military millionaire

Seven Steps to Being a Military Millionaire (Video)

It is possible to retire a military millionaire?

It is.

I did it before retirement.

No rich parents, no help, wife didn’t work.

Can the average military member go from being in debt to military millionaire?

We all see websites and books from people who were deep in debt and somehow quickly made millions.

Maybe we should read their books or infomercials and try their methods…

A lot of that stuff is shady.

These gurus get rich off people looking for shortcuts.  Most that try the guru route fail miserably.

It often involves going into lots of debt or paying a lot upfront for a product or a course.

military millionaire

It also requires no common sense

So how can you get out of debt and make a million or so when the average military member has a low-income and some debt?

Maybe a lot of debt!

Execute these proven seven steps to become a military millionaire before retirement.

1.  Cut your expenses

You have to learn to live frugally.  For a lot of people, this is a change in mindset.

This doesn’t happen overnight, but it’s crucial to your success.  Ditch the big house, new cars, iPhones, Harleys, boats, timeshares, expensive vacations and hobbies.

O no, I’m losing some of you already!  If you need those things above, I suggest trying a no-money-down infomercial course.  They won’t tell you to live frugally.

They buy Ferraris and have helicopters!

Hell yeah!

Here’s the two choices you have.

  • Look rich now, be poor later
  • Look poor now, be rich later (hint: this is what I’m doing)

For help with cutting expenses, read 9 Debt Payoff Hacks that Work and 3 that Don’t

2.  Increase your income

Next, find ways to increase your income.  Start a home business, send  ask your spouse to work, take on a part-time job (side hustle) if possible.  Consider a different career if that will work for your situation.  My side hustle was flipping houses.  That’s a story for another day.

Step one was to cut your expenses.  That’s helpful, but how much you can cut your expenses has a limit.  You can only cut them so much, and then life starts to get really tough.  The max you can cut them is to zero, but that’s totally unreasonable.

My point is, cutting expenses has a limit, but how much you make does not.  You need to grow the gap between what you spend and what you make.  Cut expenses AND increase income.  This is where the magic happens.

3.  Eliminate debt

I’m pretty logical about this.  I pay off debt with the largest interest rate first.

Some people prefer to pay off the smallest amounts of debt first, that way they feel psychologically they are getting somewhere faster.

Just get out of debt!

Everybody has their strengths and weaknesses.  Dave Ramsey is great on debt.

military millionaire dave ramsey

That’s his strength.

His advice from the book The Total Money Makeover is solid.

If you want a in-depth guide to getting out of debt, read it.

The concept doesn’t take a genius, though.  Stop spending and start paying off your debt.

After getting rid of all of your credit card debt, you need to shift your focus to car debt, and eventually knock out that dreaded student debt.

4.  Maximize retirement accounts

You fully fund IRAs and TSPs/401ks to take advantage of legal tax breaks for retirement.

How to invest?  This is easy.  Invest in a low-fee index fund like the S&P 500.  Nothing else.   This is all a military millionaire needs.

Make sure you are paying low-fees for your index funds.  I recommend Vanguard, Fidelity, and Schwab for this.

For a more in depth look at picking index funds and the fees involved, read The 10 Cheapest Index Funds to Supercharge your Portfolio

5.  Pay off your primary residence

IF you buy a house (I only buy a house if it will make money as a rental), you consider paying off your primary residence quickly

WHAT!!

Now I’m losing the rest of you.

This is controversial and most people would deem it impossible, but I did it on a single military income.

While this isn’t mandatory, having your primary residence paid off before your military retirement can have a huge psychological benefit.  No big mortgage payment to worry about!

Freedom!

I will admit, using mortgages responsibly to purchase multiple homes is ok, and over the long term wealth can be built faster this way, but there is amazing peace of mind in having mortgages paid off.

All 20 of my rental properties are paid off!

More info on this including the pros and cons of paying off early can be read about in 5 Surefire Ways to Payoff your Mortgage Fast

6.  Traditional investing

You fund a traditional brokerage account.  I prefer to keep my investments simple. Same S&P 500 index fund.  Nothing else for me.  If you want more options with how you invest, here is a great resource.  This article is not mine.

