Colleen Salchow | Military Spouse Financial Coach, Empowering Military Families to Maximize Their Money | Military Money Manual Podcast Episode 55

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Colleen Salchow of Salchow Coaching joins Spencer and Jamie to talk about how important it is to include military spouses in any family financial decisions.

You can find Colleen on Instagram, email, and the web at:

Colleen works remotely over a year long program to help miltiary families maxizine their military paycheck and benefits. One of her clients was able to save $4700 in the first month of working with her.

Military Money Manual Podcast Episode 55 Links

Military insurance such as term life and renter’s

Outline of episode:

  • Military spouse involvement in family finances
  • Advice for couples- find your why
  • Challenges military spouses face
  • Protections like term life and renter’s insurance
  • Wills
  • Budgeting
  • How one couple saved $4,700 during their first month of coaching
  • Goal setting
  • Married finances
  • Is it good to be gazelle intense?
  • Finding friends and advice for when you move to a new base

Military Money Manual Podcast Episode 55 Transcript

[00:00:00] Colleen: Ultimately though, I will not be working with my clients for life. The goal for me as a financial coach is to teach you how to use a budget and to be your accountability. The longest program I have is a year. After a year, you can do it. If you work with me twice a month for a year, you'll be able to fly on your own.

Spencer: Hey, podcast listeners, Spencer Reese here, founder of, and author of the Military Money Manual book. Thanks for joining us today. 

We have a special guest with us today, Colleen Salchow from Salchow Coaching and

[00:01:00] She's also on Instagram @salchowcoaching and her email is

Today we're gonna be talking about military finances from a spouse’s perspective, some military budgeting advice and best practices, the worst debt situation that Colleen has seen in her coaching career, and how Colleen and her husband paid off $60,000 of debt in less than two years. 

Without further ado, here's our conversation between Jamie, Colleen, and me.

Spencer: Hey Colleen. thanks so much for coming on the podcast. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your connection to the military?

Colleen: Absolutely. I've been a Marine Corps spouse now for 11 years. Before I married my husband, I taught special education just south of Detroit from 2007 to 2011.

[00:02:00] And during the recession, I felt like I was seeing so many families being impacted by their finances, and so I saw a need not only there in the Detroit area, but after my husband and I were married, we combined our finances and we realized that we owed $60,000. And at that time we had $9 in our checking account and $100 in our savings.

So I was seeing a need for financial education across the board. So I launched Salchow Coaching in 2019.

Spencer: That's awesome. That kind of covers how you got started in personal finance, in financial coaching, but did you go and get any kind of accreditation to get into the space?

Colleen: Yeah, I was certified through the Dave Ramsey organization in 2019, but since then, I'll be very transparent, I've learned the importance of having a credit score and having an emergency fund. There were steps in this program that were beneficial, but after going through buying our first home last summer in 2021, I was grateful that we didn't cancel all of our credit cards. 

[00:03:00] We were intentional with our credit. And since then, I’ll be very straightforward with my clients, and if they have a credit card, that's okay. I'm not gonna be like, “You should cut that up!” Not anymore. 

Jamie: Yeah, I think that's how so many people in the personal finance genre got started, with Dave Ramsey, and everyone kind of picks their own kind of model from there. Spencer's smiling because I still lean a little more toward Ramsey than Spencer does, but have definitely grown from that. But all three of us got our start there at least.

Colleen: It was probably the only voice that we heard. I grew in mid-Michigan in the 1990s, so it was on the radio and it was one of the first radio of shows I remember talking about a budget and everything. But since then, with the takeoff of social media, the space has just grown significantly which is a good thing because there are so many different ways to approach personal finance.

[00:04:00] Spencer: Yeah, and I think it's really great that you are coming to the personal finance space from the perspective of a military spouse.

I think that kind of leads to our next question. Why should military spouses be involved in financial decisions and in budgeting? If the military service member is the one making all the money, then shouldn't they be the one spending all the money?

Colleen: No, and they should not be the one spending all the money. And they aren’t. But they ultimately, look, we military spouses in 2022, we have one of the highest rates of unemployment in the country, if not the highest rate of unemployment in the country. And so what that means is that there are more and more military spouses at home. We're the ones doing the grocery shopping. We're going and buying the school supplies, the shopping for the holidays. 

