, you can join the National Guard and get a fat sign-on bonus, or up to $50k in student loan repayment – or in some cases, BOTH. Is it a sacrifice? Yes. I believe this is less of a sacrifice than being $40k in debt upon finishing school though…

Working at the school can often reduce costs too; these programs are usually offered after the FAFSA has been filled out, but every school website should have a link to get you the info as to what’s available.

Obviously, as much as it sucks, working full-time or part-time while being a student is a good way to avoid borrowing.

To me though, if your parents will let you, stay home and go to the closest school to their house. That itch to get out there and do life will feel overwhelming, but if you could equate your decision to $300k extra money at some point in your life, it might help.

Know anyone thinking of going to college? Share this with them. As always, feel free to reach out to me with any questions or comments. Be sure to subscribe/follow so you don’t miss any future helpful pieces!

3 Keys Every Soldier Should Use Packing for the Field.

Every time my unit is in the field, someone makes fun of me for lugging a large rubbermaid tote (gorilla box) to my tent. Usually not long after that, the same person or people are telling me I’m a genius for lugging that tote out there.

Packing for the field has two challenges. First, you need to bring everything that is REQUIRED by your leadership and will be necessary for the training. Secondly, you have to figure out how to fit the stuff that’s NOT REQUIRED without dragging 5 extra bags with you.

If packing for the field is a headache for you, consider using my 3 keys to help you do it better and do it right.

1.) Divide and conquer.

When I pack for the field, I do it the same way every time. First, I get my packing list and lay out everything on that list. This ensures I actually have the stuff, and allows me to see it all at once. Secondly, also lay out any comfort items or snacks/drinks – all that stuff that’s NOT on the packing list. Once you have it all in front of you, start to separate it into 3 categories or piles: 1) Definitely going to use 2) Might use 3.) Probably not going to use.

Another way you can do this, if you choose, is to make your three piles: 1) okay to get wet 2) would rather not get wet 3) absolutely cannot get wet – do it the first way I said the first time, but if you run into problems fitting things into the spaces you have, this might be a good alternative.

Once you’ve accounted for all your stuff, and have your 3 piles, you can move on to the next step.

2.) Determine your “compartments”.

This is actually the most important step, but in order to do it the most effectively, you need those 3 piles. Many soldiers pack differently, and many units have different requirements. My current unit if pretty flexible, as long as your bags and rucks are all subdued/camo you won’t get a bunch of heartache. I have been in units that only allow issued bags and rucks to be used. So, I understand that your “compartments” might be slightly different than what I’m describing, but the principle is the same.

If we’re going to be in the field for a short amount of time, I only bring one bag. If we’re going to be out there for a week or more, I bring 2 bags and my gorilla box. Depending on the size of your piles, you might be able to consolidate further and use less.

I start by packing my  assault pack. My assault pack gets the “I will absolutely, without a doubt, use this stuff.” Helmet, eye pro, gloves, ear pro, etc. go into this back as it can easily be taken anywhere with me on short notice. It’s my smallest bag, but not so small that it won’t fit everything.

Next, I pack my “definitely will NOT use” pile into my issued ruck. These piles change seasonally. For example, if it’s July, I know I will not use my blankets, coats, or two layers of my sleeping bag. Any of this stuff that is on the packing list but I’m confident I won’t use, I put them in that ruck (in the main big pocket) and the sleeping bag in the main bottom pocket.

Now I have a pile of “I might use” kind of stuff. This is where I get strategic. For example, I “might” need my wet weather gear. If I do need it, it needs to be easily accessible, so if there’s extra room in my “definitely use” bag, I would put it in there – but I could also use the side pouces on my ruck. The main thing is to know where these things are in case you need them quickly and unexpectedly. Other “might use” items should be split between your ruck and your primary bag based on the likelihood of need.

Bam! you’re all packed. But what about that gorilla box that’s empty?

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3.) Lighten your load for movements, live like a king when in position.

When packing to move long-distance (armory to the field, field back to the army, etc.) I keep that gorilla box empty so it’s super easy to move around. Once we are out in the woods, I use my gorilla box like a dresser. This is my completely 100% weather-proof compartment. It’s great for food storage, anything that must remain dry – it’s awesome. Also, it locks, so racoons and other pesky critters can’t run off with your stuff. I used to hate it earlier in my career when I’d go to sleep, and no matter where I put my uniform, it would be wet in the morning with dew or condensation. The gorilla box is perfect for keeping your uniform dry overnight, and helping you get an extra day or two out of it. Even the military issued bags are not completely waterproof, so it’s hard to trust them. Also, individual tents are getting so small, that it’s nice to be able to have that gorilla box outside the tent and not in the way (as opposed to piling all your crap up inside your tent to ensure it stays dry)…if conditions get crappy at night, you won’t have to figure out how to fit yourself and all your stuff inside the tent.

Obviously, there are tons of different ways to do this, but my method had been developed over the course of 17 years. I can’t remember the last time I was in the field and failed to have something I needed. There’s a bit of “I told you so” in me when we wake up in the field and I hear someone say, “All my stuff is wet; it didn’t even rain. What’s up with that?” I just think to myself…”rookie”. This is the most satisfying when its the person making fun of my gorilla box the day prior, and telling me I “pack like a woman”.

I hope you found this helpful. Please subscribe so you don’t miss future helpful posts. As always, feel free to reach out to me, like, and share with your battle buddies.

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3 Commonly Under-Utilized Military Benefits

I could probably devote all my time to blogging about military matters and never run out of topics. A military career is something soldiers should be proud of, however, too many of us get half way to retirement before we realize how much money and opportunity we left on the table because of bad information or inability to properly prioritize.

Taking a quick inventory, I was able to come up with a short list of what I believe to be the most important military benefits that Guardsmen and Reservists should absolutely be taking advantage of.

1.) Tricare

No benefit outranks this one. If you’re eligible for Tricare and not using it, you are wrong.

I’m not going to bore you with specifics, but I’ll tell you that I’m not sure there’s a better insurance plan on the planet besides being a billionaire and just paying cash for any medical needs. Tricare has low premiums, low deductibles, excellent coverage, and seems to be accepted pretty much anywhere. I cover my family of seven for less than $220 per month, and rarely spend more than $500 out of pocket on any given year. If this were the only benefit of being in the military, it would still justify doing as many years in the military as they would let you stay! Healthcare costs seem to perpetually rise annually, while Tricare’s premium actually went down a couple bucks last year. I don’t care how good you think your civilian insurance might be, odds are, Tricare is probably better. Go sign up now by clicking here.

