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If there’s one thing everyone learns during their time in the military, it’s how to save money — usually by going totally broke. Admit it: You’ve been there. You come out of basic training and start pulling in the big bucks — well, bigger than the super-fat zero dollars you had before, anyway — and that money burns a hole right through your pocket. Maybe you use your new paycheck to support the local economy, keeping all the off-base bars and strip clubs in business. Or maybe you invest it in your education — because playing Call of Duty totally counts as additional training, right? Or there’s a good chance you do what all dumb, broke privates do: hang out in the barracks doing push-ups and getting trashed on cheap beer while ragging on the rest of the guys for being dumb, broke privates.
However you spent your E-1/E-2 pay, chances are, at some point in the earliest days of your military career, you were totally, undeniably broke. And if you’ve been Depression Era-level busted, you know that sometimes you’ll do whatever it takes to save a few bucks to get yourself through to that next big pay day.
And if that’s the case, you’ve probably used on of these ridiculous tactics to keep yourself afloat.
You ate MREs even when you didn’t have to.
Food is expensive, and as a broke private, you had more important things to spend your money on. So to save some cash, you saved the leftover MREs after a field op and enjoyed that fine dining experience as long as your stomach could stand it. What’s a little gut distress in the name of extra beer money, anyway?
You hoarded food at the chow hall.
If you didn’t have leftover MREs to keep you from starving, you probably stashed some leftovers from the chow hall. Whether you ate your weight in food at every meal to avoid getting hungry or smuggled extras out in your pockets, you absolutely took advantage of the mess hall — and it was totally worth it to have those extra bucks later.
You avoided all unnecessary grooming.
Haircuts cost money. So do razors. And as a private with a paycheck already dedicated to keeping up your lavish lifestyle, you couldn’t afford that nonsense. So you skipped it. Maybe a brother with a buzzer kept your dome shorn, or you “borrowed” some razors from another dude in the barracks. Whatever you did, you never failed to meet regulation standards cheaply and efficiently.
You sold your soul — or at least your bodily fluids.
One of the easiest ways to earn a free meal is to donate plasma — or sperm. And you definitely did a time or two. Since “donations” are worth between $25–$50 per specimen, you could easily float till payday with only a few minutes of “work.”
You recycled everything, including your tobacco.
One of the necessities of life is a good tin of dip, but when you’re broke, you can’t afford the good stuff. At your lowest point in the pay cycle, we’re willing to bet you re-dipped your chewing tobacco, making sure you sucked out every usable drop before you finally tossed it. Even if it only added about 10% more value, that still saved you a few cents every week, and as a broke private, you needed that cash more than you needed stronger chew.
You worked the system.
Maybe you gave a fake Social Security number at the DFAC to avoid having anything deducted from your paycheck. Or else you figured out the banks that would pay out early when payday fell on a day the bank was closed. Maybe you kept your bar tab open until after midnight on payday. Whatever you did, you knew every possible way to make your money last as long as possible, even if it meant getting a little fiscally creative.
You relied on the money of other broke privates.
Half your time in the military is spent doing the old hurry-up-and-wait routine, and that gets old. To kill time, you played poker or shot dice with your buddies. They may all have been broke, too, but whatever they scraped up to gamble with, you soon won, making you a little less broke. If you didn’t earn a decent chunk of change off your fellow impoverished privates… well, they probably really appreciated your help in making them a little less broke in the meantime.
You pre-gamed before going out — and you didn’t skimp.
When things were tight, you got an older friend to buy you beer, because you were sick of getting ripped off by the dude at the store who “did you a solid” by selling your underage self a 30-rack of PBR for $40. Of course, if you were smart, you knew that the quickest way to get a buzz was with hard liquor, straight up, no rocks. So when you were broke, you gave up your happy hour beers and instead kept a bottle of the strong stuff in the freezer. All the buzz for a fraction of the cost? That’s just smart economics.
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