I stood around with a few friends and had a good laugh each year when our “dream sheets” were distributed. I was a young married Lance Corporal in the Marine Corps making $700 every two weeks, and the sheet I was reading explained to me I earned over $50,000 per year. Ultimately the piece of paper found its way to the nearest trash receptacle. I was 22, healthy, intelligent and could not wait to fulfill my military obligation so I could go on about my life and make “real” money.
Financial regret can come in many forms. You can regret purchasing the overpriced home in 2007 before the market collapsed; you can regret buying that 2013 dream car that was a steal of a deal, only to find out later the $650 a month payment is a bit much on your salary. My biggest personal financial regret was in 1998 when I chose to end my military contract without a backup plan.
The year 1998 was a great one. I was exiting the Marine Corps, happily married, my wife was expecting our second child and I was ready to find a real job that paid real money. After all, Clinton was president, jobs were abundant, the NYSE was through the roof, and the world was at peace. I started my job search the winter before my contract expired. I submitted my resume to over 30 companies and scheduled numerous more interviews for employment. Six months later I landed a descent paying job for a major national company, and nothing could go wrong, or so I thought.
Fast forward 15 years to today and things are quite different from the original plan. Sure, I am relatively successful and have a very stable career in a secure medical field, but this wasn’t the plan. What I learned over the past 15 years was for the average citizen like myself; your annual salary is just a number. Your real income is how much you deposit into your bank account each payday, and how much you save toward your retirement. The point I failed to realize all those years ago were the benefits I received had a legitimate large value attached to them. Healthcare insurance alone in today’s society is worth its weight in gold, and that does not even take into account free housing, utilities, food and various other benefits military members are privileged to.
There are very few things I regret in life because I largely enjoy and am happy with how it has turned out thus far. Financially, however, I have always kicked myself in the back side for letting the opportunity escape from me to retire from the United States Marine Corps. Instead I chose to say goodbye to the military umbrella.