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Army officer: My budget and planning for the future

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My name is Lieutenant Soham Gupte; I'm 28 years old. I'm an officer in the United States Army and I make $63,000 a year. I absolutely feel financially secure, and that's one of the benefits of being in the military, that you always know there will be a paycheck, you always know there will be a roof over your head, you always know that there will be money for food. The United States military will pay for some of your college, some of your education. Some people are fortunate enough, if they go to a service academy, like the Naval Academy, or the Military Academy at West Point, to have their entire college paid for and to get paid on top of that. Some of us weren't that lucky. I did ROTC and I had some of my tuition covered, which helped me out a lot, but there were still living expenses; living in New York wasn't cheap. And surviving in New York wasn't cheap. So I still do have some student debt, but I'm paying that off every single month and budgeting properly to ensure that that is gone. On top of that, for any service member or any employee of the government at the federal, state, or local level, there is something called the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Act, that if you serve 10 years, continuously or noncontinuously, in some type of government function, the military, city manager, federal employee, that you will have your federal debt wiped out after 10 years and after making 120 qualifying payments. You can look that up through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Act, that's something that I'm going to rely on after 10 years to have my federal debt wiped out. The only other loan I have is an auto loan for my car, which I pay off every month. Most military posts and bases throughout the armed services are spread out; they're usually near civilian centers. So Fort Stewart, Georgia, is near Savannah, but it's still about a 40 to 50 minute commute. So if individuals decide to live off post or off a base, they'll need a car. There are transportation schemes that some posts or bases have, but we encourage our soldiers to have an independent form of transportation, and we mentor them to ensure that they're buying something within their means and at a low interest rate. As a first lieutenant in the United States Army, I am given $5,200 roughly, pre-taxed, and that is my taxable income, that is my base salary. Included in that is my housing allowance and my food allowance. Roughly $1100 is taken out for tax purposes and on the first and 15th of the month I get about $2,000, so that's a total monthly income of $4,000. Because I live in Savannah, Georgia my rent is very cheap, so I pay roughly $450, so I live with roommates in a house. So that's the key, that's probably why it's so low, because I have another roommate. But we have a three-bedroom house and it's pretty new, a kitchen, dining room, living room. I have the master bedroom, so I lucked out to find a very nice place to live for very cheap. My cellphone is roughly $50 a month. I chose to have a nicer car, so I pay about $450 a month, which includes both my loan and gas. Because of college and graduate school I had to take out some student loans to live and to eat and to go out on fun trips and vacations, so I pay roughly $640 a month for student loans. Food-wise, I like to cook at home, so my grocery bill is roughly $300 a month, and then I spend roughly $300 a month for insurance and for my favorite charities which I donate to. Now another way to destress of course is through an entertainment budget. I try and keep it low, but it's about $800 a month, and that's going out to eat or going to bars or going on trips. If you're in the military you get a four-day weekend, most of the time, for federal holidays. So every federal holiday I travel somewhere to go see friends in California or go back home to New Jersey. When all is said and done, I have about $1,000 left at the end of the month, including my retirement pay, and then $500 for savings, which is very important. So no matter what I spend money on, I give $500 to my savings account to ensure that I save up for future costs such as buying a house, and to ensure that I have roughly six months' pay saved up if I don't have this job anymore. Right now the biggest thing I am saving for is a house. I am 28 years old; I expect to be at Fort Stewart, Georgia for another two more years before I get moved to another duty station. And by that time I'll be 30, and I'd like to buy a house, a nicer house at that point. So my savings goal is $250,000; that's the down payment I want to put on a house. And so if I need to cut out something or not go on a trip one month, that's where my money is going, it's going toward a high-interest savings account, which I would highly recommend. Budgeting's very important, especially if you want to go on vacations and have the other luxuries, which I think everyone deserves in life. I've taught that to my soldiers, that you work hard and you get a paycheck, so you should enjoy your money. But at the same time, do you need to eat out everyday? On a military salary, probably not, right? We're not Wall Street investment bankers; we don't make as much. So I've taught them, you know, meal prepping, and how to cut expenses on certain things. Maybe you don't need the Netflix and Hulu subscriptions; maybe you just need the Netflix one. So there's different ways to manipulate your budget so you're still having fun, enjoying life, but at the end of the day you are financially secure.
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