2.) Education Benefits

If you’re a soldier, and you’re paying anything out of pocket to go to school, you are wrong.

This is tricky. Upon swearing in, most soldiers know by the end of their Advanced Individual Training (AIT), that they will qualify for some school money. The challenge is for those soldiers who are not students yet upon joining. They know in the back of their minds that the school money is good and important, but when you start talking financial aid and school finances, for anyone that hasn’t dealt with it directly it can be very confusing. So imagine the confusion when a soldier graduates AIT and goes back to M-day status (monthly drilling) and tries to enroll at their local college or university. Anyone who has gone to school knows it’s not exactly simple. First you have to fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This will determine if you qualify for any financial aid outside the realm of the military, including student loans. Then you have to find your school’s Veterans Benefits Counselor (titles vary). These people are experts, so do what they say. Depending on what’s in your contract, you might qualify for more school money than you were aware. It’s important to utilize that resource at the school and get help from within your unit too (find an old-timer like me that’s done all this before). You need to know how many benefits you are qualified to use, and use them in the proper sequence to maximize all your benefits and get the most extra dollars in your pockets.

For example, if you are a new soldier and freshly graduated AIT, you probably qualify for Chapter 1606 Montgomery GI Bill benefits. If you’ve deployed, you qualify for an even better package (Post 911 Chapter 33). If you were previously active duty, there’s another package (Chapter 30) that might be your best option. Here’s the thing though, no matter what state you serve in, you probably qualify for additional state-funded tuition assistance, federal tuition-assistance, and even in awesome states like Wisconsin, it has it’s own state-funded GI Bill. Failing to take advantage of any programs you’re qualified to use is simply leaving money on the table.

3.) Thrift Savings Plan

If you’re not putting some money from your drill check into a Thrift Savings Plan, you are wrong.

The military just recently changed it’s retirement compensation plan. The downfall to that is anyone forced into the new plan is now at the mercy of the stock market and cannot rely on the same fixed benefit once they become eligible to start getting paid. The good news is that any long term investment in the stock market does just fine, and any of your money that’s not tied up in the fixed benefit portion (meaning any money in your Thrift Savings Plan) is portable.

For those of you that don’t know, the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) is like a government 401k. You can choose to have pre-tax or post=tax money saved from your drill check that gets invested through this program and grows until you retire and are ready to start collecting. That’s the simplest way I can put it, but here’s the cool thing. If you only do 8 years and decide you’re done, now you can take any of that TSP money and roll it into a new plan. In the old days, if you didn’t do 20 years, you got nothing for retirement unless you voluntarily contributed to TSP.

Why does this matter? Every dollar you invest toward retirement matters. Every. Single. Dollar. Under the new Blended Retirement package, the government if matching money, so by not contributing, you’re missing out on free money. Secondly, it’s portable, so if you don’t stick around for a full 20+ years, you can take your TSP money with you and roll it into a civilian job’s 401k plan or go to your local bank or credit union and roll it into an Individual Retirement Account so you can continue to grow that money. You can set up TSP contributions right now by logging into MyPay.

These are what I would consider the big 3 under-utilized military benefits (for weekend warriors like me). There are more though that are worth discussing in future posts, such as the life insurance (both SGLI and SSLI), and other perks/benefits. Please like if you found this helpful, and subscribe so you don’t miss any future posts you might find helpful. I appreciate you taking the time to read this!

*I do plan on posting some more in-depth information on these benefits and more, and once I do, I will provide a link to the more in-depth analysis on this post in the appropriate sections. I hope you will read those too!

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How to Teach Your Kids about Money

I remember my dad telling me when I got my first job that if I saved 10% of everything I made going forward, I could be a millionaire when I turned 55. I was 15 and a newly employed paperboy.

Not convinced, I failed to take his advice. He never really pressed the issue. Now, at 36, every finance and investing book I read indicates my dad was right. It’s depressing thinking about how much money I’ve wasted in my nearly 22 years of working and earning money.

However, as a dad, I’ve tried to make it a point to teach my kids about finances. I can share what I’ve done; I think my wife and I have come up with some very clever methods. I can also share some ideas I hatched after reading some finance books recently.

It’s never too early to start teaching your kids about money. Trust me, these are the lessons they won’t learn in school. They’re counting on us as parents to set them up to succeed. Try following these simple rules and strategies.

1) Start as early as possible.

Think about this. Can we all agree most kids are gifted money starting as early as birth? Let’s assume on average, the average kid nets $100 annually between birthdays, holidays, etc. So by the age of 10, if they’ve saved (or you’ve saved for them) all $1000 they’ve been gifted, you can take that $1000 and use it to start talking about saving and investing. When they’re 10, you still have some control over them. Let’s say you opened a savings account for them. Explain to them that if they left that money in the savings account until after college, it would grow to $1056.40, which means they got $56.40 for doing absolutely nothing. That’s not a very good ROI, but to a 10-year-old, it’s still free money and he or she might find it interesting. The main thing is you’re talking to them about it. Perhaps make them a deal at that point. Act like an employer, and offer to match half of their future contributions up to 6% like a 401k. It might be too early to talk 401k, but if they take you up on the offer, they might appreciate the concept when the savings account is worth say $2500 when they graduate high school. That might be a good time to start the investment conversation.

2) Compound interest is free money; make them understand that.

Explain how compound interest works (and if you don’t know, Google it together). If more kids participated in saving money, and had these conversations with their parents, the amount of silly financial mistakes most young adults make could be largely avoided for those with the interest and discipline. Let’s use the same example from before, and assume an 18-year-old has saved $2500 in a savings account with 0.5% interest. You can find a compound interest calculator online to show how that $2500 invested in the stock market would grow to $30,559.05 by the time he or she turned 55. Explain that saving $100 a month and investing it on top of that initial $2500 investment would result in $236,432.27 when he or she turned 55. You could literally turn birthday money into $236,432.27…why didn’t our parents tell us this? That leads to the third thing…

3) Kids don’t typically take this advice and put it to use.

Our parents probably DID tell us this. We weren’t listening, and they weren’t being aggressive enough. Don’t just bore them to death with numbers; they can’t even get through a math class, how are they going to absorb your financial jibber jabber?

4) Get creative, and make it fun.

