Military Money with Joy and Mike


Military Money with Joy and Mike

Today’s topic is particularly near and dear to my heart, because we’re talking about military money. For those of you who don’t know, my
grandfather and grandmother on my dad’s side were both in the Army, and my dad is a graduate of the United States Air Force Academy and was an active member in the Air Force for most of my childhood.

Today we’re specifically talking about it because this week we’ve launched a new plan specifically designated for members of the military, retired or active, based on their unique professional, personal, and financial journeys. We have launched a specific military designation for our trainers that requires extra training in everything from military life to military paychecks to military retirement plans. It’s an exciting next chapter of the Financial Gym, and joining me today are the two trainers leading the charge, Mike and Joy. They’re going to share their personal stories as well as how a career in the military can impact your financial life.

What Are We Drinking?

Joy — Cristalino Cava

Mike — White Claw Black Cherry

Shannon — Cristalino Cava

Podcast Notes

  • Joy and Mike are Trainers at the Financial Gym.
  • Mike is retired from the Marines and he is relatively new to the Financial Gym. 
  • Prior to joining the Marine Corps, Mike was working at a credit union in Massachusetts. He enjoyed what he was doing, but he wasn’t following his passion. He has a degree in music and he wanted to get back into playing full time.
  • There are not a lot of options to support yourself as a full-time musician. He had a chance to audition for one of the Marine Corps bands and passed the audition. 
  • Mike went to boot camp at 27 years old. It was a struggle, but he made it through. After boot camp, you go to your specialty school and his was the School of Music in Virginia Beach.
  • The military over recruits, and in your contract there is fine print that says you may not make it through the schoolhouse you want, but you’ll still have a job.
  • Mike plays the French horn and they kept two horn players that have their masters degrees. Mike has a bachelors degree and he was assigned to be a mechanic. 
  • Mike served his four years and kept playing on the side. He was in a community band in North Carolina. 
  • The Marines based Mike’s job off the results of his aptitude test. He had a strong mechanical score. He went to a schoolhouse and they taught him everything he needed to know about being a mechanic. 
  • Mike was able to blossom where he was put and have a good four years, even though it wasn’t what he wanted to be doing.
  • Now Mike is in the Army Reserves, in an actual band. He auditioned in June. 
  • Musicians that serve have a different level of commitment. In all branches, everyone has to pass boot camp and every year there are fitness standards that have to be kept, regardless of your job. 
  •  When Mike writes his memoir, the chapter about basic training will be called Everything Hurts. He has always been active, but he was competing against 18 year olds.
  • The amount of physical exercise they put you through is insane. He doesn’t know how he did it. Training was 12 weeks. He couldn’t have a phone and he had to write letters to talk to family.
  • Shannon’s dad retired from the Air Force. He grew up in Queens, New York, and his basic training was in the mountains of Colorado.
  • Mike went to Paris Island, in South Carolina, and his barracks was right next to the band hall. Hearing them rehearse is what got him through.
  • Joy is one degree separated from the military experience. She is a military spouse.
  • Joy met her husband, Wes, in college and she didn’t like him at that time. They had a similar major and he talked about the Marine Corps all the time. 
  • Joy moved to NYC to work in advertising and he followed a couple years later. He mistook her politeness for friendship and thought he had a friend to hang out with when he moved to the city. Now they are married.
  • While they were dating, he was trying to commission as an officer in the Marine Corps. Officers go to college first and go through a separate training process and commissioning process, if they finish the Officer Candidate School (OCS).
  • Her husband had already tried to go through OCS when he was in college, but something got messed up with his credits because of his GPA. You have to maintain high standards to stay in that program, so he got dropped and had to reapply and go through that process again.
  • He was going through that process again when they started dating and he made it into OCS. With OCS it is a lot of leadership training and sleep deprivation and you have to grade each other on how each other is leading. Each week they cut people. It is very intense. 
  • Her husband didn’t make it all the way through the second time. He got to week seven and had an injury. He was so determined to be a Marine Corps officer, that he enlisted and tried to go in that way.
  • This is how Joy’s husband and Mike met. They went to boot camp together and did their combat training together.
  • The young military recruits were born after 9/11 happened. 
  • Wes’s dad was a Marine. There was a prestige in becoming a Marine Corps officer, and he had set that goal early on in college. Ten years later, it is just now starting to dwindle. 
  • The Gym is now offering special military planning. All walks of life join the military and there is not a lot of financial literacy along the way. It is like having a full-time job at 18 years old with a lot of choices. There is a struggle in managing your money well. 
  • This is Mike’s passion project he brought to the Gym. In his last job in the military as a platoon sergeant, he was in charge of the day-to-day lives of 60 Marines. He had to make sure they got to their appointments, kept up with their medical requirements, and were doing what they were supposed be doing.
