I’m starting to seriously second-guess myself with this whole military thing. I find myself wondering if I’m only doing it as a way to stop borrowing money to get by. I’ve said any number of times that I’m only really doing it for the free school, and that’s still true. I’m just starting to wonder if there isn’t perhaps a different way to get a similar result in the long run.
I want to go to school so I can make more money than I could otherwise (and also so I can do something I think I’ll enjoy). I want to make that extra money so I can buy myself shiny toys (we all know how much I love my toys), a house, and other such quasi-essential things. Also, that money will make my life a lot easier when I decide to have kids of my own, which while it is not something I plan on doing in the immediate future, it is something that is definitely on the table for within the next 10 years, assuming I find someone who is worth actually procreating with, rather than just practicing the act. A pension would be nice in the long term as well.
I’ve always said that I won’t have kids until I can afford to give them a less financially limited upbringing than I had. Not that I ever wanted for anything, for sure. Everything I ever needed was always there for me in abundance, as well as many things I thought I wanted but turned out not to. But money was always a concern for us. Whenever we went anywhere, we usually had a limit of “each person can get a meal of no more than $X cost.” Or “we can do X or Y, but we can’t afford to do both.” This is not to say that I plan on giving my kids whatever they ask for, far from it in fact, but I’d rather say “No, you can’t have [shiny object] because you were a shithead this week” instead of “we just can’t afford it right now.”
Now that I think about it, that’s probably one of the reasons I historically tend to be less than fantastic at resisting impulse-buying things (though I’ve become a lot better at it in the past couple of years). For me, money was something to be hoarded and spent on something that made me happy in the short term, some kind of “treat,” rather than something I would save and put away for a rainy day.
The military career would give me a pretty reasonable salary, all things considered. Certainly much better than I would make without going to school at all. But, taking the degree on my own and working in the private sector could set me better in the long run. The military has a set wage progression, which realistically caps around ~$110-120k/year at best (or maybe as low as ~$90k) after set incremental yearly increases. This cap would be reached around the time I hit 50-55 years of age for the high end, or age 46 for the low end. The civilian route however has essentially no wage ceiling. For the first year or two out of university, I would most likely be making roughly the same amount in the private sector as I would be in the military, with most likely around 5-10% more salary as a civilian. Around year 5, my salary as a Captain in the navy would be roughly $70k/year. In the private sector however, my salary range would be a bare minimum of $70k, a realistic estimate of around ~$85k, with an upward limit of well over $100k. If I were to sell my soul to the petroleum industry for those five years, my salary could be double that, or more. That possibly puts me at or above the realistic maximum military age 50 salary cap by age 35, a minimum of 10 years earlier. The military plays the trump card of the pension hours starting as soon as school starts, but with foresight and relatively intelligent planning, proper investing with a private-sector job would more than make up for that lack. I could also most likely count on having a reasonable pension from any company I work for until I start my own consulting or engineering firm.
I was extremely lucky as a kid to have a relatively stable life for the most part. My parents both did their best to make sure that I didn’t have to move, that I was able to go to good schools, and that there was as little major turmoil in my living situation as possible.
The military lifestyle is definitely not conducive to raising children. Is it possible? Of course it is. Thousands of families are doing it as I write this. But is it optimal? I don’t think so, at least not for my personal set of values and ideals. As a naval officer, I would be required to spend a not-insignificant amount of time away from home, at least for the first 10 years or so of my career after school, roughly until age 40. That means missed birthdays, school concerts, and I’m sure a lot of “firsts.” First words, first steps, first broken bone, first love, first fight, first “A”, first job, first car, first broken heart. That’s not even considering the fact that in addition to all of that time away, my family might have to move across the country any number of times if they want to be able to even consider seeing me on a semi-regular basis. That could mean moving schools, losing friends, and changing everything for kids at a time in their life when having something (anything) stable in their life could be all that they really want or need. I’m sure the life of the army brat does have some advantages. Travel and exposure to many parts of Canada perhaps? With a high-paying private sector job (and, ideally, a wife with the same) we would have the ability to take vacations to wherever we choose, rather than where the military decides they need us. We could do it on our own time, and see places the military would never take us. We’d be doing it on our own dime, but also our own terms.
In the short term, especially the next four years, the civilian route is without a doubt the more difficult one. With no government salary, I would be forced to continue to work my ass off just to pay my bills. But, I have a decent paying job at the Keg, and I should be getting more money soon. With a relatively stable $15+/hour job, I could afford to pay all of my bills. I’m managing now on $12/hr, but it’s tight. At $15, which I should be making soonish, it’ll be a lot easier. I won’t have much left over, and I won’t be able to pay down any of the debt I’ve accumulated, but I wouldn’t expect to have any extra on a government salary either.
I would have no problem getting student loans. Well, no difficulty anyways. I would rather not if at all possible, but that’s life. At the high end, I expect those loans to total around $60,000 for four years of school. At the low end, half of that. Once done school, my loan payments would balance out with the slightly lower pay and extra deductions taken off my paycheque as a government employee, so that would balance out fairly closely in the long run. I would most likely be able to have that debt paid off within 5 years of school being completed, if I could manage to keep my belt fairly snug for that time. That would put me on equal footing 5 years after school in both paths, with the probability of a higher salary on the civilian side of things, but at most 5 years of pensionable time in rather than the 9 I would have via the military program.
I don’t know which route I’m leaning more towards at this point. Both have advantages and disadvantages. The military would be easier in the short term. The civilian route is financially better in the long term.
In the private sector, if my boss tells me to go drive around in a circle in an area where there were a bunch of people who wanted to kill me because of who I worked for, I could tell him to get fucked. One can’t do that in the military. I’m a big fan of not dying, believe it or not. And I don’t believe enough in our military’s current operations to think that throwing my life away would do any good. I’m quite happy to be Canadian, but I don’t think I’m ready to die because we’re trying to “stop bad people from doing bad things.” Sure, we’re supposed to be out of the sandbox within a few years, but who knows what the US/UN will drag us into next time. Libya maybe? While the current operation is relatively low risk for our navy, that doesn’t mean the next one will be. I certainly don’t want to have to take that chance just because I don’t feel like going further into debt.