Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Behold the Power of Google...

I've been seeing multiple Facebook posts over the past few weeks linking to an article written by a man for the Huffington Post. If you aren't familiar with this article here's the link Lavish Military Lifestyle. (I was able to title the link myself and I thought this was fitting.)

Just today I took the time to sit down and read what was causing quite the uproar amongst my military spouse brethren. After reading this article I had to laugh. I read a few of the comments and laughed even more. This article is just that, laughable! If Mr. Wood's article is indicative of quality journalism then I really need to submit an article because my mediocre blog has far more journalistic quality than his "kick to the hornet's nest" article. I know a very good majority of my readers are military affiliated so they know but for the friends and family I have who DO NOT have a clue how things are because they don't live my lavish lifestyle let me give you a little clue into my world.
**Everything I am about to write is 100% factual. You can Google 'military base pay', 'COLA calculator', 'BAH calculator' to fact check my numbers. It is PUBLIC record the pay and incentive pay of our military, every single branch not just the Army.**

Let me throw my very first link out there pertaining to our lavish lifestyle. This is the spreadsheet of military pay, not average, ACTUAL! 2013 Military Pay Scale The O section is for Officers, W = Warrant Officers, and E = Enlisted a.k.a. low men on the totem pole. Let me tell you that Daric was an E-4 falling into the over 8 years service category. He is now an E-3 in the over 8 years service category. So his base pay, the bare minimum we get paid is exactly $2,014.80...exactly! He is maxed out on the amount of money he can make because he was reduced in rank so even if he were to promote we'd be back at E-4, also maxed out on the amount of money he can make, making $2,403.30. Keep in mind this is a BEFORE TAX number. Our home of record is California so you better believe we pay not only federal income tax but also state tax. *We choose to be taxed at a single 1 rate also so don't think we have some huge tax break all year, we're taxed just as much as everyone else or more but at return time we get a lot back due to our family size. It's how we save money.* For those of you who think "my taxpayer dollars pay your salary!" think again, HIS taxpayer dollars pay his own damn salary. By the way that number is MONTHLY, not weekly or bi-weekly. But before I jump the gun in breaking down his salary let me add in the other pay we receive.

Next link Overseas COLA Calculator. This calculator ONLY APPLIES TO THOSE LIVING OVERSEAS! We get a COLA, Cost Of Living Allowance, stipend every month that fluctuates with the exchange rate. When you live in say Germany your COLA allowance will be higher because the cost of living on the Euro is a lot more than living on the cost of the Won. The American dollar is still slightly stronger than the South Korean Won but if you notice on the calculator it is broken down into two periods. The 1st through the 15th of the month then the 15th through the rest of the month so if say the Won drops a lot any time during the 1-15 of the month but then rises to higher than it was during the 15-30(1) of the month then we'll get two different amounts to equal one monthly payment. It is hard to say exactly how much we make here every month since it fluctuates so much but to say we get $300 in COLA a month is a safe average. Sometimes it's more but sometimes it's less. So adding Daric's base pay with COLA we are making $2,314.80 a month BEFORE TAX. But lets add more!

Overseas Housing Allowance This calculator again ONLY APPLIES TO THOSE LIVING OVERSEAS! We get a higher housing allowance because there is NO ON POST HOUSING AVAILABLE! We live in Yangju but if you use the calculator and need our locality it's Uijeongbu because Daric is stationed at Camp Red Cloud (also use that for the COLA calculator). We are lucky we get an Utility Allowance that is added into our OHA stipend on the paystub. Yes we can get $1,743.01 in rent BUT we only get EXACTLY what our rent is, no more. We do get the full utility allowance however last month's gas and electric bills were $600 so as you can see we need that much especially when the exchange rate sucks and it takes more US dollars to equal what we owe in Won. I know people out here who have GONE OVER the utility allowance and have had to pay out of pocket for their bills! Yes, it's that expensive. We pay our rent and utilities in the local currency. We are at the mercy of the exchange rate. When we first arrived it was great and we were able to spend less to get more, if that makes sense but now it sucks and continues to drop so we are spending more to get less! If you are curious to know what we were being paid while we were living in Fort Leonard Wood then here you go Basic Allowance for Housing and our zip code was 65473. As of right now if we still lived there we'd be getting $996 for rent which is more than we were getting when we lived there by about $88. Remember we lived on post so no, on post housing is NOT free. That money was put into our paycheck and taken out so we never saw it except as the transactions on the paystub. Would you like to know the average price of a 3 bedroom, 2 bath house outside of base in town? $1,200 so if we had chosen to live off post we would have been paying at the very least $292 out of pocket every month. No COLA for living in Missouri! No utility allowance either. Now let me touch very briefly on our housing. Our first house on post was built in the 60's and it showed. We signed lead paint and black mold waivers upon move in. So when we found black mold it was not a reason to re-home us because we signed away that right. Refuse to sign? Then we don't get a house on post. Plain and simple! The joys of privatized housing on post, the company's bottom line is THE bottom line. Our second home was a renovated house, large and very quickly renovated. And it showed! As the house settled in our first month living there cracks starting appearing in the paint in corners and on the ceiling. Very comforting indeed but since we already moved we couldn't move again and just fyi we had to pay to move out of our house and into the new one. None of that money was reimbursed. $300 for a cleaning fee, the cost of the moving van, the cost of boxes, the cost of paying friends in food for helping since I was very pregnant during that move and couldn't do anything to help. Oh and that house had mold too, and ants and mice and lots of other quirks I could list but this section is getting too long so I'll move on.