Several summers ago, my son asked me to buy him a pack of Pokémon cards. I thought about it a second, and said, “No, but you can do some chores and I’ll give you money that you can use to buy some Pokémon cards.” This achieved two things. First, I tried to address the need for immediate gratification. If my son still wanted those cards a day or two later, he would have at least spent some time thinking about it while he put some blood, sweat, and tears into the process acquiring the means to buy them. Secondly, he would associate the cards, the purchase, the money involved with the work, and the delayed gratification with the time spent earning the money. These are things kids have a hard time understanding, and it’s mostly our fault because we are so quick to just give them what they want and ask for. After my son’s experience, our chore chart was born. I had all my kids fighting over the available jobs in order to earn more money.

5.) Make them pay taxes.

After our chore chart was born, the following Friday it was payday. My daughter was the first in line to collect the cash. She did enough chores to earn $13.80. Imagine her disbelief when I handed her $12.42. Oh yeah…nothing like the lesson of Uncle Sam getting his! Any allowance or “pay” I’ve given my kids has always been taxed at 10%. Yeah, I know, they fell into a great rate – but when you’re counting out paychecks, it’s nice to have easier math to do. I would track their “taxes” and once it added up to $5 or more, I’d transfer it to their savings accounts. It was pretty easy, and I know this was educational. We had some fun conversations about taxes!

I hope this got the creative juices flowing, and motivated you to start thinking about your options and your capacity to help. Think of if this way, your ROI is not having a kid you have to support long into his or her adulthood. These methods could yield more college financing opportunities, or a least an avenue to pay back any pesky loans. There are tons of ways to get a free education though. That could be its own blog though…

So make a date…gather all your loose change and old savings bonds and get you youngster on track early. I’m sure there are other great ideas out there to be shared.

The Day Planner Is Better Than Digital Calendars -3 Indisputable Reasons This Is True

Remember pocket organizers? If you’re my age or older, you must remember those calculator-sized gadgets that were supposed to be some kind of “secretary in your pocket” and organize your busy life. I never had one, and now that I think about it I’m not sure I know anyone else that had one either? They were certainly a fad, and trusty day planners outlasted them.

Smart phones have changed the game and offered more capable digital-day-planners small enough to fit in your pocket. I found dozens and dozens of “organizer” and “planner” apps when I searched on my iPhone. I can honestly say I’ve tried many of these too.

In this piece, I’m going to make the case that good old-fashioned day planners are better and more effective than the digital ones. Before I jump in to my argument, allow me to explain the “inspiration” for this post.

Life afforded me a few early lessons on the importance of being organized. When I turned 18, I graduated high school and that fall stared college at Cameron University in Lawton, Oklahoma. That first year I was a traditional student and lived at home with my parents. Life was easy. By the time I turned 20 I was working full-time, serving in the Oklahoma National Guard, and still going to school while living in my own place. I had obligations, appointments, bills, etc. Life wasn’t so easy anymore.

At that time, we certainly had cell phones, but the smart phones we all know now were not “a thing” quite yet. I was also a starving college kid so to speak, so I probably could not have afforded such a thing. My days were spent studying and working hard; my nights were spent partying just as hard. This led to many mornings of me shaking the cobwebs out over a cup of coffee IN THE SHOWER trying to figure out what I had going on that day. My best defense mechanism against chaos was printing out calendar shells from Microsoft Word and using those to organize myself.

My first real job was at UPS. As it turns out, synchronizing the world of global commerce is demanding. As a full-time management person, I was tasked with more things than there were hours in the day to complete them. Planning was crucial. My boss would let me use my expense account to buy what we called “Franklin Planners”- although they were really monthly/weekly planners made by At-A-Glance. I lived and died by that planner.

I’m not perfect, and I’ve made some terrible life decisions…but you won’t find a person out there who can justifiably say I’m unorganized. It’s a strength of mine, and I believe writing in a planner is one of the main components of being organized, efficient, and successful. Allow me to give you the 3 indisputable reasons these day planners are better then the digital ones.

1. Writing your goals down increases the likelihood of accomplishing them.

I’ve heard it from famous and wealthy people. I’ve read it in almost every personal finance book. One thing that makes a vision more likely to become reality is simply writing it down, physically, with pen and paper. Read this article if you’re interested in the science behind that statement. My experience supports this concept. Allow me to give few examples. I pulled my planner out to reference for this post. As I look down at it, and flip through past months, I see things like “ASUs need alterations” and “finish New Year cards”. Both of these tasks were accomplished. I remember quite well having to scratch them out and replan then when they weren’t finished as originally planned. There’s something about visually absorbing what you’ve written in your own handwriting that creates a different kind of “sense of urgency” needed to make things happen and get things done. I’ll discuss later in more detail why this doesn’t work the same digitally.

2. Digital reminders are as ineffective as car alarms.

When I was a kid, if a car alarm went off you could see a state of panic ensue among any onlookers. We sort of shifted into a mob mentality, collectively ready to serve justice to whomever was attempting to steal someone’s wheels. Decades later, we can’t even hear car alarms anymore. After years and years of false alarms, the car alarm has truly become the “boy who cried wolf”. We are conditioned to ignore something that is otherwise supposed to indicate we should have something to worry about. This is quite evident when our little digital alarms go off. I have my Outlook reminders at work telling me everyday what I need to do. I generally ignore them or “snooze” them – without even reading what they’re reminding me to do. However, that’s now how we operate with calendars and planners that require our intimate attention to detail and effort. Physically crossing things off lists is satisfying, seeing a month of blocks checked off and progressing toward completion is satisfying. Erasing something important that didn’t get done and relocating it makes it more likely to happen. The computers will remind us even after we’re dead, but the planners we write in will cease to progress after we’re gone – we’re more connected to our tasks and work when we write with pen/pencil.

3. Planners serve as journals; digital calendars are one more reason to have your phone in your face.

This last reason, although frivolous to some degree, might be one of the easiest for me to argue. I spent quite a bit of time at airports in the last few years, and it disgusts me to see the lack of interaction between people. Person after person, slouched over his or her phone with poor posture, a beer gut squeezed into a suit that’s too small – ugh. I know many of these folks are working and being productive. They might be reading the news, or a new book. There’s just no sexiness to it, and the drooling, stupid state of our union is exemplified through “slumped over phone-looker-atter”.

