Your pay in the military is fixed by your rank and time in grade. That’s part of the appeal of the service. Making that paycheck stretch is something many struggle with, especially as they are starting out. There are things you can do that effect the amount of pay you bring home every two weeks. Carefully analyzing your leave and earnings statement (LES), will give you some insight as to where your money is going. Each person will have to analyze their own situation, below are a few to get you started:
1. Taxes – You have to pay them but when and how can make a difference. The amount you contribute each pay period are called your withholdings. These vary depending on how many claims you made on your tax statement. Many believe that having greater withholdings will provide you with a bigger refund at the end of the year. True, but that’s money you have loaned to Uncle Sam for the year instead of letting it grow. Look back at past years to see how much you end up paying and adjust accordingly so your withholdings are about as much as your final tax payment.
2. SGLI – Almost everyone signs up for this in boot camp and for most it’s a good deal. If you have people that depend on your income, leaving them life insurance is a good way to ensure their well being. But for those of you that are young and single with parents that are doing well, it might not be necessary. Assuming full coverage, that’s another $360 you could be saving each year. Life insurance is a personal decision but not everyone needs it.
3. Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) – Another term you may have heard thrown about. The TSP acts as a retirement savings plan for federal employees. You can allocate a percentage of your paycheck towards the TSP that will be withdrawn automatically. Try allocating 3% and see if you miss it!
The TSP also has varying funds that have different performance returns and goals. You can choose from funds with different exposures or choose one that’s calibrated to invest based on your retirement date. Take a look at the different funds and choose one that matches your risk comfort and goals.
4. Foreign Language Proficiency Pay (FLPP) – Know a foreign language? Get paid for it. You can sign up for the test at your base testing center, which will administer a written or verbal test. Based on your score and the need for that language in the service you will receive extra pay, often hundreds a month! These tests are normally required annually but you are exempt while deployed.