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Deployment: Whether it's 30 days or 15 months, it's never easy. All of the preparation that goes into deploying, the actual deployment, and then being stationed thousands of miles away from home and loved ones take time, energy, and a fair bit of stress. Saving money while deployed should be one of your top priorities.
When you receive your deployment orders, there are lots of things to start thinking about. If you want to achieve your financial goals, you might start thinking about saving money while you're deployed.
Before you deploy, there will probably be some expenses you'll incur that won't be reimbursed. Try to keep these to a minimum. Don't run out and buy a bunch of expensive equipment that you may or may not need. Stick to your packing list and talk to guys who have gone before you. See what they recommend.
There are many financial advantages to deployment. Tax free income, extra incentive pay, and forced frugality are some of the best. If your deployment will include international travel outside of a military base, make sure you get a no foreign transaction fee credit card before you go.
Of course, on my first deployment, I screwed up the frugality part by forgetting my PT gear and having to buy $80 worth of clothes the day I showed up. Not the most frugal start! Besides messing that up, here's 8 ways I've found to save money on deployment, from least effort to most effort.
Invest in the Savings Deposit Program
The Savings Deposit Program, also known as SDP, is a DoD sponsored savings program that offers a 10% return. Servicemembers can deposit up to $10,000 into the SDP once they've been deployed for 30 days. The money deposited continues to collect interest for up to 120 days after the servicemember leaves the deployed location.
As long as you continue to be in a deployed location for at least 1 day per month, you can keep the SDP going for up to 36 months. This is especially useful for aircrew and others who may transit a deployed location in support of other missions.
Suspend your cell phone service
All major US carriers (Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, and AT&T) allow you to suspend your cell phone line while you are deployed. This allows you to save money on a service you won't be using, while keeping your phone number for when you return. You could save hundreds of dollars by doing this, even if you're deployed for just a few months. Call your service provider customer support line for more details.
Put your utilities into “vacation mode”
Okay, deployment won't be a vacation for you. But that doesn't mean your utilities can't take a break. Unplugging your refrigerator (after cleaning it out, of course), calling your cable/internet provider and asking them to suspend your service or lower your rate while your gone, or even turning off your electricity, water, and gas are all options.
For myself, the easiest was just to cancel my Netflix, lower my internet bill by 80% by putting it into “vacation mode,” and unplug my refrigerator and all the electronics in the house. That saved me almost $50 per month.
Suspend your auto insurance
If your car is going to be stored and unused while you are deployed, suspending your auto insurance is a great way to save hundreds of dollars. It depends on your state's laws, but almost all auto insurers will lower your premiums substantially if you merely call and tell them you'll be deploying.
Let them know no one will be using your car, and it's parked in a safe location, like a storage area, garage, or on base. If you have a spouse or other person who will be using the car, just make sure to take yourself off the policy, and don't completely un-insure the vehicle!
Go on a spending freeze
This should be incredibly easy to do. After all, you're thousands of miles away from the nearest strip mall. You're not going out to eat, all your food is provided for. If you can drink, you're probably limited to 2-3 $3 beers per day. American style consumerism should be hard to practice! Unfortunately, it's not.
In many deployed locations, you'll have access to a BX, a Shoppette, local merchants, fast food, other restaurants, and maybe even a car dealership! These can all be great amenities and access to them in a warzone is an awesome display of American power (or decadence).
Just imagine, for a moment, what you could achieve if you didn't keep your normal, CONUS spending habits. If you cut back, really cut back and didn't spend a dollar for a month, how much could you save? Probably a lot.
Now what if you could do that for another week or month while you were downrange? Think of all the much nicer things you could buy and actually enjoy when you got home, if you saved like crazy while deployed.
Eat healthy and workout
Staying healthy while deployed can be a challenge. Most dining facilities (DFACS) have plenty of not-so-healthy options mixed in with some healthy options. Eating a cheeseburger with onion rings or curly fries is probably not the healthiest choice. Make sure to mix in some veggies, salad, and fruit in between all the snacks and “country” style chicken.