Military spouses interact with that budget probably more than the active duty member on a daily basis. I've never seen actual data, but I will speak from my own experience. 

[00:05:00] I'm the one in my house in our family that does the grocery shopping. I just put the Kroger pickup order in earlier today. So because we are so hands-on as military spouses, we need to be part of the discussion as to how to create that budget so that together we can work with the military member to achieve our family's unique goal.

Jamie: I think that's a really good point. And we also talked a couple weeks ago together about how in the worst-case scenario of personal finance is important for the spouses to be involved. So they have to know where to go and where to get money, God forbid, should something happen. 

Colleen: And our family went through that, oh my god moment when my husband was on his first deployment to Afghanistan in 2012. He had a minor stroke.

I got the phone call from Afghanistan that he's being airlifted to Germany, and I have a five-month-old baby on my hip. I'm in Eastern North Carolina. Cell phone service is horrible, so I had to be outside, 

[00:06:00] And we were still in debt, but because Richard and I had had these conversations, I knew where all the paperwork was not just the budget. I knew where everything was.

I had the go-to binder and just met him in Portsmith, Virginia, and we went from. Speaking from personal experience, had I not known all that paperwork was, had I not known our financial plan, it would've been significantly more stressful than it already was. 

Jamie: What advice would you have for a couple that is trying to, maybe they're newlyweds, or maybe they're hearing this advice for the first time of we should be working together more? How can they get started on combining finances or having those discussions of a shared budget and shared priorities, here's what we value and want to spend money on. Where do they start?

Colleen: I think they need to identify their “why.” Why do you want to budget? Is this so that you can pay off debt? What is the debt? Is this to put money aside for a future down payment on a house? 

[00:07:00] But once you can work together and identify the purpose of the budget, that is going to make it easier than to reduce areas like eating out. When we were putting money aside for the down payment of a house, it was a lot easier to say, “We're just gonna cook at home” than it was when we didn't have goals.

Spencer: So Colleen, you mentioned that you PCS’d a couple of times in the military. How many times has it been now in 11 years? 

Colleen: Let's see here. We went from Cherry Point, North Carolina, to Okinawa, Japan. Japan to Camp Pendleton then Camp Pendleton to Beaufort, South Carolina. So three official PCSs.

Spencer: Wow. And that's all over the country, all over the world. Living in Japan and Okinawa. 

What kind of challenges do military spouses face when they have to be picking up and moving? And for most military spouses, they're not gonna have the remote work opportunity that, that you did.

[00:08:00] Colleen: I created this. Yeah, it's going to be a lot of unknowns. I had to learn how to drive on the other side of the road in Japan, and I was pregnant. I was 32 weeks along when I flew with my husband, so I'm chasing around the toddler it was a lot of unknowns, but it was so exciting at the same.

What are some of the challenges? Yeah, unemployment. Also, you're trying to make new friends, and establish a rapport with a group. I was at the playground the first week in that house trying to find people. I'm like, “Who would I trust with Danny when I go into labor?” I'm trying to find people to put on that emergency “who can come pick up your child report?”

And I'm like, “Who's not weird at the playground?” Who is interacting with their kids the way I interact with my own kid? And that's just part of the military life. 

Jamie: It's a real struggle. I think any family that's PCS’d has felt that. I know no one, but I need three emergency contacts, right?

[00:09:00] So Colleen, the way that military life operates is a little bit different for each branch, but there are some kind of common trends. Either with your clients or your experience with the units that you have been with, what are some common trends that you see across military families? Are people needing more help with their budget? 

Colleen: I’ve seen people that don't take precautions that should be taken. When we were at Camp Pendleton, our washing machine flooded the house that we rented on base. The military housing company charged us $14,000, and our renter's insurance didn't cover the flood. That's a fun bill to get when you're PCSing and about to drive across the country

You need to have renter's insurance if what I'm trying to get to.

Spencer: So you said the renter's insurance didn't cover it though? 

[00:10:00] Colleen: It wasn't going to. We had a fight for six months. It ultimately did.

Jamie: So having protections in there, whether it's an emergency fund or proper insurance is an issue you’ve seen?

Colleen: I see military families not having emergency funds in place. If they live on base or if they're renting out in town, they're not taking the precaution of getting renter's insurance. I also see a lot of spouses that don't take advantage of the opportunity to have a will written for them.