150 Portfolios Better Than Yours

These six steps are enough to be a military millionaire.  Paying off properties is optional, but very cool.  If your spouse works, shoot for a million each.

The seventh step is a bonus step.  I’m a BIG believer in real estate.  The passive income from it will continue to flow to me for years to come with almost no work on my part.

Now you are out of debt, properly invested, and have enough money for at least a 20% downpayment on something.

7.  Buy rental properties

This needs to be done wisely.  You don’t buy a house at every assignment.  Buying a house when you are stationed in Hawaii or Monterey, CA will probably not make a good rental.

Read Real Estate Mistakes Military Members Should Avoid

You do the math and make sure the house will make money as a rental property.

In one city, I rented a house that would not have done well as an investment property, but my wife liked it.  I didn’t buy it because it would not have made money as a rental property.

I then bought real estate in a different part of the same city that would work financially as a rental.  We didn’t live in this property, it was purely an investment property.

So at this point I’m renting the house I’m living in and I bought a house that is an investment property all in the same city.

The rental numbers looked great, so I kept buying rental properties in that same location there after I PCSed.  I haven’t bought anywhere else yet.

My rental properties were purchased for prices ranging from $30k-$60k each.  I paid cash.

If you use mortgages, make sure you have at least 20% down.  Avoid PMI and avoid being highly leveraged.  Do not fall for that no-money-down crap that certain gurus will try to sell you.  It could land you in trouble!

Rule of thumb:  If you or your spouse want to live in a big, new house, don’t buy it.  Rent it.  It’s almost impossible for these to make good rentals.  (Living in a big new house also contradicts the first rule of cut your expenses)

I know many of you want to buy a house while you are still in debt.  You are eager to make money in real estate NOW.  This is how you will pay off that debt and retire wealthy.

In most cases, it won’t work.

I highly recommend the slow and conservative approach of paying off your debt first.

Slow and steady wins the race.

Yeah, I know it’s boring.

military millionaire im bored now

But it’s the surest way I know to be a military millionaire.

Rich on Money

Do you agree with my steps?  How about my approach to mortgages.  Email or comment with your thoughts.

Read my page on The Complete Guide to Real Estate Investing

or

How to Invest your Money and Retire Early

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27 Comments

  1. Brew

    Rich,
    I’m an E-8 with 6 years to go until I’m retirement eligible. I currently max my TSP and my wife contributes 6% to her crappy 401k, but she is down to working 6 hours per week so the contribution is minimal. We have a mortgage on our primary residence which I bought at foreclosure auction. I instantly gained about 50k in equity doing that- and it’s a nice place to live. Probably wouldn’t make a good rental so I’m viewing it as a long term flip. I’m not sure if we’ll stay in the same town once I retire, so I do struggle with the idea of trying to pay off the mortgage early or not. We have 3 kids under 6 so I am stuck with trying to pay the mortgage early or save for college, or both. I also own a condo in the town where we live that was my bachelor pad and I now rent out and break even with (it technically cash flows but that’s only when comparing rent to PITI and HOA, not expenses for maintenance and vacancy). I could sell it and finally get as much as I paid for it 13 years ago, or keep it and let the renters pay down the mortgage and use it as my college savings plan. I also hear the siren song of investing in rentals and have quite a bit of cash saved that could go toward a down payment or two. I’ve been kind of stuck as far as developing a strategy goes. I’ll be 48 at retirement and hopefully will only work part time from 48 to 60 at which point my TSP should be able to cover any difference. So my questions for you and other readers:
    1. Pay off house earlyish?
    2. Start 529s for the kids?
    3. Attempt both at the same time?
    4. Sell the condo or keep it as a college savings plan?
    5. Look to buy a duplex or some other rental property as a way to help fund expenses between military retirement and full retirement age?

    Thoughts?

    • You want to be LEAN and MEAN for retirement.

      -Pay off the mortgage as fast as you can

      -Get rid of the rental property if it’s not making good money.

      You said you have some cash right now. Contribute the max towards each kids 529 this year, then put the rest on the mortgage.

      There is a guaranteed savings in paying off a mortgage early. Their is also a huge psychological benefit. There is no guarantee that your investments will make money over the next 3-5 years. Paying off early is the way to go. It makes retirement much easier. No mortgage payment.

