Make Money Your Mission, How To Save Like a Soldier

My brother-in-law, who is several years younger than me, is on the verge of retiring. He is one of the inspirations to my new goals and lifestyle. His ability to retire so early is largely due to the fact that he is in the military.  He is very frugal, but has also been deployed several times.  His time abroad allowed him to save the majority of his pay and accrue a significant amount of wealth quite quickly.  Virtually all of his income from the time he spent overseas went directly into savings accounts and some investments.  He left for another deployment in March.  We all miss “Uncle,” but this hopefully will be his last trip.  After one last year away, he will be ready to retire.

Soldiers’ earnings vary widely and include various types of pay and allowances, including some that are tax-free.  While we’re not likely to receive any type of hazard pay for putting ourselves in harm’s way as civilians, there are a number of ways we can try to replicate saving like a member of the military.  The key is not spending your income.  It’s not just about making coffee at home instead of purchasing expensive lattes.  For someone like me, who is trying to pay off a large amount of debt, you need to be more extreme in your frugality.  That is why I suggest you deploy yourself on a mission to save money.  As with military deployments, set a specific amount of time set to complete your mission.  You will have an easier time sticking with this assignment if you can rationalize that, for example, “it’s only for six months” instead of an indefinite amount of time.
1.  Eliminate Housing Cost 
Obviously, this is not an option for everyone.  My brother-in-law lives with his father when not on active duty, so he never really has to pay for housing.  Many members of the military will continue to make mortgage payments while away.  Many others, however, live on bases or in barracks, or receive housing allowances.  None of their income goes towards the cost of a place to stay.  Housing is one of our largest expenses.  The cost is very difficult to eliminate, but there are ways.  Move back in with your parents.  Live in cheap college-style housing with friends to keep the cost down.  Or rent out a room in your house to offset the mortgage payment.  With housing making up such a large portion of our budgets, it represents a huge potential in savings.
2.  Simplify Food
They eat the meals served in the mess hall, for free.  My brother-in-law says that the food usually isn’t too bad, but it’s not like he takes a trip to the grocery store to choose from whatever he wants for dinner.  I bring the same basic, cheap lunch to work every day.  The majority of frugal mom bloggers tout the benefits of meal planning to keep costs down.  You can drastically cut your food expenses simply by adopting the mindset that you’re on mission for a definitive amount of time.  Plan out a cheap, but healthy rotation of basic meals to eat during your “deployment.”  Focus on specific meals, instead of just stocking your pantry for whenever you feel like munching on something.  And certainly don’t venture “off-base” to visit any fast food restaurants.
3.  Automate Your Wardrobe
They wear government-issued uniforms.  My brother-in-law won’t be doing any shopping for clothing during his one-year deployment.  I vowed not to purchase any new clothing during 2015, which is the most-extreme method to cut this type of expenditure.  If you’re not ready to rely on only what is in your closet, try to purchase a basic set of interchangeable clothing.  The mission is to save money, so take it seriously.  Who cares about what other people think?  As long as you look presentable in clean clothing, you will be able to function just fine in society.
4.  Be Anti-Social
Although members of the military don’t want to be away from friends and family, such is the consequence of their occupation.  As a result, however, they save on all types of social expenses.  There are no happy hours with friends or nice dinners with other couples on the weekends.  There are no trips to the golf course or the spa, no gym memberships, and no weddings.  My brother-in-law still keeps in regular contact with us, but he won’t be around for the kids’ birthday parties or Christmas, so he won’t be spending money on gifts.  It may seem extreme to suggest becoming a hermit, but it’s only for the duration of your “deployment.”  Keep in touch with phone calls or no-expense visits, but save money by skipping out on any engagements that will cost money.
5.  Get Rid Of Your Car
My brother-in-law won’t be making car payments.  He won’t be buying gas or paying for parking.  The military will take him everywhere he needs to be, at no cost to him.  It is trickier for us civilians to find free transportation.  But we’ve made it through winter, so now it’s time to get out your bike!  Or what about making arrangements with a coworker?  Remember, it’s only for a short amount of time.  Even if you can’t do without a vehicle, make sure to use it as little as possible.  Get your exercise by taking walks to the grocery store, with a backpack to carry your food back home.  Definitely make sure that you’re not making any car payments.  Trade in your more-expensive vehicle for something that will meet your needs.
We explain to the kids that “Uncle” is not having fun without them.  His days consist of going to work, exercising, eating, and sleeping.  On the weekends, he will send us emails and read books he has stored on his laptop.  He is not spending money on any types of luxuries.  Any time you’re about to buy something during this “deployment,” ask yourself whether a soldier overseas would have access to such a commodity.  In order to be successful during your mission, you need to limit yourself to a very basic existence for a short period of time.  Without spending on all of the extras, you will be able to focus on saving a extremely high percentage of your income.
While some members of the military may be able to save up a considerable amount of money, let’s not forget about the risks involved.  There is always a chance that they will pay the ultimate price to ensure our continued freedom.  My brother-in-law is enviable in his ability to retire early, but he has made considerable sacrifices.  “Uncle” loves spending time with his niece and nephew, yet he is missing an entire year of their young lives.  I can’t forget to point out that little Trey will be almost one year old when he finally meets his uncle.  I try to keep these things in perspective when those jealous feelings arise.  My brother-in-law will soon be free to live life on his own terms, the goal which drives me yet feels so out of reach.  But I also try to use his hard work and true sacrifice as motivation to persevere and believe that our dreams are attainable too.
Please make sure to remember the real reason for Memorial Day and thank a veteran for their service to our country this weekend.


  1. I’ve always been attracted to the idea of wearing a uniform everyday. That would sure simplify lots of things.

    Also, with the growth of carsharing, not owning a car is the smart way to go these days. A combination of walking, transit, taxis, conventional rental car, cycling, and carsharing is a great, and cheaper, substitute for very costly car ownership.
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    1. I’ve been trying to adopt more of a “work uniform” by relying on a regular rotation of certain outfits. I didn’t have much a choice towards the end of my pregnancy because nothing fit me, but I survived just fine on a few outfits. We tend to perceive that people notice or care a lot about what we wear . . . but this isn’t high school anymore, very few of them actually pay attention.

  2. Sundeep

    This is an interesting way of looking at ratcheting down costs. I like the soldier analogy and will use some of your suggestions.

    Thanks to you and especially your brother in law for his service to our country. I’m glad he’s figured out a way to set himself up for an early retirement in exchange for risking his life for us.

    1. It’s important to keep our “sacrifices” in perspective, especially when we’re just foregoing a few luxuries to save money.

      Thanks – he certainly deserves the future that he has built for himself.

  3. I served almost 10 years in the military and I like the analogy you made here. This perspective really can be applied to civilian life too. I was young and foolish when I was deployed…I wish I’d have saved more while I was overseas! But the mentality of being happy with less has really stuck with me.
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