When we were in Okinawa, it was a really cool situation. We were stationed and lived on Camp Lester, and we had neighbors that were in the Air Force, Army, Navy, and the Marine Corps. And all the wives, were kind of comparing notes and everybody did have access to work with an attorney, but most of the spouses didn't have a will. And you can have that made up for on base for free as an active duty spouse. 

[00:11:00] Jamie: We talked a couple weeks ago about term life insurance and one of the comments that we made is even if the spouse is not working outside of the home, that the cost of losing that spouse, whether it's childcare and help with food or whatever, there's still a cost there.

So even if someone is not actively bringing in income due to the SOFA agreement or just a quick period of no work with kids, or they're choosing a homeschool or whatever the situation may be, the spouse contributes a lot to the family. So having those protections like term life insurance, renter’s, insurance, emergency savings, all those just help play to the security of the family, which is a big piece of the peace that can come with having your finances in order.

Colleen: Right! When we were trying to determine how much life insurance to buy for me, I basically told my husband, “You're gonna have to hire Mary Poppins because you would, and you would have to find Mary Poppins at every duty station. Good luck with that.

Spencer: You've talked a lot about having a budget, and a lot of people are pretty turned off by that word. 

[00:12:00] But what does a budget allow you to do that when you don't have a budget, it doesn't allow you to do? And when you start coaching military families and you bring up the concept of cash flow planning or budgeting or having intention or mindful money, whatever phrase you have to use, how do people respond to that?

How do you show them that, this isn't a bad thing. This actually liberates you to achieve your goals.

Colleen: The way I explain budgeting is by comparing it to a recipe. If you're gonna make a cake for the first time and you're gonna make it from scratch, you need to know the ingredients are and the order to put everything in. That's what this budget is. It's a framework. It's a recipe for your money. 

What bills do you want to pay first? What do you want to do in the future with your money? What challenges or maybe what debts do you wanna attack right now? 

[00:13:00] That's the empowering aspect of the budget because it gives you a step-by-step plan of what's coming in and what we need to pay for. What do we do first, then next? And go from there because no month is going to be the same. Food prices are going to change, utilities are going to change. 

If you've been blessed with children, you're gonna get a birthday party invitation for two days from the time you find that invitation in the kids' backpack. You need to be able to have some way to move money around, or maybe you set money aside for those unexpected expenses.

Jamie: Do you find that people are able to overcome their initial hesitation to a budget once they work with someone like a financial coach to show them the benefits of it?

Colleen: Yes, I do. Because ultimately what I'm teaching are the fundamentals of budgeting. It is really just a fraction of what I do.

[00:14:00] I ultimately become that accountability partner. So they may not be like, “I don't wanna update the budget, but I got that call with Colleen that I've already paid for, so I might as well use the time efficiently.” I'm the reason, sometimes at the beginning, to update the budget. “I wasn't gonna do it, but I knew I had to meet with you, So I did it and this is what I found.”

Spencer: Speaking of what your clients found, you told us about one story where you had a client that saved over $4,700 in their budget after just tracking their spending for one month That's crazy. I mean, that's $60,000 a year!

Colleen: Yeah, it was a dual-income couple. The husband was active duty military. The wife was a nurse at the hospital. They just were like, “We should have money at the end of the month.” But they didn't. That's why they found me. 

After they identified, well, they both were eating out for lunch every day and then they'd be tired. So one of 'em would then go on the way home, grab dinner, and come home. Then they were both buying things online without purpose.

[00:15:00] By the time they sat down and looked at it, they're like, “That's how you lose $4,700 in one month.” Not being intentional.

Spencer: Mr. Money Mustache calls it the “exploding volcano of wastefulness.” That is the middle-class, American lifestyle, that if you're not intentional, you don't have a plan and you just go with the flow. You have the ship and it has all these little holes in it, and it's just leaking water everywhere.

Jamie: What's the worst debt situation you've seen that you've either helped someone get over? How bad is it for some people? 

I think a lot of times people are worried to seek help, whether it's from a financial coach, or a friend, or someone at like the Military Family Readiness Center because they're embarrassed.

But when you get to talk to people, it's really not that uncommon that people have insane amounts of debt. Spencer and I did an episode about our debt, so it's out there in the public.