Other incentives/other pay we receive Basic Allowance for Subsistence a flat rate across the board for enlisted service members of $323.87 a month. "BAS is meant to offset costs for a member's meals. This allowance is based in the historic origins of the military in which the military provided room and board (or rations) as part of a member's pay. This allowance is not intended to offset the costs of meals for family members." Unless you are a single soldier this money is used to help offset the cost of groceries for your family. Lets face it, groceries aren't cheap! We get to shop at the commissary it's so much cheaper than a grocery store! Not necessarily true. True the commissary doesn't mark up the prices, they sell it to us at cost and true there's no tax however there is a 5% surcharge to cover their overhead. That is on your entire purchase. You shop at Walmart or Albertsons or Safeway and there are food items that aren't taxed so if you compare them that way it's either the exact same or slightly cheaper off post. Granted we get to use coupons and we have sales also so I'd say on average there is no difference between the commissary and a normal grocery store. When you live on post shopping at the commissary is just a matter of convenience.

Being in Korea we are given Command Sponsorship pay of $300 a month All About Command Sponsorship Straight from the Source. That is a bonus given to Daric for bringing his family to Korea and staying for 2 years. If he would have come alone and done only 1 year here we wouldn't qualify for that. There are a lot of families out here that come stay with their service member for the 1 year, they are non-command sponsored so they don't get that money. THIS MONEY IS ONLY FOR SOUTH KOREA! We didn't get that money in MO. Daric is stationed at Camp Red Cloud which is considered Area 1 in South Korea so he gets Hardship Duty Pay which is $150 a month Hardship Duty Pay. If we didn't come to Korea with him he would have also received a Family Separation Allowance of $250 a month for being physically separated from his family for longer than 30 days Family Separation Allowance. We don't get that since we're here. When Daric was deployed to Iraq his base pay was roughly $2,200, BAS $300, HDP $150, HFP/IDP Hostile Fire/Imminent Danger Pay $225, and FSA $250 a month so while he was deployed we made $3,125 a month BEFORE TAX! Not too bad for a one paycheck household true but we don't get that pay forever, it doesn't start until after 30 days, it's only while he's deployed, only while we're living in South Korea, etc. Subtract $625 and that's how much we really were making the entire time we were at the Fort BEFORE TAX!

Now lets do the math. I have copied Daric's February LES (Leave & Earnings Statement i.e. paystub). I have highlighted his Grade because we are STILL receiving the wrong pay since his command is wonderful and totally on top of everything so when we leave Korea we will owe the Army about $3,000 for being over paid. That amount will ALL be taken in one transaction out of our bank account. Thank goodness for tax returns! I have also highlighted all the taxes he pays every month in turquoise. The purple highlights are our life insurance premiums we are required to have. If Daric were to die we'd receive $400,000, for me or the kids it's $100,000. Our deductions aren't that different from a normal person's deductions. The allotments we have are savings and also for rent. We have had to pull a few hundred more than the $2,000 we've allotted for rent for the past few months since the exchange rate has been on the steady decline. I can only access the past years worth of LESs so I can't put up a picture of our Fort Leonard Wood pay but subtract rows D-F and about $1,800 from row C. Oh don't forget to subtract about $200 from row A as well and that's a fair picture of what we made in FLW. We get paid on the 1st and the 15th of the month so that $1,586.77 is what we get for 2 weeks which isn't too bad. If you break Daric's base pay down into an hourly rate he makes exactly $3.58 an hour since he is on call 24/7, 365! He does not get overtime, he does not get holiday pay. It's a wonder, with a wage like that more men and women don't join the military!
DEFENSE FINANCE AND ACCOUNTING SERVICE MILITARY LEAVE AND EARNINGS STATEMENT
ID NAME (Last, First, MI)BISHOP DARIC EARL SOC. SEC. NO. *********GRADE E4PAY DATE030702YRS SVC09ETS130815BRANCHARMY ADSN/DSSN6411PERIOD COVERED1-28 FEB 13
ENTITLEMENTSDEDUCTIONSALLOTMENTSSUMMARY
   TypeAmount
TypeAmount
TypeAmount
+Amt Fwd .00
A
B
C
D
E
F
G
H
I
J
K
L
M
N
O
BASE PAY
BAS
BAH
SAVE PAY
HDP LOCATION
COLA



