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He also helps other military personnel improve their money management skills.

3 minute read

The Marine on Fire (MoF) remembers making his weekly collections as a paperboy. He had a ritual: Collect the money, often only five or ten dollars, and deposit it into the bank.

“I’d ride my bike directly to the bank,” he says. “I was fascinated by the idea of interest — money given to me because I simply had money.”

Many years later, in 2004 after undergraduate school, MoF joined the Marine Corps. He wanted to see the world and live an adventurous life. He met his wife and she felt the same way. She also shared his thoughts on not living the typical American life:

  • Get married
  • Buy a house (30-year mortgage)
  • Have kids
  • Work for 40 years
  • Retire

Once he started earning a steady paycheck, more money than they were used to, he didn’t immediately start spending it. “We continued to live frugally (like poor college students), saving a decent amount,” says MoF. He noticed that other military families and individuals didn’t treat their finances the same way.

“All military members are familiar with the new guy or girl that goes out and buys a new vehicle with a ridiculously high interest rate, and who is likely deploying in a few months,” says MoF.

MoF didn’t plan on staying in the military, although he told me he enjoyed the first four years. He felt that attending graduate school would benefit him and his family. Then the military offered to send him to graduate school for two years. MoF received a Master of Science from the Naval Postgraduate School and a Master of Arts from King’s College London.

He says, “I took the military’s offer and still serve in the Marines today.  I have deployed to combat three times, twice to Iraq and once to Afghanistan.  We have lived on the east and west coasts. We have also lived in the United Kingdom.”

The goal: true freedom

But let’s take a step back. After his first four years serving, MoF became seriously focused on one goal: financial independence. “I saw others who were working well into their 60s — they were all dreaming of retirement,” says MoF. “I saw how much they wanted to be free, but were stuck in the 40- to 60-hours-a-week rat race. I wanted to be completely financially independent as quick as possible.”

So, he did something about it. He started tracking his family’s finances, read everything about personal finances and investing, and resisted debt. They never paid credit card interest and never took out a car loan. “As the paychecks increased, we resisted lifestyle inflation,” says MoF. “We also maximized our savings rate and ensured our money was working for us.”

He saves money by cutting his own hair (he told me it saved him thousands over the years), not paying for cable, and doing his own handy work on his vehicle. “I started with oil changes and then learned to do brakes, electrical, suspension, and the fuel system,” says MoF. “Recently, I replaced the entire cooling system on my vehicle that is over 20 years old.”

Sharing his financial wisdom

MoF started Marine on FIRE (financially independent/retire early) to share the knowledge that he was searching for when he started out. But he feels the things he writes about work for everyone, not just military members.

He says, “Financial training is rarely provided at home, rarely provided in schools, nor is it given in the military.  As a result, I often see the same poor decisions repeatedly, which directly lead to numerous other problems.” Unfortunately, discussing finances is usually taboo in the military — just like in most other places.

But MoF says, once people feel they can trust you, “they open up about finances a little more, then almost like a floodgate, the questions begin to pour out.” Now MoF helps as many servicemen and women who are interested. He told me this story:

This one Marine wanted to get himself set up financially but was at a loss of where to begin.  He was dealing with credit card debt, a hefty car payment, and had a baby on the way.  We talked a bit and I recommended a few books. I don’t provide investment advice, only credible information. Over the next few months his questions became more pointed, his knowledge dramatically increased, and he began taking care of his future.  A year later, he was completely debt-free with a newborn.

His advice worked, and he also provided some advice for us.

  • Create a budget and compare what you actually spend every month. This clearly shows your savings rate.  Find out how much your life costs. After three months you can see trends.
  • Track your net wealth (assets minus liabilities equals net wealth); it should go up every month.
  • Know, control, and kill your debt. Most debt acts like weights, significantly slowing your growth.

Thank you MoF, for your advice and inspiring story — and thank you for your service.

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About the Author

Brian Bienkowski

Brian Bienkowski

Brian Bienkowski has been writing about personal finance for over 15 years covering debt recovery, fraud, and credit topics. He has worked on several personal finance books and guides that help consumers navigate the US credit system. When he’s away from the keyboard he enjoys craft beer and fishing – and once enjoyed a cold Sweet Water IPA after catching a sailfish.

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