[00:16:00] Colleen: I remember working with one client. She had just retired, She was a retired female veteran after 20 years, and she had gone through a divorce. She had never budgeted. 

In all of her years being active duty. She had never made a plan for it. And then here she was solo parenting and scared. Just being able to sit down with her and tell her, “It's okay” and being there. She only was in debt about $20,000. But she was afraid. There was this mind block where she was afraid to even look at the credit card statements in full, to put them side by side together. 

Once she pulled back the curtain and saw, okay, it's $20,000. This is the income that's coming in. I can still keep this roof over my head. She found that it was okay. She could tackle it. She had been through far bigger challenges in her life, but that sense of being in a new season of her life with now the responsibility of taking care of her own finances, that was a lot for her. 

[00:17:00] Even though it was a small amount, doing it by herself was the hardest part for her.

Spencer: Yeah, I think it just reiterates the fact. Personal finance is extremely personal, and so much of it is psychological. Most people can do the math. Most people understand percentages, but it's actually sitting down, taking the time, and really just facing your demons and recognizing that, okay, It's actually not as bad as I thought it was. I can do this.

But if you don't have someone to come alongside you and hold your hand and help show you, it can be tough. I think that's what a financial coach can really provide. 

Jamie: Colleen, what are some goals that you either help your clients with or that you think should be standard considerations for a military family? Some things that we deal with like moving every three years, PCS funds, emergency savings, etc. What are some goals that you help families work through?

[00:18:00] Colleen: I do a lot of helping my clients with organizing their debts. All right, let's put it all together. What is the car loan? Would the student loans? What is the credit card debt? Really supporting them as they look at that number for the first time. 

Many of my clients are looking at that number for the first time as adults, and so helping them come up with a plan that is realistic. I've had some clients who are like, “All right, I'm just gonna attack it with gazelle intensity!” And I share with them that it's not always a great idea to do that. 

When we paid off our debt, not enough people were talking about the cons. If you go so fast and you just have to pay it off so fast, the habits that you develop during that time, it takes probably 3 or 4 years after we paid off our debt to feel comfortable to spend money on myself. 

My husband was so supportive. He was like, “Go get a haircut. We're in Japan; go get as much wrong as you want. We paid off the debt; you can do what you want.” 

I just had this guilt. I'm like, “No, we have to continue on to the emergency fund. Then it's baby step 3B, and that is like this…” 

[00:19:00] And it's okay to breathe. It is okay to take your time and pay off your debt at your own rate. Eventually, if you come up with a plan, you will pay it off. Will it be as fast as other people on social media? It doesn't have to be. Ultimately, you are the one that's gonna pay it off though.

Jamie: That's a really good point. Spencer and I have both talked about this in the past as well. The habits of frugality, of spending as little as we can, of saving a bunch…it's hard to unpack those once you start getting to the accumulation phase of your wealth building. 

A lot of times we still have those habits and it does take a while to unpack those. So I think that's a really nice approach to paying off debt.

Spencer: Personally that really speaks to me because of the habits that I built up over 5 years of paying off over $100,000 of debt.

 [00:20:00] We maintained those habits for a long time afterward, years afterwards, and while it allowed us to have a crazy high savings rate, sometimes some years we were up to 50% savings, it was tough to dial it back, and say, “It's okay if we only save 30% this year because we're still going to achieve financial independence not that long from now.”

It means maybe working an extra 6 months or a year, right? In the grand scheme of things, you're not even gonna notice that. So to recognize that some habits are extremely valuable to build, but then sometimes you need to develop new habits depending on your new phase of life. 

Jamie: What about couples working together? What are the best practices or tips you have for couples that are already engaged in their finances together? How do they take it to the next level? What's worked well for married finances?

Colleen: Once you've reached a goal, identify that that goal's been reached. We did it! Celebrate!

And that might look different for everybody. Right now we have a hard time right now finding childcare here in South Carolina, and so a date night to us might be like putting the kids to bed at eight o'clock and watch a documentary together.

[00:21:00] This is gonna be our date day. We are gonna put this time into it. But acknowledging that a goal has been reached and then identifying what you want to do next. Do you wanna shift some money over to maybe pay for that next family vacation? Do you wanna start planning and dreaming of what that next family vacation is?