Writers armed with pen and paper rarely look so disgusting. I can’t really articulate why, but as I’ve typed this I have that sense that readers will nod their heads in agreement because we all know what I’m talking about here. As we become more and more reliant on screen-time, we should celebrate the things that help us unplug. Planners are a great method of unplugging.

I can’t see myself ever changing, but I’m always open to discuss change. My wife has gone more digital again after doing it my way for awhile. Her work requires her to spend more time in front of a computer, so I can understand why she thinks that’s the best method for her…although the planner would still be better.

Do you swear your allegiance to the digital method and slump over your phone? Are you more loyal to the planner like me? Why or why not? I’d love to hear from you.

I am Jealous of my Wife’s Job; the National Guard has Become a Solution

My wife and I have two very different stories after high school. Whereas I immediately started college, I did it on a whim with no real planning. I was caught off guard by the cost, offered alternative ways to pay, messed up the paperwork and processes, and eventually “flunked out”. This is how I ended up in the National Guard. More on that later.

My wife was way more prepared. By the time she graduated, she pretty much knew where she was going – and I think she’d already been accepted – and toured the campus. I didn’t ask anyone for help, therefore I got none. On the other hand, whether she asked for it or not, she got help from her parents.

When she was 22, she was graduating from Berry with a Marketing degree. When I was 22, I had been to basic training, advanced individual training, attended two semesters of college, mobilized in support of Operation Enduring Freedom for 3 months, married and divorced in about 6 months – essentially played house while I was on active duty. As if that wasn’t foolish enough, while I was back in school leading up to my 22nd birthday, that year my girlfriend would become pregnant with my oldest son – another failed marriage in the making.

For anyone who underestimates the importance of your decision making between the ages of 18-25…read that last paragraph again.

To say my wife’s life has been all peaches and cream would not be accurate. She’s had her own unique challenges. Throughout her growth though, she’s been able to embark on a journey of which I’m so jealous: self-employment. She freelanced in the photography world, worked as a sidekick to a photographer, and began learning the business. Her college education filled in the blanks. Over the course of a few years, she grew her own photography business. I marvel at her work daily. Not to brag, but her business is as big and busy as its ever been, and she’s doing this while being a mom too. I haven’t seen anyone hitting it that hard since I was growing up and watching my mom work all day and spend all night taking care of my dad and my two brothers and me. We’re talking two full-time jobs here.

Anyway, here’s what I envy about my wife’s work. First, she punches a clock for nobody. What freedom! Secondly, she’s her own boss. That has it’s obvious benefits. Thirdly, she actually likes what she does. I’d be willing to bet less than 10% of workers truly like what they do. We all work as a means to an end, but rarely get pleasure doing it. When I lecture my kids about the importance of making good decisions early and often, I use my wife and her business as an example of what could lie on the other side of adulthood – and by making poor choices, they’d be committing to my path. My path sucks.

Buried in all the terrible decisions I’ve ever made at the onset of my adulthood is the one thing that saved me from myself. I joined the National Guard. Albeit, I joined to pay for school. What the military gave me though was way more than I could have ever hoped.

  1. The best health insurance in the world
  2. I didn’t just pay for school, I got paid to go to school
  3. Drill pay + the opportunity to save in the TSP
  4. The intangibles (the focus of this blog)

When I graduated high school and hastily applied for college, I picked my major foolishly. I went through my senior schedule and dismissed anything that didn’t immediately interest me, and when I got to my newspaper class (I was the co-editor of our high school newspaper) it was the first one I’d come to that I didn’t hate. I loved to write, and I was interested in so many different subjects that I thought writing was a good way to ring all those bells so to speak. Ergo, I would become a journalism major!

My journalism endeavors lasted until I realized how much being a journalist sucks. First of all, you spend years writing crap stories. Once you’re not the editor anymore, you start back at the bottom and spend a career trying to achieve that status. Moreover, not being an editor means nobody cares what you think. So it’s all news writing, no editorials or opinion pieces offering your analysis of all the world’s problems. Journalism sucked.

I remember the day I realized this, and sat in the Student Union at Cameron University feeling sorry for myself. I had a good part-time job with a promising future at UPS. I had a military career that I knew was important, but at that point in my life I didn’t fully understand why. I was going to have a family soon, and the pressure to get this right seemed very heavy on my shoulders. Some of my buddies tried to help. They all told me their majors in hopes of recruiting me into their worlds. I wasn’t impressed – until my buddy Joe told me he was a Sociology major. I vaguely knew what that meant, but as he explained it in greater detail, I gained interest. I asked him what he planned to do with that degree, and he said, get another one, then get another one, then I want to be a college professor and teach and research Sociology.

Then it hit me. When he said “teach” I realized that’s really what I’d like to do.

After spending that afternoon doing some research at the school and talking to a few other folks, I ended up changing my major to Political Science. My plan was to major in Political Science, minor in Sociology, and get certified to teach. I wasn’t sure about a masters  degree or a PhD…but this would at least get me in a classroom and I could figure the rest out later (I didn’t know at the time it would be about 14 years later).

I set the plan in motion, and proceeded to make enough poor life choices that this plan didn’t come to fruition completely. I did finally graduate college, but it was 17 years after I started. I had already established a career in logistics and transportation, so I was more or less stuck in my civilian job. I had a family to support, so it would have been too reckless to quit working and pursue a teaching career.

But…enter stage left…my trusty old military career.

Through thick and thin, my National Guard experience has been a huge piece to navigating through life. Although I never got to be a teacher in the traditional sense, I certainly became the king of education in the military! Check it out.

  1. As an NCO, my main job is to train soldiers
  2. Because of all the new programs and packages that keep coming out, I could easily get the Army to pay for my teacher certification now that I’ve graduated
  3. I get to blog and teach soldiers about money, investing, benefits, etc.

I’ve made almost every poor choice you can make as an adult. My advice to everyone regarding this statement is similar to how I feel about boats. You don’t buy boats, you get friends that have boats. Similarly, don’t screw up your lives for this experience, just listen to your parents, and take it from me.

At drill, I would describe my relationship to my unit in this way…or rather I think my job title would be something like this:

Army National Guard Finance, Investment, Marriage, Divorce, Family Affairs, Education and Career Counselor. As a matter of fact, I should get my own ribbon for that! I bet I have at least 5 times per drill where someone approaches me and says, “Sergeant Duffy, can I talk to you about something?” I live for these moments.

