Kate Is Clueless: Meal Deductions

Soldiers and civilian employees eat at an Army DFAC.

Today, we get a little Kate is Clueless and From The Mailbag mash-up, all about meal deductions.

Here’s the email I received:
“My grandson is in the first year of enlistment and we have been helping him with his finances. He explains his meal provisions and allowances and we just can’t understand. It appears as though he gets a BAS allowance and is charged double this amount on his paycheck which may be 600 to 700 dollars a month. Is this what is actually happening? He eats most meals away from the mess hall because he finds the food not to his liking. He says that they say this is correct, is it?”

Well, this is one of those questions to which I think I know the answer, but I’m just not sure.  However, I am absolutely positive that someone who reads The Paycheck Chronicles can answer this question.

Here’s what I think I know:  Everyone in the military receives Basic Allowance for subsistence (BAS).  If you are required to use the dining facility, aka DFAC, aka mess hall, aka galley, aka chow hall, you will have a deduction for the amount of your meals.  As I understand it, the meals deduction should be just about the same amount as BAS.

Does that sound right?

Once you answer the accounting part of the question, you have to address the other issue:  people who are authorized to eat in the provided facility, and are paying for it via automatic deduction, and aren’t eating there.

I have never understood not eating in an available military dining facility.  I suppose that there are some awful chow halls out there, but the very few places I’ve eaten have had a wide variety of high quality food available at outstanding prices.  Gosh, one place I’ve lived, the hospital galley was the best place on base to eat.  I estimate that I ate there 2-3 times per week, and I often brought my kids.  It was the popular “let’s have lunch” place to go, and you couldn’t beat the price.  Where else could you get soup, a choice of entrees and sides, fruit, dessert, drinks and a salad bar for less than $5?  We were sad that it wasn’t open to the general population for dinner!

I’ll be replying to this concerned grandfather soon, and I welcome your help as I answer the question.  Fill me in!

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.
  • Shannon


  • Bethany

    I see mostly Navy and Marine Corps, so I’m not sure if this is different for any of the other services, but I doubt it.

    Everyone (except during basic/boot camp) gets BAS (enlisted $357.55). That amount will show up in the “entitlements” section of the LES. If a servicemember has a mealcard, $10.15/day is deducted for the “Discount Meal Rate” so that usually varies between $304.50 and $314.65 per month. Generally, if someone is assigned to single-type government housing (barracks, shipboard, dorms, etc.), they will have a meal card. I’ve seen a few exceptions to that for people who work very unusual hours or at remote locations and really can’t make it to the dining facility. Personal preference is usually not a reason to be able to turn in a meal card.

    This person’s specific question would be much easier to answer if the exact amounts and what it’s labelled as were included. I have seen some LESes from newer members that have large deductions and adjustments due to records being slow to update as they move to different training schools. He should definitely talk to his S-1 section or stop by the Financial Management Program for assistance in understanding his LES.

  • ken

    Bethany rocks! If his deductions are $600-$700 he should go to the S1 to talk to Finance. I would ask to see his LES leave and earnings statement to verify the amount. Why are you helping him financially? His barracks are free and he gets a monthly salary. He does not need more money.

    • Bethany

      Interesting question. When I read “helping him with his finances,” I assumed they meant they are trying to help him get a budget together and plan for the future no that they were regularly sending him money.

      • Kate

        That’s what I thought, too. It didn’t occur to me that it could be interpreted as that the grandparents were helping to support him. Granddad, if you’re reading this, we’re curious!

  • deleted569191

    Bethany gives some good advice. But why are the grandparents helping financially? If someone is adult enough to join the military, it’s time to cut the apron strings. The ‘kid’ sounds like a mama’s boy from Reno.

    • Do you ever discuss issues?

      I had relatives in the military that knew when they joined it wasn’t for the money but about the service to the country.

      • PoofShesGone

        What have you ever done to serve my country? Anything? Crickets?

        • This isn’t a site or story only for those that serve their country but about those that do. My grandparents, great grandfather, father, uncle and brothers and nephews have served.

          Can’t you pretend you’re here because you think this country is worth defending?

          • PoofShesGone

            So you’ve done nothing, you left it to the rest of us? Good to know. I won’t allow you to soil this site any longer…you’ll have to stalk me somewhere else.

          • So you can’t discuss the issues? So, you go on a personal attack since you don’t know jack and you can’t admit it?

            I hope you realize that the military gets very little pay for the responsibilities they take on, and even if you’re a progressive liberal that hates them, you sleep safer at night because they are there.

    • JohnWayne76

      yea hes grown enough to join the military but hes not man enough to come home from war and sit down at a bar and have a beer? a lot of kids who join the military are fresh out of high school and have little to no job experience that leads to no financial responsibility. no need for name calling. think outside the box.

  • Ken: If the member is an E1-E4, and single, living in govt quarters and using a meal card, their base pay is likely not very much. Granted, members need to learn to live WITHIN their means, yet the low rank enlisted’s pay is very miniscule; in some cases it would be safe to say a McDonald’s employee working 40 hours a week at $10 an hour makes more money than some E2’s and E3’s.

  • Bethany

    I’ve seen/read comparisons of jr. enlisted members and fast food workers a couple of times recently, and I think it’s a terrible comparison. Here’s why.

    An E-2 with less than 2 years has a base pay of $1716.90/month. With partial BAH and BAS but after taxes, meal deduction, and life insurance, I’d estimate take home pay at $1425/month. Out of that, he’ll need to pay for a cell phone ($30 for a basic prepaid), haircuts ($40), hygiene and cleaning supplies ($25), and maybe dry cleaning ($20). That leaves over $1300/month for whatever transportation he’s chosen, entertainment, and snacks. His shelter, food, medical, and dental coverage are all covered.

    The $10/hr worker at 40 hrs/week has an average gross pay of $1733.33/month. After taxes, I estimate take home pay of $1445/month. For rent, I’m going to use my local area where renting a room with utilities will be at least $500/month. Then add $250 for food, $30 for phone, $25 for hygiene and cleaning supplies. If you want medical coverage, the lowest cost “Bronze” plan I found is $53/month plus about $20 for dental. This leaves a little more than $500/month for transportation, entertainment, as well as medical and dental copays and deductibles.

    To me, it looks like the E-2 is way better off.

  • Austin

    Someone receiving full BAS should not have a meal card at the galley/chow hall/DFAC. I am in the Navy, stationed on an air force base. When I started receiving full BAS, they revoked my meal card. BAS gives a service member enough money to eat off base every month and still have a little leftover. Anything he eats at the galley/DFAC would not come out of his paycheck, he would pay out-of-pocket because he has full BAS.

  • Becky

    Seriously, go easy on the Grandparents and don’t hold it against the young kid because Gramma asked a question. I’m looking for the same reason. My son says he’s have DFAC pulled from his pay at a cost of approx. $325.00 a payday. Now he is ok with it IF he gets to eat at a DFAC. He works odd shifts and rarely gets to an open DFAC in time to eat. My son is very well trained and knows that he can shop at the Commissary, spend less and eat better. He has no choice, he must pay for a service he seldom uses. I served, shipboard and deployed and I never noticed them making me pay for the privilege of eating runny eggs and sliders, but it was a different service back in the ’80’s.

  • michelle

    Not sure if you received the answer already. He will receive BAS allowance when he lives in the dorms/ barracks. However that amount will be deducted again when he eats in the chow hall, regardless of whether he likes the food or not.