After the TSP, I invest my money in Betterment and Vanguard. I track all of my investments with Personal Capital. I also wrote a short, 2 hour book summarizing this site. You can buy it here.
The holiday season can be especially hard on military families. Loved ones can be deployed overseas, in a combat zone, or on a short notice TDY to respond to any kind of crisis. Overseas bases try to get into the holiday spirit with decorations, Thanksgiving dinner, a special Christmas dinner, and as much festivities as the location will allow. But still, it’s hard on the deployed service member.
One way to show your sailor, soldier, airman, or marine you love them is sending them a practical gift that they can use overseas, stateside, and on future deployments. I’ve tested all of these gifts in combat zones and let me tell you they are worth the money. Some of these gifts are great for passing the many hours of boredom troops experience while deployed, while some of the gifts are excellent tools for getting their jobs done.
The Best Christmas Gift for a Military Member: SILENCE
Being in the military means many things, but the most annoying to me is how loud it is. As an airman, I am constantly subjected to:
- very loud bus, MRAP, and other military vehicle motors
- aircraft engines in excess of 120 decibels
- aircraft interiors that are three times as loud as a commercial flight
- commercial air travel, which is pretty much constant noise
- sleeping accommodations under fighter jet flight paths
Ear plugs are great but when I want to listen to music, watch a movie, or just protect my ears from the constant noise assault, I turn to my Bose QuietComfort 15 Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones.
If you have ever tried these at the BX/PX or a Bose store, you know they are nothing short of magical. Their ability to block out sound is unrivaled. When you read the Amazon reviews for these headphones you’ll see that they blow the competition out of the water.
I recently took a 30 hour flight from the States to Qatar in a C-17 for my most recent deployment. Along the way I enjoyed movies, music, and just the silence that comes from wearing these extremely comfortable and light headphones. It was my first time using them and they paid for themselves in the first hour of use. I love my pair of QC15s!
My wife has the Bose QuietComfort 20 Acoustic Noise Cancelling Earbuds
which work as well or even better than the QC15s. It all depends on how you want to listen to your sound, whether over the ear or earbud style. I highly recommend either pair.
Electronic Gifts for Military Personnel
Another one of my favorite toys to take on TDYs or deployments is the Bose Soundlink Mini Bluetooth Speaker. This little guy packs a tremendous amount of sound into a solidly built tiny package. In my experience a fully charged battery lasts for 7 hours and it recharges within an hour. This little speaker can get LOUD and sounds great. I use it at home to listen to music and when I throw parties.
When I’m on the road and have a few hours to relax, this speaker makes it easy to create a mobile fun environment for me and my friends. It’s also great on picnics, road trips, beach days, camping, or anywhere else where you want to play your tunes!
I can’t overstate how solidly constructed this device is. If you’ve never played with one at the Bose store or owned one, it’s hard to describe how solid this speaker is built. I really love mine and recommend picking one up if you love music.
A digital camera is one of the best things a servicemember can have with them to document their adventures around the world. In my experience Canon makes the best pocket digital cameras for the money. Even though I have a much more expensive DSLR and a decent phone on my camera, I often turn to my Canon Powershot SX700 for those quick photos. As the saying goes, the best camera is the one you have on you. This little camera slips into any pocket and is durable enough to handle the dusty, dirty, jarring military environment that I operate in.
A small tablet is an amazing entertainment and communication device. The small size, long battery life, and light weight make any tablet a perfect travel companion for the busy soldier. While a laptop is great for getting homework done, writing emails back home, or playing video games, a tablet is the perfect entertainment device to pass the long hours of “hurry up and wait” that all military personnel experience. The Kindle Paperwhite is great if your soldier is an avid book reader. There’s nothing quite as nice as grabbing a new book over the air while you’re waiting for your next flight. The Apple iPad Mini is an excellent choice for a great mini tablet.
Essential Gift Ideas
Being deployed means you get a lot of stuff given to you. There’s usually unlimited water bottles, food at the chow hall, and free books at the library. However, there’s always some essentials that you can’t get enough of.
Hand sanitizer is one of those items that you’ll always want more of when you’re deployed. The hot, dusty, sandy, dirty, and unsanitary conditions that you often work in means that clean hands are essential to healthiness and happiness. Send your soldier, sailor, airmen, or marine a bottle of Purell and I guarantee they won’t be upset.
When you work outside all day in the hot Middle Eastern sun, you need sunglasses. Obviously you’ll want to talk to your military service member about what style they want, but Oakley has a great program on www.usstandardissue.com to sell discount sunglasses to military personnel. Ray-Bans are also popular.
A good pen is hard to find down range. You’re always signing for things and writing things down whether you’re on or off duty. If your service member doesn’t have reliable access to a BX, they might just want a pen in their stocking this year. I’m partial to the Pilot G2 pens.
A sturdy backpack is a must have on any TDY or deployment. No one is going to carry your bags for you! Having one less bag in hand and one on your back is a definite plus. I like Osprey Packs for their durability, light weight, and size.
The war never stops, especially when the sun goes down. A good flashlight is essential to continuing operations and support. A flashlight that doesn’t take lithium ion batteries and just takes regular AAA or AA batteries is a plus, as the LiON batteries can be hard to find and expensive. This flashlight is sturdy, bright, and under $10.
No matter whether you are a special operations snake eater or a finance officer, you’ll be thankful you have a Gerber Multi-Tool at least once a week. I love mine and use it almost every other day.
A memory foam travel pillow can be the difference from enjoying that long flight from Germany to the East Coast or not sleeping at all. I recommend never leaving for a deployment without one!
2 Websites I Use to Achieve Financial Independence
The best way I know to achieve financial independence is to keep your investments simple, diversified, automatic, and low-cost. Costs eat into your returns like you wouldn't believe! A 1% difference in expense ratios can mean $100,000s lost to fees over a lifetime of investing.
Even if you're a DIY (do-it-yourself) investor like I am, you need to check out Betterment. You can read my full review here, but the bottom line is for only $250 per $100,000 invested (0.25% expense ratio) you get simple, diversified, and automated investing. In addition every account now gets free Tax Loss Harvesting+ features, which should increase returns for the average investor more than the minuscule management fee.
If you're not a DIY investor or are just getting started with investing, then you definitely need to check out Betterment. It's what I recommend to my family and friends who aren't strong investors or don't care to learn about asset allocations, diversification, or rebalancing.
I have investment accounts all over the place. To keep track of all of them in one place I use Personal Capital. It combines all of my accounts, shows me where I may be overpaying in fees, and provides beautiful charts showing my overall asset allocation and performance.
I use Personal Capital to track my Roth and Traditional TSP, Vanguard IRAs, banking accounts, SDP, and my Betterment taxable account, all in one place. It's free, secure and presents me with a one-stop dashboard so I can see all my money on one site.
Read my full review of Personal Capital and see how easy it can be to manage your investments in one place. Trust me, once you try it, you'll love it.
P.S. - If you have over $100,000 of assets and a 401k, you really need to run the Personal Capital 401k Fee Analyzer.