Okay, let me recap what just happened here because I went all over the place in this blog. I have an appreciation now for doing things the right way. My wife did things right early and often, and that’s largely how she became her own boss and does what she loves for work. I’m jealous of that, and although I did nothing but screw up in life, the National Guard has offered me countless ways to fulfil my personal ambitions even though I never did them in the traditional sense.

If you asked the 18-year-old me where I’d be in twenty years, the answer I would have given would no reflect the reality of where I am now, but that’s okay. Thanks to the magic of the internet, and especially thanks to my career in the Guard, I have a way to do the things I love to do for work, similar to how my wife does. To be honest though, if my writing and advice were as good as her photography, I’d be getting paid handsomely to do this.

Please share with your buddies, like and subscribe so you don’t miss future posts. Thanks for you time! Now, carry on.

 

If You are in the Guard, and Paying for School – You are Wrong.

black calculator near ballpoint pen on white printed paper
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When I swore into the National Guard, it was a peaceful time in the world. 5 days later, things changed. I swore into the National Guard 5 days before September 11th happened. Chew on that a minute!

I have no problem admitting to anyone I joined the Guard to pay for school. My timing would cause me to not graduate for another 16 years, but my timing also manifested additional school funds that I was in the perfect position to use, one program right after the other.

Because I went to college over the course of 17 years, I consider myself an expert in military school money now.

If you’re in the Guard, this is the roadmap to properly utilizing most, or all of the benefits available to you for school. If you’re in the Guard and paying for any school out of pocket, something might be wrong, so as you read through this, if it’s not adding up and you think something isn’t right, please feel free to reach out to me.

1.) First, let’s get a little familiar with each program/benefit.

Chapter 1606 Montgomery GI Bill

This is the one I was offered when I first got in, and most new soldiers now get offered upon entry. This is a federal program for us “weekend warriors” to go to school. It pays a monthly stipend. As far as GI Bill programs go, this is the weakest.

Chapter 1607 Montgomery GI Bill

Back when 9-11 first happened, this program also known as “REAP” came out. It was a juiced up version of 1606 benefits for anyone that deployed.

Chapter 30 Active Duty GI Bill

If you were ever active duty and qualified for this – I can’t help you. I think they call this the “active duty GI Bill” now and I’ve never qualified for it. However, if you’re one of those guys or gals that left active duty and switched to the Guard shortly thereafter, you might need to research your options. If you at some point in your career became eligible for Chapter 33 Benefits, and you’ve switched over to the Guard – you might still find the rest of this information helpful.

Chapter 33 Post 911 Montgomery GI Bill

This is the best GI Bill program out there. You get a percentage of tuition paid, and a monthly stipend based on a percentage of BAH for your zip code. Also, if you don’t want or need this benefit, you can pass it on to your dependent(s).

State Tuition Waiver

Most states, but not all, have programs in place that waive your tuition if you’re in the National Guard.

State GI Bill

All soldiers basically quality for federal tuition assistance. Let me warn you that you have to request this through the http://www.goarmyed.com website, and it’s ridiculous.

Federal Tuition Waiver

All soldiers basically quality for federal tuition assistance. Let me warn you that you have to request this through the http://www.goarmyed.com website, and it’s ridiculous. The website if complicated and the process is slow. You will notice I will end up putting this at the bottom of my sequence.

Student Loan Repayment Plan

If you qualify for this, odds are you already had existing student loan debt. This is a great plan for paying those back, however, in some cases it can limit your ability to use other sources of funding.

2.) Second, let’s review some processes prior to enrollment.

It doesn’t matter if you’re an 18-year-old private or a 33-year-old NCO, getting all this in motion is not simple. The military and the VA are related, but not connected, therefore you will encounter many separate moving pieces throughout the process of getting enrolled.

I would like to encourage you to also read my breakdown of college and the cost. That has information that will also be helpful.

Here are some things you’ll need to have, or have done before you’re ready to take action and get all this stuff paid for.

  1. You will need a Member 4 copy of your DD 214.
  2. You will need to know which benefits you are authorized to use.
  3. You need to have a college picked out – and know if you plan on attending school in-person or online.
  4. Complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) – and yes, even if your parents are rich, or you’re an older soldier – it does not matter, you HAVE to fill this out.
  5. Make contact with your benefits coordinator at your school of choice. This person can usually be found on the school’s website, or by calling and simply asking to talk to the person who handles veterans’ benefits.

After these 5 main things are done, you will be ready to maximize your school money.

3.) Third thing is completely your responsibility – maximizing your school money.

I said it in the title, if you’re paying out-of-pocket for school as a Soldier in the National Guard – something is probably wrong.

You can start this process most effectively once you pick your school. Know which benefits you can use (see above) and start the initial process of using them. Knowing what school, what term/year, and what your living situation will be helps expedite a lot of this process.

There’s an art to this, or rather, a sequence of using these benefits to ensure you never run out of money before you graduate. Remember, I said earlier that every state is different, so if your state sucks, take it up with your elected officials. *It is critical to know if the benefits you are using are state benefits, or federal benefits. If you hit a snag or need help, that will have most impact on where you can go for help.

Before every semester, you have to ensure you have everything in motion, and during the semester you have to follow-up, verify attendance, report grades timely…this is YOUR responsibility. Many agencies and arms of the school and VA will help with, and actually do most of the work, but they are over-worked and under-funded. If you do not follow up and do your part, it if completely your fault. Almost every mistake they make can be caught early enough to fix if you’re paying attention.

Okay, here we go.

4.) In this final step, we will assume you have enrolled, and you can see your first tuition bill has posted on your account.

*Please note that all the math in this section is made-up and hypothetical. It does not reflect any actual numbers for your benefits or tuition bill, I made these up just to have an example to help explain how the benefits work.

Okay, so you’re enrolled in 4 classes for the upcoming term. School starts in 20 days, and you login to see your tuition bill has posted and you owe $4000 to the school. As I mentioned earlier, you should have filled out and submitted a FAFSA. Let’s assume the government identified you as “in-need” and the school  identified you as “deserving” – and between the two of them, you were awarded $1000 in aid.

Great, your bill is already down to $3000.

If you have completed all the steps I listed so far, at a minimum you should already be enrolled in your GI Bill program, whichever one you’re qualified to use. If you’re in the 1606, you will get a monthly stipend, but no help with tuition, so you will move on to the next step. Other GI Bill recipients will get some tuition help here. Let’s assume you got 60% tuition paid for by the GI Bill. Now you only owe $1200, and that larger monthly payment you receive will probably more than cover that remaining amount, but rather than wait for that, you can still so what the 1606 recipients are going to do in this next step.