  • He saw a lot of them in distress, because they were living paycheck to paycheck, living outside of their means, tied to car payments they couldn’t afford, etc. He saw them doing things because they thought they needed to in order to survive. 
  • Mike helped many of them by sitting down and looking at their budget and showing them how to do it. There are free financial services offered by the government, but they are generic. It’s good information, but people don’t know how to apply it.
  • There are a lot of nuances with military pay and living expenses that are really complicated and difficult to understand.
  • Shannon has several active military clients she works with and every time they send her their paystub/LES, she has difficulties deciphering them because there are a lot of boxes and asterisks. 
  • When you have a spouse or dependent while you are in the military, you get some allotments that aren’t taxed. You get a stipend for food, which is usually around $400 a month, plus you get a basic allowance for housing (BAH) which is based on your zip code.
  • Clients living in California or Hawaii will get a higher BAH than those in North Carolina. If you move to a lower cost of living location, you will receive a lower BAH.
  • When someone decides to leave the military, they need to take into account the untaxed income they receive to figure out the salary they will need to make. 
  • If service members are not married, they get a barracks room, the chow hall, etc, and there are ways to not spend any money. It depends on the base whether the food is good or not. They are working on making it better. 
  • Tricare is the health insurance and it is excellent. You can go to the doctor whenever you need to, and there is no financial transaction involved. No copays or anything. Joy has had great experience at the Naval Hospital and never has to pay anything.
  • There are clinics for active duty members and Mike had to fight for a second opinion when he was having an issue with his back. However, he ended up getting physical therapy that cost $1,500 a month and he didn’t have to pay for any of it. 
  • Mike was a Sergeant before he left the military and his base pay was $3,200 a month. With his additional benefits, he needed to make closer to $65,000 to continue living the way he was living. 
  • If someone has a goal that will require them to live on less, trainers show what that looks like in a plan and encourage clients to live like they have already made that choice, to see if they can do it.
  • A big goal for many clients is buying a house. Trainers come up with a plan so clients can start automating their finances and get used to the expenses before they occur. 
  • A large part of planning with military clients is helping them understand what it looks like post-military life.
  • Another area is making sure military clients understand what they are giving up in terms of retirement and pension, if they leave. Whether they are on the old pension system or the new blended retirement system, it is so important to help them understand what they could get if they did finish and show them the full picture.
  • The military retirement system, TSP, is one of the best retirement plans out there. Rarely does the Gym recommend rolling client funds out of that system when clients leave the military. There are ways to roll future retirement plans into their TSP.
  • It is really just helping clients understand all of the scenarios. 
  • The Marine Corps has been pushing the Six F’s: future, fidelity, fighter, fitness, family, and finances, to make sure service members and their families are taken care of.
  • From Joy’s perspective, the biggest issues for military spouses are underemployment and unemployment. A spouse needs a job that is flexible while the service member is active duty. In addition, many spouses are young and trying to get through college, and that also needs to be flexible.
  • This is important to remember when a service member is trying to decide if they want to stay in. Many spouses get pigeonholed into being homemakers, given the service member’s career track, and that may not be what they want.
  • Managing through a spouse’s career can be challenging. Joy came to the Gym, because of the flexibility she could have. You have to be creative in the things that you do.
  • It’s a great situation for spouses to build their own business, because the military provides a regular paycheck that covers all of your basic needs, health insurance, and a great level of stability. The money earned from the business can be used toward future goals and it sets them up for when the service member decides to leave the military. Your business does not have to make money while you are building it.
  • There are a lot of programs and free education for business plan writing and helping spouses and military members become entrepreneurs.
  • Military clients who work with the Gym will have plans that are tailored specifically to military friends and family. Mike and Joy are working together and there will be a specific military training designation available to trainers who are interested in learning more.
  • Special pricing is available, based on rank.

TAKEAWAY: My biggest takeaway is that understanding the financial implications of military versus civilian life are critical. Having a plan for this transition will prevent financial challenges in the future.

Random Three Questions

  1. What is your favorite military memory?
  2. What do you do to relax?
  3. If this was your last night on earth, what is your last meal?

Connect with Joy and Mike


Instagram: Mike – @mjpou56, Joy – @joyzliu

If you’re an active or retired member of the military, and you’d like to talk to my team at the Financial Gym to help you understand your financial life and options, I hope you’ll reach out to us. We have special pricing and discounts available that will work for every member and his or her family. So head over to, or send friends to, to get signed up today.

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