In some deployed locations you'll also have access to a gym facility or at least have time for some pushups/pullups. Get with some buddies and start working out! Deployment is a great time to stay in shape, get into shape, or prepare for your next PT test. You know its coming up soon!
Eating healthy and working out are not only great for your health and happiness, but also your bottom line. Healthy people usually have less expensive healthcare in the future and many other benefits beyond mere financial gain. What's the point of saving money if you're too sick or dead to enjoy it? Treat your body well, especially when your deployed.
Break your lease
Under the Servicemembers' Civil Relief Act of 2003, if you're called to any TDY or deployment that will take you away from your home station for 90 days or greater, you can terminate your apartment, condo, or home lease provided you make the request in writing and provide a copy of your orders.
This can result in MASSIVE savings, as you'll still be collecting your BAH while deployed, but won't be paying rent. You should give your landlord 30 days notice, if able. That way you won't have to pay for a month of rent when you're not occupying your apartment. The SCRA states that the earliest termination date is 30 days after the next payment is due. Most tenants, if they're understanding, can prorate the charges, or only charge you for the month you leave in.
Rent your place out
While I haven't successfully pulled this off while deployed yet, it would be awesome to get someone into my condo while I was deployed. While we're home, my wife and I rent our couch out on AirBnB. Just from renting our couch out we've made $350. Our whole place is currently listed for $1000/month. If we could get someone in for a 3 month deployment, they would pay our mortgage for us. How awesome would that be?
This isn't always practical, especially if your family is going to be staying home while you're deployed, which is why it's last on the list. But if your family is taking off or you're single, renting your place out could be the greatest boost to your income while you're deployed.
While you're deployed you could qualify for many extra incentive pays. These include:
- Family separation allowance (FSA), payable if you're deployed or TDY from your dependants for more than 30 days: $250 per month
- Hardship duty pay, payable if your living conditions in your deployed location are substantially below those found in the continental US (CONUS): $50-150 per month
- Hostile Fire/Imminent Danger Pay, payable when assigned to a designated IDP area, or exposed to : $7.50 per day, up to a maximum of $225 per month
- For every month that you are in a combat zone as designated by a Presidential Executive Order, your taxable income is eligible to be income tax free. FICA (Social Security) and Medicare taxes will still be taken out
- Your SGLI (Servicemember's Group Life Insurance) payment, normally $25 per month for $400,000 of coverage, is free while you're serving in a combat zone
Here are some other great articles on deployment benefits:
- Convert your Traditional IRA to a Roth IRA While Deployed and Pay $0 in Taxes
- My $50,000 Deployment Saving Challenge
- The most financial beneficial time of your life
- How to get $106,000 into your TSP in one year
Between cutting your expenses and increasing your income you should be able to use deployment to set yourself up for financial success when you return home to your loved ones. What are some ways you've found to save (or make extra) money on deployment?
Saving Money on a Military Deployment FAQ
My goal was to save over $50,000 on my last six month deployment. If you are serious and disciplined, you can probably save more than 90% of your income while you are deployed. This put you way ahead of your peers and set you up for a lifetime of financial success.
Yes, your pay will probably increase due to special duty pays like hostile fire, family separation allowance, hardship duty, and other combat zone specialty pays. If you deploy to a designated combat zone, your income will be federal income tax free. This CZTE or Combat Zone Tax Exclusion pay is for every month you are in a combat zone, for the entire month.
Save and invest your deployment money. Use the SDP, TSP, and Roth IRA as tools to achieve rapid financial independence.
More important than how much money you can make is how much of it you can save. Personally I try to save over 90% of my income when I am deployed. You might not be able to save as much due to obligations at home. But save all that you can, invest it wisely, and you can probably pocket over $10,000 on a six month deployment. My goal for my last six month-er was $50,000.
Military servicemembers on deployment get paid the same way we get paid when we're at home: through a direct deposit into our checking account.