In my example, whether you still owe $3000 at this point, or you owe $1200, you can get this part taken care of by applying for the state tuition assistance. Not every state does this, but I know I used it in Oklahoma and Wisconsin. This program essentially reimburses you for tuition. One your GI Bill has been applied, and you have that remaining balance, this program will pay for any tuition that is remaining in most situations. However, you need to know two things. First, you have to pass your classes with a C or higher, or else they won’t pay. Secondly, this program, like the others, is not a bottomless pit of money, there are always limits, so pay attention.

You’ll note that the state tuition assistance is not available to everyone. If that’s the case, you can still apply for the federal tuition assistance and do the exact same thing.

Once you have this tuition assistance set up, you will still have your balance due to the school, and this money does not get paid until you prove you passed your classes, so pay attention to the deadlines. You might have to use your stipend, or an initial savings to pay for that first semester, then keep rolling your reimbursements into the next semester and continue paying it forward. This should keep you from borrowing, and keep you from paying anything out of pocket.

In this scenario, we started with a tuition balance of $4000. If you entered your first year of school with $4000 saved, I want you to see the benefit of that.

  1. On the first day your tuition bill posted, you could apply for and enroll in all your military benefit programs for school money, and any non-military financial aid.
  2. If you paid cash, your balance would be $0 (but you would be $4000 in the hole right at that moment in time).
  3. After your “FAFSA money” applied, you would be cut a refund check from the financial aid office. In my earlier example, this would be a check cut to you in the amount of $1000 – so now you’re only $3000 in the hole.
  4. After the GI Bill processed, you would receive a refund check for the percentage of tuition it would have covered (if your program pays tuition). In my earlier example, a chapter 33 user might get a check for about $1800. See where this is going?
  5. At the end of the semester, if you pass all your classes, the tuition reimbursement in most cases is going to be $4000, which is the original cost of the tuition. Remember, this program runs out like all the others, so if family problems, deployments, etc. are going to slow you down in school – don’t exhaust all your benefits trying to pocket a bunch of money.

When applied in the right sequence, and by you paying all of it up-front, you would be ahead by the end of the semester, which would allow you to take that money and roll it into next semester and do the same thing, and if there was any extra money beyond that, you could start investing it.

Soldiers earn these benefits. If anyone in the general population knew that we have the capacity to get a degree, and make some extra money in the process without being tied to a third or fourth job – most people would nod their head in support of that. Use any extra funds for good though. Practice saving early and often for retirement, and giving. The bottom line is, if you’re involuntarily paying for school every semester, you’re probably missing the boat on one or more of your benefits (military and/or non-military).

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7 Things Every Soldier will Need in the Field

 

I can remember once, being out in the field for a few days – getting to that point where it wasn’t cute anymore. You know that feeling. The lack of a shower is starting to kick in. Everyone is getting on each other’s nerves already. This particular day found me hungry around the noon hour, and for some reason I didn’t get breakfast. I grabbed the last MRE in the box by the truck (oh goody…breakfast omelette…my favorite) and got into position to eat. Of course, because I was starving, the thing wouldn’t open. I pulled and tugged and tried to rip the stupid thing open – no luck. Worse yet, when I reached for my knife, it wasn’t there. I realized immediately it was in yesterday’s pants still, which were now in a landry bag. Perfect.

“Anyone got a knife?” I asked. The silence was confusing. Wait a minute…nobody? Seriously? “I’m standing next to five soldiers, and none of you have a blade of any kind?” I inquired. It seemed like such a bizarre situation. Never in a million years did I think in basic training that one day I’d be in the field, with a cell phone and a charger, but nobody would have a knife. Weird.

I heard something yesterday that made me think of this, and I immediately emailed myself a reminder to make a list of some things everyone should always take  to the field. Here are my 7 things I cannot live without.

1.) Knife/Leatherman/Gerber

Call it what you want, but I don’t ever remember being in the field and not using this at some point. Ever.

2.) 550 Cord

It’s been my experience that supply never has this when it’s actually needed. You can buy this at the PX most of the time, and it’s such a problem solver on so many levels, I think it’s foolish to ever be caught without it. Odds are, at some point you’ve used tape or some shotty method because 550 cord wasn’t accessible. Fix that, and get some.

3.) 100mph Tape

They make this in every color, including camo pattern. If 550 cord couldn’t fix it, 100mph tape probably will. Other tape is inferior and not as weather-proof.

4.) Gorilla Box

I always take an empty gorilla box to the field with me and use it as my weather-proof dresser. It can stay outside my tent, which gives me a little extra room to try to sleep. Nothing is more waterproof than these rubbermaid totes. The army issues nothing to my knowledge in the form of a bag that is completely 100% waterproof. They sell these in all sizes – I highly highly recommend using one if your unit allows it.

5.) A mirror

A hand-held mirror is such a great thing to have in the field. I’ve tried to shave countless times looking into a mirror on a vehicle, covered in morning dew, and dirty – keeping a small mirror for shaving ensures you don’t miss any spots and look like a dirtbag.

6.) A handful of old grocery bags

Field sanitation and cleanliness can be hard to maintain when there’s not a nearby can or bag for your trash. Having these smaller bags with you allows you to throw away all your small trash, and keep it with you so it’s not touching other stuff in your bag…then when you do get a chance to throw it away, it’s all in one bag, not spread out all over the place. Also, these bags can be a very good way to help further waterproof something. A few extra ziplock bags never hurt either. I have a small pocket on my assault pack that probably has 25 old walmart bags and a few extra ziplock bags. I use them every single time I go to the field.

7.) Baby wipes

Easier than carrying toilet paper, and better than toilet paper anyway. These serve so many extra purposes…and one pack typically last for weeks if you use them responsibly. When a shower isn’t an option, these are life-savers.

What things make your “must have” list? I’m not talking snacks/drinks…I’m looking for something you take to the field and use religiously. Let me know! Please share with your buddies, and don’t forget to subscribe so you don’t miss out on future helpful posts.

One Effective Tip to Cleaning out your Closet

Spring is rapidly approaching. Well, maybe not here in Wisconsin, but nonetheless it will soon be that time of year we find ourselves opening the windows, letting the house breathe, and getting our “Spring cleaning” done.

