Prepare for the Worst, Hope for the Best

It is a phrase that gets used a lot when talking about military life, and the current questions certainly bring this phrase to mind.  The internet, particularly blogs and forums, are full of people who feel very strongly about the federal budget situation and how it might affect military families.  About one-quarter of those people are over-reacting out of fear that the military might not get paid, and about one-quarter are running around telling everyone not to be such an idiot because nothing of the sort will ever happen.  The remaining half either has no idea what is happening and have questions, or fall into a more neutral, let’s be prepared and see what happens sort of mindset.  I think that I am in the last group.  I don’t anticipate that we won’t get paid on 1 April, but I am willing to concede that it is possible, and I think that everyone should be prepared for the possibility.

There are tons of reasons why a military person might not receive their pay, including being mistakenly separated from the service during a PCS move, having a huge overpayment that gets taken out all at once, having a bank account compromised, or any myriad number of other possibilities.  Being prepared for the possibility that you might not get paid is just plain smart, regardless of the reason that the pay doesn’t show up as expected.

Which brings us back to the title of this article.  I’m pretty sure we’re all on the same side of this conversation:  We’re all hoping that this has been a lot of hoopla for nothing.  But for me, it would be foolish not to a) consider the possibilities, and b) use this situation as a catalyst for positive change.  Personally, it has made me think long and hard about how large an emergency fund is necessary to fund my family’s day-to-day life, and how many of our expenses could be curtailed if necessary.  Thinking about finances is almost never a bad thing (unless you’re not sleeping because of financial problems.)  Quite the opposite, most of us would find ourselves in much better financial situations if we thought about money a little more carefully.  Let’s take the opportunity to do just that!

About the Author

Kate Horrell
Kate Horrell is a military financial coach, mom of four teens, and Navy spouse. She has a background in taxes and mortgage banking, and a trove of experience helping other military families with their money. Follow her on twitter @realKateHorrell.
  • Dan

    Most military families dont make enough money to not live pay day to pay day.

    • Martha Eldredge

      You are soooo right. We should pay of military before anyone gets a welfare check, unemployement check etc. Wake up a America these young men and women in our military should be the first to get paid. Shame on us if they do not get there much needed paychecks.

    • Lo Fred

      I completely agree. My husband is in the Navy and by the time we pay all of our bills, we have no other way to live but paycheck to paycheck and have no money to put aside for an emergency fund. We just had a baby 3 months ago and it makes saving money even harder and more impossible.

    • Erika

      You’re right! I know there’s other military families in the same boat as me. I’m a stay at home mom and my husband is a CPL in the USMC, we live on base and are living paycheck to paycheck. We have bills to pay and they have also recently gone up in price. After bills and groceries we don’t have much money left over to save. Gas is expensive and we’re feeding four people off a CPL’s pay. We’re okay for now but if this pay freeze is approved I don’t know what to do until I find a job.

  • Krista

    I absolutely agree – we’re stationed at K-bay Hawaii and recently had a Tsunami scare. The damage to the islands was relatively minimal especially when contrasted with Japan. I could complain about the fact that the MP’s came through at midnight announcing an evacuation that turned out to be unnecessary. I could also complain about the hours of sleep I lost that night as DH, the kids and I waited for the wave in the base gym. However, if a more powerful and damaging wave had come I know that I would have been glad to lose that sleep in order to keep my family safe. It’s not about being chicken little and freaking out about the possibility of a government shutdown, but simply taking the appropriate steps to protect yourself, just in case.

  • Bernice

    If the Government shutdowns and the Military goes without pay, does congress, President and all the Executives of our Government also goes without pay, what about people on welfare, also anyone tht gets their money from the Government. Will they also be with out pay? If our Pesident and Congress gets their money, so should the Military, they are doing a job and they are protecting us from harm. Many of the Military have been away from there families for months and if the families at home are unprepared for this shutdown, they will be devvasted. Our Congress needs to work together and get this budget balances and not argue. They were elected to take care of everyone and not take advantage of the American People.

  • I guess I am not the norm, heck I know I’m not. I don’t have an issue with the amount my husband makes. We pay our bills without a problem every month and always have money left over. We kinda have a budget. I know what’s coming in and pay bills and put money in savings before we get to the fun money. We PCSed about 6 months ago and I haven’t found a job yet. The extra paycheck would be nice, but not necessary. We also have 2 small kids. We have enough in savings to cover us if the military doesn’t get paid. I don’t really believe they won’t get paid, but if it should happen, we’ll be fine.

    • DocAce

      And your point Kara? Basically fuck everyone else in the military? I too make great money after 18 years in the military as does my wife after 9 years of being in SO WHAT- however I STILL CARE about what happens to my brother and sisters in the service AND in the civilian sector. A private’s pay sucks, but that does not enter you mind when you boast about how much your HUSBAND (not you) makes in a month? Most likely not.