I know in the military, those vacations are valuable. You don't always know if that active duty member's going to be home in the summer for the next family trip or if they're even going to be home for spring break. Richard and I together, we prioritize going on a vacation with the kids over buying a new purse or getting a new club for his golf clubs or something. 

And so identifying what your priorities are as a family and understanding that those are probably gonna change as the seasons go on. Our kids are 8 and 10 right now, and if they could stay 8 in 10 for the next 5 years, I would be so happy. 

[00:22:00] This is such a fun time. They can tie their own shoes. I'm not worried about nap time. They can carry their own like snacks and a water bottle when we're going for a hike. I mean, it's awesome. It's so much fun. So I don't want to waste that. I want to take full advantage of this time when they're like, “Yeah, let's go to the national park.” It's so cool, but I know as they get older, as they become teenagers, they may not be as cool as I think it's

Jamie: Mom's not cool anymore. All of a sudden. 

Colleen: I know eventually I'm not gonna be cool. I know now I'm not even that cool. My 8-year-old is very critical, and that's who she is.

Spencer: That's something that we talk about on the podcast a lot is balancing living now and enjoying life now, especially when you're in the military. Because like you said, if you're in a unit that can be rapidly deployed…I mean, Jamie and I were basically on call with 72 hours' notice and we could be gone for weeks at a time when we were actively flying. 

[00:23:00] So when you have a long weekend, when you take leave and you go away for a week to go see family or whatever, you have to do that and you have to spend the money.

And if that means that you're going to push off your debt repayment for a month, that's okay because guess what? During that month, your service member could be deployed for 6 months, and all of a sudden now their expenses dropped to zero. You still have expenses as the spouse at home, but you can reduce your expenses, and you can have that gazelle-like intensity while they're on deployment.

Their income increases, their expenses decrease, and then you can knock that debt out, and maybe you still knock it out even earlier. 

You were also saying earlier, Colleen, we don't know what's going to happen month to month. You find that kid's birthday party invitation, and it's in two days, and you have to go find a gift and you have to set up this play date or whatever, that's just life. 

Life happens and we're not spreadsheets. We have to acknowledge the fact that we're not spreadsheets. I know. Sorry, Jamie.

[00:24:00] Colleen: We've also learned after 11 years in the military to appreciate the duty station that we're at. Here in South Carolina, it's October, and I can't wait for oyster season to come out. 

I grew up in Michigan. We didn't have oyster season in Michigan. It wasn't a thing, but you don't want to waste the opportunity to go explore this area because again, we don't know how long we'll be here.

Jamie: That's a really good point as well. I think a lot of times the spouses get a bad rap for sitting at the playground complaining or things like that. And I know that's not always true, but sometimes that's the reputation. What advice do you have for a spouse that maybe is at a new base that's struggling to make friends? They had to quit their job because they had to move, and they haven't been able to find work yet. It's tough. All three of us have been there with moves. What advice do you have for someone in that situation? 

Colleen: I didn't join the military community until I was 28, and by 28 I was really comfortable in my own skin.

[00:25:00] And so I was at the point that I was confident with who I was, and if someone didn't wanna be my friend, that was their loss. I also knew that I didn't have to be friends with everybody. So I think identifying again, what is your priority? What do you want to do? Do you want to be in Okinawa and go explore all the different playgrounds off-base? You're going to find somebody that's willing to do that. 

Or are you at that season of life where it's like, okay, if he doesn't go down for his nap by one o'clock, it is just going to be a very long month. If I missed one nap it’s just gonna throw everything off, then you need to prioritize that nap time.

You still are that person you were before you became a stay-at-home parent, before you were a military spouse. So remind yourself who that person was. Did you like to go on hikes, keep going off for hikes and figure out a way to take the kids? 

Did you like to go to concerts? Well, maybe that's when you try to find childcare so that you can go enjoy that concert with your spouse.

[00:26:00] It's so easy to lose yourself in this lifestyle because we are constantly moving, and you have to find new routines. But remind yourself, maybe make a list somewhere, I like to do this, this, and this. When was the last time I did that?

Spencer: So Colleen, where can people find you and your services? And for a new client, what would the first month look like if you were coaching them?

Colleen: They can find me on Instagram at salchowcoaching. I also have a website,, and I'm also active on LinkedIn as well. 

The first month of my program is the process of teaching my clients how to use a budget, identifying their goals, and then together we come up with a plan.

