This post is based on an interview we conducted with Rupert in January 2019.
Real Money Talk is our series where we interview Australians from all walks of life about their personal finances. The views expressed are those of the interviewees, based on their experiences with money, and as such are not necessarily representative of Spaceship's views.
Rupert spent five years in the Australian army and tells us about the pay structure and how he kind of wishes he'd saved more while on home base.
Where do you live?
What is your current net worth?
How does it break down? (shares, real estate, businesses, home, superannuation, etc)
Credit card: $5,600
Any debts? (including HELP from Uni)
How long were you in the army?
Just over five years.
Why did you decide to join?
University wasn’t really working out.
I needed something that would keep me in line; some kind of regimented way of life.
My Dad was a cop and he suggested the army.
I definitely found that regimented way of life.
Did you go any tours?
Yes, I went to Afghanistan from October to March 2011-2012.
Leading up to that I did three months training in Oklahoma, in the USA.
How did the money structure work?
During basic training your baseline salary is around $30,000.
You pick a trade you want to work in: I went to the School of Artillery at Puckapunyal, which is in Victoria.
That job is basically to prepare to shoot down planes if they’re coming at you, carry and set up missile kits, making sure you can get into action in quick enough time.
Regarding pay, there’s a tiered structure in the army. Tiered 1 - 6.
Once you’re in a unit you get a tier and then your pay moves through the tiers as you go through the ranks.
After a while I was at Tier 6, which was around $55,000 a year.
Every soldier gets a $10,000 service allowances which you use for your meals and uniforms and stuff.
Nothing to spend on except bills.
Did you pay tax?
What happens when you’re in active duty?
If you’re in a theatre of war, you sometimes don’t have to pay tax.
And sometimes your pay gets bumped up double
When we were in Afghanistan, I was on $60,000 a year and I was promoted from a Bombardier to a Commander. Then my pay popped up to $90,000.
It also matters exactly where you are. It’s stationary when you’re at the main base, for example, but if you’re out on remote patrol bases it changes again.
When I was outside the wire, for a while there I was earning around $5,200 a fortnight.
It’s a dangerous situation and you get paid to take the risk.
Did you save much?
You’re capped, put it that way.
No, not really. I was spending most of my money on piss. When you’re in base, I kind of lived week to week.
There’s not much to actually spend money on except going to the pub. And after work you really just want to blow off steam.
There were definitely guys who put money away and now they have houses and things.
And there was definitely scope to save because the cost of living on base isn’t much at all. It cost me around $70 a week.
What’s your attitude when it comes to money?
Mine’s always been pretty flippant.
Over time you learn that’s not the way to go, but yeah, some of us learn by doing.
When you’re in the army, you always reckon you can save down the line. Especially when you start, you’re all fired up, everyone reckons they’ll stay in.
And that government pay cheque just keeps coming, so there’s no reason to think you won’t save down the line.
But when you leave, the shock is just that haha.
What did that teach you?
Well I learnt to make a budget.
I sat down with the family after I was out. Worked out what I would normally be paying for down there, but what wouldn’t work here.
Like, I don’t need to pay for Foxtel and three different streaming services.
For a while, and I think a lot of young guys are probably like this when they’ve got regular income, if I needed a new lappy or a Playstation I’d just buy it straight up.
I just became a bit mindful.
Budgets are fine. You just make a plan of what bills and things you’ve got at what time of the month. Write it down in a calendar.
Then I knew what I had coming up.
Do you invest?
You know, when I came out of the army I actually had $20,000!
And I was all set up to invest it in a fund and there was an advisor who was going to help me.
But things happened and I just pissed that up against the wall.
But it’s something I want to learn about for sure.