      Your long statement of how great “your” life is without some type of logical ending phrase is ridiculous and very self serving. Maybe you should start thinking about someone other than yourself for a change, yes? Even if it’s in theory..

      • Missnanny


        You took the words right out of my mouth concerning KARA. I cannot believe she would say that, PERIOD. Knowing the circumstances of service men and women, over seas and in the US. I am from Tennessee & my daughter is in the NAVY stationed in San Diego, going on her 4th year,( a long way from home) and awaiting a Deployment in Sept., that was supposed to be in August…. And to me, GOODY 2 SHOES KARA “IS” saying **** everyone else in the military.

        I not only worry about my daughter, but ALL that are serving our country, espically those with families with children, some who have not seen one or both parents because of being overseas.

        THANK YOU DocAce for your wise comment.

  • Dave

    I’ve worked with guys in my office who live comfortably less than 2000 a month. They own their cars outright, own their home, and everything above 2000 goes right into savings (which is what enabled them to buy their cars over time). I’ve met smart privates who bring in 1200 a month, but manage to save, invest, and spend wisely. I’ve also met specialists who put themselves in so much debt by the time they were promoted that they could barely get by on their pay check alone. It’s just about decisions. Buying a more expensive car before you can afford it, etc..

    • Jamie

      Id love to be able to live on $2k a month… but being in Boston and paying about $2000 a month just on rent – for a 1 bedroom apartment – and bills on top of that it just isnt possible. We’re only newly married and will get on top within a year or two, but things arn’t as clear-cut as “i know people who ____, so therefore…”

  • lbradshaw11585

    There’s a saying — “pay yourself first!” My husband and I live on only a military paycheck and a measly part-time salary as I attend school full-time, yet we have managed to save enough for an emergency fund in case something like this were to happen. The military doesn’t pay a lot but they DO provide everything you need (salary, money for housing, medical coverage, plus a number of emergency loans and other services to help with finances). And actually, if you live within your means there shouldn’t be a problem. However, the military can’t be expected to support an entire family (more than 2 people, I would guess) one a one-income paycheck either.
    There are always things you can cut for a short-term to help build that emergency fund — cell phone extras (we switched to regular phones from smart phones for 6 months when we first PCSed and our BAH was significantly less), get rid of cable, gym memberships, stay home more often and cook at home. There are so many creative ways to be able to save and it doesn’t have to be a long-term solution if you are smart about spending. Plus not to mention, most military families get a nice tax refund every year. We put half of our tax refund right into savings!

    • Sarah

      I agree 100% cut coupons, Shop smart. I can buy food for 2 weeks for 3 people and it only cost me 80-100 dollars. If your BAH isnt enouph for you to live off post move on post. My husband and I pay a “fake” bill every pay day and thats how we build our savings. If we don’t get payed we can hold off for about 2-3 months befor things getting bad. And I love how you bring up the tax refund I know for a fact if your married and have one kid you will get close to 7k back in taxes. Instead of blowing it Save it. act like you don’t have it. There ARE ways to fixs things you just have to want to do it

      • AshleyH.

        I don’t believe that. Most ppl don’t get anywhere near 7k back for taxes with one kid. I have 1 child and my husband was deployed last yr and we didn’t make anywhere near 7k.

        • Vickie

          I agree. I’m not sure where she got $7,000 from!

      • KateKashman

        Sarah, if you are getting a $7000 tax refund, you are significantly overpaying throughout the year. Please check with your bases Volunteer Income Tax Assistance office to adjust your and/or your spouse’s withholding.

        You can find more information here:

    • guest

      I think all in all, people who have the right to spend their paycheck how they see fit, we all work for the same reason, a paycheck. Im glad some have the “emergency fund” but many dont. All in all wether your broke or wether your doing well, no one deserves to put their life on the line and in return not get their hard earned pay…

  • tori

    What I don’t understand is how we can afford to support every country on earth but we can’t pay the people who are leaving their families to do the job.

    • Vickie

      Well said!

  • Jax

    Do you think there will be no repercussions if the military doesn’t get paid…?

  • Kara

    your right the families living paycheck to paycheck. My husband is in the ARMY and thats how it always has been. I can do without, but my babies can not…just praying he does get paid. I have diapers for my 18 month old and 8 month old and formula. On top of that have medicine I have to get for them.

    • Suebee

      I don’t know why you say “medicine you have to get for them” since dependents are completely covered and you can go to any pharmacy on any military installation and get that medicine free of charge. You can also get OTC medicine like cough syrup and motrin.

      The diapers and formula I can understand.