We look at what money is coming in and what money is going out, so what bills are already set for automatic payments, what debts are they in the process of paying off, and then we work together to come up with a plan that is empowering for their family or their individual needs.

[00:27:00] Spencer: That's awesome. Do you like to work with both people in the relationship or is it ok even if one partner comes to you? Then you can start working with them and then once they convince the other partner that this is worthwhile, then you'll rope them in as well?

Colleen: Ideally, I want to work with both couples because, especially if they have combined finances, they both have access to the account, so they need to learn how to talk to each other about what their family's goals are.

I understand though, as a military spouse myself, my husband's not always accessible. So if I'm working remotely with the one spouse, that's better than nothing. I appreciate the opportunity and I love working within this community because I understand what it's like. I understand what it's like when your husband comes home and tells you he was gonna go on a one-year unaccompanied tour to mainland Japan with 24 days' notice. I understand how quickly our plans can change.

[00:28:00] Spencer: I think you having that experience, it just makes it so valuable to speak to other military families and other military spouses and military service members because if they just hired some random coach off the street, they're gonna be like, “Oh yeah, 3 months emergency fund, and, make sure that all…” T%hey just don't have that experience of no. Sometimes the government tells me I'm leaving tomorrow, and that's it. I'm gone.

Colleen: It's that mentality where people like, “If you can't afford to live in California, just don't live in California.” I had orders to California. It's not like I could be like, excuse me, General Berger, but no. I couldn't say that.

Jamie: Colleen, you mentioned with coaching accountability and looking at budgeting. What are the other kind of benefits of a relationship with a financial coach and how long does a relationship go? Is it you're a beginner, and then you get a budget set and then I kick you out of the nest?

[00:29:00] Colleen: It depends on how long you wanna work with me. Ultimately, though, I will not be working with my clients for life. 

The goal for me as a financial coach is to teach you how to use a budget and to be your accountability. The longest program I have is a year. After a year., you can do it. If you work with me twice a month for a year, you'll be able to fly on your own or however you want to look at it.

My goal is to eventually, not work with you. It's hard work, but that is the major difference between a financial coach and a financial advisor. Financial advisors you're going to work with for years at a time. And a financial coach, not so much.

Spencer: I think that's a great business model because you are empowering people, you're teaching them, you're educating them, and there's a definitive timeframe in there. Where you say, “Look, you work with me for this year, and if you do the work together, we can transform your financial life.” I think that's, that's fantastic that you're offering people that opportunity. 

The other thing that I really like about your program is most of it's done online. Is that right? You don’t have to meet in person?

[00:30:00] Colleen: Right. I haven't had an in-person client since 2019. It's all been virtual, and that's another benefit. I've had many kids running around in the background, not my own, but my clients have had the kids running around the background, and I understand. Especially during the pandemic trying to find childcare was a feat in and of itself. 

Working with me remotely, you can do it from the comfort of your own home. You're not going to feel awkward. Maybe somebody sees me walking into Colleen's office. No, it's all virtual.

Spencer: Colleen, thanks so much for coming on the podcast. It was awesome having a chat with you about coaching military families and military spouses. I think it's super cool that you were able to set up this business and then do it remotely. 

I know for my own spouse, she was able to work remotely for a company that she set up for years. But not every military spouse can do that, so I think it's really cool that you were able to set that up.

[00:31:00] But not only were you able to set up a business that helped you, but you're also helping the entire military community and other military spouses. 

Again, you can find Colleen Salchow, or is her email, and she's on Instagram, @salchowcoaching

Podcast listeners, thanks so much for listening. You can find all these links in the show notes on the website,

We hope you enjoy today's discussion and it encourages you on your journey to financial independence while you serve in the military, and we hope Colleen's advice can help you maximize your military benefits. 

To review today, we talked about budgeting and how it's important for both the military spouse and the military service member to work together. We talked about some of the common goals we see across military families. 

I think the most interesting thing was the dual-income couple that was able to save $4,700 in the first month of being intentional and looking at their budget. 

[00:32:00] As always, if you have any questions or feedback, you can message us on Instagram at @militarymoneymanual

Or you can email us. We have a new podcast-specific email. It's We love all the questions, messages that we get, and we'll catch you on the next episode of the Military Money Manual Podcast.

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