2403.30
352.27
2686.69
300.00
150.00
438.20



TOTAL
6330.46
FEDERAL TAXES
FICA-SOC SECURITY
FICA-MEDICARE

SGLI
STATE TAXES
AFRH
SGLI FAM/SPOUSE
MID-MONTH-PAY

314.60
149.00
34.85
27.00
56.16
.50
5.00
1618.58

2205.69
DISCRETIONARY ALT
BANK ACCT ALLOT
BANK ACCT ALLOT






100.00
2000.00
438.00






2538.00
+Tot Ent 6330.46
-Tot Ded 2205.69
-Tot Allt 2538.00
=Net Amt 1586.77
-Cr Fwd .00
=EOM Pay 1586.77



 DIEMS
  030213
 RETPLAN
  CHOICE
LEAVE BF Bal 71.5 Ernd 12.5Used 0 Cr Bal 84.0 ETS Bal 98.0 Lv Lost .0 Lv Paid .0Use/Lose 26.5FED
TAXES
Wage Period 2853.30Wage YTD 5706.60M/SS Ex01Add'l Tax .00Tax YTD 629.20
FICA
TAXES
Wage Period
2403.30
Soc Wage YTD
4806.60
Soc Tax YTD
298.00
Med Wage YTD
4806.60
Med Tax YTD
69.70
STATE
TAXES
St
CA
Wage Period
2853.30
Wage YTD
5706.60
M/S
M
Ex
01
Tax YTD
112.32

Now lets do the math for when we are living in Fort Bliss. Lets take that same LES but plug in different numbers since we won't have all the entitlements we are getting now.
DEFENSE FINANCE AND ACCOUNTING SERVICE MILITARY LEAVE AND EARNINGS STATEMENT
ID NAME (Last, First, MI)BISHOP DARIC EARL SOC. SEC. NO. *********GRADE E3PAY DATE030702YRS SVC09ETS130815BRANCHARMY ADSN/DSSN6411PERIOD COVERED1-30 APR 13
ENTITLEMENTSDEDUCTIONSALLOTMENTSSUMMARY
   TypeAmount
TypeAmount
TypeAmount
+Amt Fwd .00
A
B
C
D
E
F
G
H
I
J
K
L
M
N
O
BASE PAY
BAS
BAH




2014.80
352.27
1113.00



TOTAL
3480.07
FEDERAL TAXES
FICA-SOC SECURITY
FICA-MEDICARE
SGLI
STATE TAXES
AFRH
SGLI FAM/SPOUSE
MID-MONTH-PAY

408.57
215.76
50.46
27.00
118.17
.50
5.00
770.81

1596.27
HOUSING ALLOT






1113.00






1113.00
+Tot Ent 3480.07
-Tot Ded 1596.27
-Tot Allt 1113.00
=Net Amt 770.80
-Cr Fwd .00
=EOM Pay 770.80



 DIEMS
  030213
 RETPLAN
  CHOICE
LEAVE BF Bal 71.5 Ernd 12.5Used 0 Cr Bal 84.0 ETS Bal 98.0 Lv Lost .0 Lv Paid .0Use/Lose 26.5FED
TAXES
Wage Period Wage YTDM/SS Ex01Add'l Tax .00Tax YTD
FICA
TAXES
Wage PeriodSoc Wage YTDSoc Tax YTDMed Wage YTDMed Tax YTDSTATE
TAXES
St
CA
Wage PeriodWage YTDM/S
M
Ex
01
Tax YTD


So as you can see we most certainly ARE NOT living lavishly. If you do a little fact checking here Poverty Data, we are actually living at or below the poverty line for a family of our size (they don't include our BAH payment since it's not money we see ever!) depending on which LES you use. Korea at the poverty line, Bliss well below the poverty line. We do get WIC, we do not get food stamps because I feel we do not need it so why take away a benefit from someone who truly does need it. We know how to budget, we've eliminated all our debt during our time in Korea with all our extra pay so we don't need very much more to support our family comfortably. Based on the budget we have now using our Fort Bliss "guesstimated" pay we'll still be able to put about $100 each pay period into savings. We have our emergency fund but it's not at the 3-6 months expenses level yet. Hopefully by the time we are finished with the Army we'll have a nice cushion in savings so our transition to the real world won't be so bad. So here you go non-military affiliated folks. This is a true and accurate portrait of the lavish lifestyle we all have signed up for. And on that note I will say "let them eat cake".

Good afternoon, morning or evening where ever you are in the world from our 'living in the lap of luxury' family to yours!