  • Jon

    Coming from someone who works their tail off everyday and never complains…once I got wind of this possible “show up to work without pay” situation, I started doing some math. The president makes $250,000 a year which equals a million per 4 year term. Congress makes $170,000 a year as of 2010. Now I and hundreds of thousands of military make under $35,000 a year. It would take us 25-30 years in service with several deployments and hardships to accumulate what they are making in a mere 4 years. We are put to danger for our country and that is fine but when you start asking us to do that for free and say that we should of been more finacially stable. Well look at the pot calling the kettle black…if our government isn’t finacially stable then how is it hard to percieve that the hard working, underpaid men, women and children of America are struggling to to make ends meet. Like I said I don’t complain much because I am a soldier and I chose my future but I do have a problem with our government deciding my fate and the possibility of my family starving coming into play after all our armed forces continue to do. I will continue to pray and hope for the best as always but this thought of how devistated this country will be if it comes down to that just saddens me to a point that I for once am more afraid then I ever have been while standing toe to toe with the enemies of this country. God Bless America!

  • kittykat

    Very eloquently put, Jon.

  • Jessica

    You have actors and singers that basically do nothing that make in the millions that don’t risk their life on a day to day basis like our brave soldiers, but the military doesn’t make crap. It’s awful….

    • Clark A. Corley SR.

      You should check out the pay scale on because a pvt.E-1 makes over $1000,00. And they make a lot more now than ever. A whole lot more than when I was a Pvt. in 1963. I only made $80.00 per month then. And I know with a degree in civilion life you can make much more than a lower ranking person. But knocking the military pay, please. Just manage your money correctly and cut down on things you really could do without and start saving money each month. I have 40 years in the military AD and Reserve time. If I had saved just $25.00 a month just think after 40 years how much I would have saved. I would be rich now. And woulden’t have to worry about anything now. Well good luck to you on all your ventures in life.

      • Wes

        Holy crap you can not compare pay from 1963 to that of 2011! There is something called inflation and the consumer price index!

  • Jtaker

    Our military should be our first priority. As for the federal services and the wind bags in DC, they can do with out pay for a while. Most of them are making pretty comfortable pay scales……..

  • Better times ahead

    The intent of driving the fear is to have the military, and everyone else, put pressure on congress to manage the budget.
    So, put on the pressure. As spouses take your families, tote your loved ones, to the local congressman’s office demanding that they get off their collective ass. That’s not exactly Libya but it’s an action that needs to be taken. It’s all a game until it’s in their face.

  • LeAnn

    I can’t believe the self-righteous attitudes of some of those
    who have been fortunate to save. We have lived in the
    We have lived in the bay area most of my husband’s career of 18 yrs. We have kids to raise and live pay ck to pay ck. He’s n E7, but living in one of the most expensive counties in the nation has left us with little savings. To help with our retirement,we purchased rental property in 2008, which has continued to decline not to mention, has been vacant over 50%of the time. (I won’t go into the problems we’ve had with property managers here. The property is located out of state.) My point is, we’ve tried to do the right things financially. I’ve worked on and off, from having an at home medical biling business to caring for the elderly to CFO of a non- profit organization. Bottom line is, the enlisted military members are not paid enough. I’d like to know of those that have been able to save how many are enlisted or have or are receiving special service pay??

  • jlt

    BTW: for anyone interested……….SOME DoD employees qualify (especially military) for RedCross $$ assistance, in case of emergency (NO RENT $$ !!), because of certain funds set aside after 9-11. It will depend on when and how the person is enlisted. Check if you need.

  • Suebee

    Honestly, the red cross will be overwhelmed if the military doesn’t get paid. Kate is an idiot. My husband and I have only ever bought 2 brand new cars over the course of his 20 year enlistment. The reality is that most military families live paycheck to paycheck and it isn’t because they buy things they can’t afford. I could probably have saved about 20-40 dollars a month but it would take years for that money to equal the mortgage payment and basic living expenses that I pay out every month. Good for those of you who don’t struggle and seem to have enough. You probably aren’t and E-5 or below so don’t speak to their situations.

    • nola

      DH was stationed at fort hood. He was an E-4 and we were able to save and put half our income tax in savings. I did not work. We have 2 sons and 1 in college who we help. We have a mortgage, our 4 cars are paid in full and was able to purchase a dublex out right to help us before he got out. We did this all on a E-4 pay. I set a goal, and try to achieve that goal.

  • Don

    I am a viet nam veteran with a 100% disability, and also receive SS diability. I can’t work even I could find a job. I have read everything that you have all posted. So my question is this! How do we all ban together, and stop the congress, and house of representitives, and obhama, and every other crooked S.O.B. that says they are doing what is right for this country, when we can’t even stop the wastful spending, and greed that exist in our government that is supposed to be for the people, by the people, and of the people? How do we, as Americans take back our country? Tell me!