At some point, you might want to clean out your closet (or worse yet, your kids’ closets). A former colleague of mine taught me a very cool trick to doing this effectively. Before I get into the process, let’s go over some problems that have developed in most of our closets.

If you’re single or have no kids, this might not apply to you. I think that for people like me, closets are perceived as too small to care about and often for this reason accumulate crap that should not be there in the first place.

I’ll use my house to demonstrate.

In our entryway, just beyond the front door, there are two closets. Common sense would say one was meant to be a coat closet, and the one closer to the kitchen probably a pantry or closet for cleaning supplies. Since we typically come in and out of the garage as opposed to the front door, we use the closet at the garage entry for a coat closet – and “shoe collection point”. So those two closets upstairs at the entry have things like this in them: Rubbermaid containers (one for light bulbs, one for extension cords and surge protectors, and one for batteries), random extra coats and shoes, recycled plastic and paper bags, cleaning supplies, paper towel storage…

I think you get the picture.

So, having laid that out, I would like to throw my opinion out there that there’s no substitute for completely emptying out a closet, cleaning it properly, and only putting back what should really be there. If you can’t find a place to put the “junk”, it begs the question: Do you really need that junk? That’s just food for thought.

Back to the hack though…here’s how you do it. Here is one simple but effective method to cleaning out your bedroom closet.

Hang up everything in your closet backward.

A hanger has an open end, meaning if you have an article of clothing on a hanger, as you go to hang it up, you face the opening of the hanger toward the rod and hook it over the top (easy stuff – hanging up clothes 101).

What you want to do is take that article of clothing and the hanger and flip it so the opening is toward you, and hang it up backward so to speak.

Do this with everything hanging in your closet, and if you have room and enough hangers, do this with all your pants too.

Go about your business as usual.

Every day, wear what you would normally wear. If you wear something and launder it, hang it back up the correct way, not backward. The goal is over time, the things you actually wear will end up flipped the other way around and be normal. The things you DON’T wear will still be hung up backward.

Set a deadline, make your donation.

If you get done reading this and run back to start this process, set a goal for yourself and respect the season. If it’s summer, obviously you won’t be wearing a bunch of long-sleeved stuff, so all those will probably still be flipped around the wrong way.

When your deadline has arrived, anything flipped the wrong direction still is probably just taking up space in your closet. If you don’t wear it, donate it. Get rid of it. If you do this with your kids’ closets, their closets could have some clutter cleared too.

This works for shoes too, but you would have to find a clever way to separate what does and does not get worn. I love my wife to death, and she’s not even really one of those ladies who get all excited about shoes and clothes, but I feel like she has 1,000 pairs of shoes. I took notice one day, and decided to try to count, only to find out I had more shoes than I realized! We’re all guilty of hoarding sometimes – cut the fat!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go clean out my closet. If you found this helpful, please remember to like and share. I’m always excited to get feedback; feel free to reach out to me. Subscribe now so you don’t miss future helpful posts!

$5.00 Challenge Adds More than $11,000 to Your Nest Egg.

I’ve noticed a theme developing when I read about finances. First of all, my exposure to my first three “experts” have been eye-opening in many different ways. They don’t always agree on everything…these “experts”…so you have to be prepared to pick a tactic you trust if you are trying to get serious with your coin.

Although there are differences, there’s a theme developing universally. Investing as early as possible and as much as possible using the magic of compound interest is one of the best ways to accelerate you path to financial freedom. There are so many kids out there right now with $2000 in cash, savings bonds, $2 bills, piggy banks full of coins…etc. That money will get blown 99.9% of the time, but if you could convince a 16-year-old paperboy or a 14-year-old babysitter that the pathway to being a millionaire was already in their hands…wow…the power of starting early is amazing.

I propose a $5.00 challenge to anyone willing to try, but especially the younger folks for whom this would work the best.

It’s this simple. Save $5.00 per week, and do it for 52 straight weeks. At the end, you should have $260.00. Invest it in an index fund…and do it again….and again….and again. If you saved the $260.00 per year by finding $5.00 a week – the returns are significant. Check out the return rate.

  1. 10 years – $3,843.74
  2. 20 years – $11,404.95
  3. 30 years – $26,278.99
  4. 40 years – $55,538.49

So, if you started doing this when you were 16, you could have over $55k before you turn 60.

If $5.00 seems like child’s play, and you’re way out of that league, I’ll run one scenario for you…just for fun. Think you can find $5.00 every day to save? It’s probably easier than it sounds…we sometimes put that much money in vending machines, eating out, impulse buys at gas stations, the list goes on. Try to find $5.00 per day; make it easier by forcing yourself to save $35 per week (set up an auto transfer to a savings account, or an etrade account). Using the numbers above, try to guess what’s going to happen if we figure out how to do this for the same time periods listed above.

Think you’re close? Think you’ve got it? No cheating!

Alright, here we go.

  1. 10 years – $26.980.07
  2. 20 years – $80,053.95
  3. 30 years – $184,458.30
  4. 40 years – $389,837.46

Makes you wish you started when you were 16, am I right? It’s not too late to get started. Find that $5.00 challenge you are willing to tackle, and go invest here now!

3 Reasons why Your Garage Sale was a Failure

As I kid, I collected baseball and football cards. Many of my friends did as well. We would often sit for hours, scouring price guides and trading, and even simply admiring each other’s collections and those cards nobody was willing to trade.

What prevented us from getting most deals done was one simple thing. We all over-valued OUR cards, and under-valued everyone else’s cards. It was an early life lesson regarding how we behave and perceive value as consumers (and fantasy sports managers…cough cough).

This is the primary reason we fail at selling our stuff.

As of this writing, it’s about to be Spring, and garage-sale season. Call them what you want: thrift sales, garage sales, yard sales – it’s all the same thing. We clean all our excessive junk out of our houses, put it on display somewhere, and try to sell it.

This is a great way to clear clutter, and make some extra cash.

There are 3 key reasons your garage sale will fail though. First, you overvalue your crap. Secondly, people undervalue your crap. Lastly, the type of shopper at a garage sale is a bargain hunter – you have to appeal to that to successfully get rid of all your stuff and pocket a little extra dough. There’s nothing worse than spending 8 hours trying to sell your stuff, and still having most of it afterward. Help yourself by doing the following.

Stop overvaluing your stuff; price to sell.

If you bought an expensive brand new shirt at some point, first of all, shame on you. That’s a conversation for another day…but still, here you are with this $100 shirt that either doesn’t fit anymore, or for some reason you just don’t wear it anymore. Just because you were silly enough to pay $100 for it, does not mean it’s worth $100. It doesn’t matter what logo or brand is plastered on it – you big spender who bough it the first time paid the premium for that already. Now, it’s just a shirt. Most people in this situation do math like this. “I paid $100 for it, so I”ll only ask for less than half…half would be $50….eh, I’ll go half of that…$25….yeah, that’s a good deal.” If you try to sell a shirt for $25 at a garage sale, that shirt will still be there after you’re done. You have to be realistic with these prices.

They are going to undervalue your stuff; price to sell.

Many times it’s not even the price we paid, but the emotional attachment to something that causes us to overvalue it. Consumers at your garage sale feel no emotion toward your stuff. You might be really attached to a t-shirt you got on an awesome vacation, or your lucky sports team shirt or jersey, or a shirt you wore when you got engaged, etc. This can lead you to price items higher than you would otherwise (maybe in hopes that it DOESN’T sell). Nobody cares about your stories that go with any clothes or junk.

Folks shopping at a garage sale are a special kind of people.

Get ready for this, because it’s going to happen. Your old CD collection is going to be sitting out there priced at 50 cents per CD, or $10 for the whole collection…and someone will try go haggle the price down. Somehow, you were very rational when you pulled these CDs out and priced them. However, when someone offers you less than what you ask, something happens inside of you…and you become irrational. These stupid CDs that you can’t even listen to anymore because you don’t even own a CD player…these paperweights…suddenly someone offers you $8 for the whole collection and you’re offended.

You have to get over that. Always take the money. If they’re smart enough to offer a lower price (and many garage-sale enthusiasts are), you have to be smart enough to take the money and run.

Winning is not putting all your crap back in your house after a garage sale, it’s depositing cash or investing the cash you made from selling your junk. If you have something priced for $1, and you get offered 50 cents, just do it. First of all, any money is better than no money, and if you’re not lugging that garbage back home, THAT is what winning looks like. Secondly, when you are easy to work with and demonstrate that to the buyers, they will buy more of your crap. It’s a fact.

So, go get all your junk rounded up, get your garage sale ready to go – price that junk to sell and take whatever they’ll give you for it. The name of the game is clearing the clutter and making extra money, not trying to convince the world that your garage sale is some kind of glimpse as to how you are as a business owner or entrepreneur.

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assorted color pants lot
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3 Bad Habits I Developed After Reading Personal Finance Books

One of the downfalls of waiting so long in life to get serious about finances (by that I mean doing more than just paying the bills on time – I’m talking about getting debt-free and investing and securing a nest egg big enough and early enough to have some real life after retirement) is I feel like my window to succeed is so much smaller than everyone else’s.

I obsess over how much money I’ve wasted, squandered, lost, and spent since I started working at the age of 14. That embarrassing and terrible feeling about my past makes me feel intimidated and hopeless at times about the future. When I do the math, I know that’s not necessarily true, but it’s this feeling that has caused me to form 3 really bad habits regarding getting right financially.

About 50-80 years ago, people lost trust in banks – to a fault. The next generation put too much trust in banks – to a fault. I think we’re seeing a generation of folks being a little more cautious and saving more and getting serious about getting out of debt. There’s a market for this, and if you don’t believe me, go check out how many self-help books there are on personal finances, investing, etc.

I’m guilty…I’m on my third book in as many months. My eyes have been opened. However, in the process of doing some really really smart things with money, I almost immediately developed 3 terrible habits. I recommend reading these books, but be careful not to let these become your habits too.

1.) Checking the stock ticker 25-30 times per day.

At this very moment in time – I think I’ve side-hustled about $175 from various places and ways. At this very moment in time, as I write this, my overall investment change is 31 cents. I gained 27 of those cents yesterday. Long story short, checking the market 25-30 times a day is not going to make the numbers go up or down. Checking your investments weekly is sufficient, and if you’re in it for the long haul, monthly is acceptable to be honest.

I am in it for the long haul – but there are some who would get freaked out if they checked as often as I do. If I remember right, yesterday my investments were down all day. They gained during the last trading hour. So, you can imagine how stressful it would get to watch this all day long. The odds of you getting freaked out and selling off are increased when you look at it too much.

Relax. If you’re in it for the long game, you’ll get about 7% per year averaged out over time…or more! You’re fine. I just need to take my own advice.

2.) I’m interested in personal finance, so now everyone else has to be.

I feel like I learned so much in a small amount of time, and I feel like it’s my obligation to get my fellow man on board. Not everyone is in to this stuff though.

Money for some people is a nasty, divisive, polarizing topic that should be avoided like the plague, or rather, religion and politics. The other day I heard someone say, “I don’t put money in a 401k. I don’t trust the government.” This individual clearly doesn’t know anything about 401k plans – but opinions like that are like a fire. And people like me trying to financially coach them and teach them how a 401k actually works, yeah…people like me are gasoline. Putting gas on fire is not recommended.

I need to work on recognizing that BEFORE it happens. Answer questions – don’t solicit.

3.) Has it been 10 years yet?

It is so hard to be patient. While being patient, it’s hard to maintain discipline. To me, this makes time slow down, which amplifies the whole patience problem.

The other day I knew payday was coming. I calculated what bills were coming out during the lifespan of that two-week check, and tried to figure out to the penny where any extra money was that I could use to pay off debt faster. Anyway, it’s not as hard as I’m making it sound. You basically add up bills for the next two weeks, subtract that amount from your bill-payer checking account, then you have an amount leftover that you can save, invest, pay down a debt faster, etc. I’m really good at this part.

Then, I schedule the payments and transfers. Then my bad habit starts. I login in repeatedly ensure everything cleared, everything went where it should go. This is not necessary.

Back when we used checkbooks, you balanced the checkbook as you wrote checks, or when you got your statement in the mail. I don’t think anyone does that anymore that banks online. We watch everything real time.

I’d like to think this makes me very “on top of my game” but in reality, it’s like my stock market thing I mentioned earlier. I’d be equally if not more effective by doing this monthly and weekly rather than 20-25 times a day (not everyday…but I do it quite a bit).

Quality beats quantity.

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blue and yellow graph on stock market monitor
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