      Based on the limited info I have, I would sell your other rental property. You are maybe breaking even to slowly pay down a mortgage. Very slowly. You’re losing money on not having that loan invested in a rental property that is paying a better ROI

      Don’t have a rental property unless it is making at least 6% cap rate. Less than that, you are better off selling.

      Make sure you crunch all the numbers and see what you are really making on your rental. It’s usually much less than people think.

      In the future, do not buy the house you are living in unless it would be a good rental.

      If you like the house, but it’s not a good rental, the just rent it instead of buying it.

      Rent the house you want to live in, and buy houses that will make good money.

      Start your criteria for looking for a rental property by applying the 1% rule. A house that costs $100,000 rents for $1000 a month or higher. If not, it’s not worth considering.

      If you can’t find a good rental, invest your surplus money is low fee s&p 500 index fund or something equivalent.

      Remember, never more than one mortgage at a time. I have 0 and I love it!

  2. This is a great, common sense list Rich! And that’s why it’s not so common.

    I’ve used leverage in my own investments, but people don’t realize how perilous the debt journey can be. The market and the timing of your successes in real estate are very unpredictable. And losing control of your debt is one of the easiest ways to lose control. I’ve seen MANY people go out of business because of their debt. For other reasons? Not so much.

    With that said, I think there are some strategies that can be a happy medium – like using leverage and then debt snowballing it quickly (7-8 years). This allows you to buy intensely in one phase (perhaps when the deals are available), and then focus on management and debt pay down in the next phase. Then repeat if you want.

    Fun debates, but the bottom line is your proof is in the pudding. It’s worked! So, if people resonate with that strategy, it’s worth emulating.

    • Chad, thanks for commenting over here. i definitely recommend your blog to anyone who wants to figure out real estate. You do it right. Debt can accelerate your profits. The opposite is also true. Your point is well taken. It can be done smartly. That being said, I do caution beginners against too much borrowing.

  3. Buck

    Superb article, Rich. I just sold my first rental property (which I owned for 7 years). It did not cash flow very well since I bought it to live in and not as a real investment property. If all of my investment/retirement money ($470K) is in TSP, IRA, and a taxable account with zero in real estate, would it be wise to take $40-70K from one of my investment accounts and buy a property outright or just save the $40-70K from the new money I have coming in? I have a pretty high savings rate ($60K per year). Just trying to figure out if I should stop investing (no new money) in retirement accounts and move to the real estate arena. Me and the wife have been analyzing properties in our home state of GA for the past 5 months for fun and we have found some properties that look pretty good on paper. Thank you for your sacrifice to our country. We really love reading your articles!

    • I would say save from the new money coming in. Just make sure the investment looks good on paper before you invest!

  4. Awesome information. I’ve been obsessed with real estate since enlisting two years, but my first base ended up being in England so I deemed it fate to be put on the back burner – after stumbling upon your site I have since reconsidered.

    I assumed I had to compromise between staying overseas and diving into real estate but am beginning to believe it’s more than possible to have the best of both worlds. Between me and my wife we are saving around 60% of our income and I believe by my next base I can purchase a multifamily in my home state.

    Thanks for the inspiration, and you’ve found a new frequent visitor to the site.

  5. Military Millionaire

    Great article Rich!

    We used all seven to become military millionaires.

    I retired from the army 10 years ago. I still can’t believe how many people ask me what job I was going to get after retiring. They really couldn’t believe that I was really retiring at age 42. Even after 10 years I still have friends that ask if I ran out of money yet. LOL

    We were not able to pay cash for our rentals but instead put 25% down. Then payoff in 12 to 24 months. It really snow balls quickly when you throw all that rent money into paying off the next rental.

    Best advice I can give is do your homework. I never buy a rental that doesn’t cash flow after mortgage, insurance, vacancies and repairs at least $500 a month.

    I tell everyone if I can do it anyone can. I have a GED and never finished college. I just started buying houses and didn’t listen to all the negativity.

  6. Latasha Williams

    Great posts for everyone! I’m here to read and learn before we take the plunge. Air Force members here as well but late in the game! Thanks Rich!

  7. Kevin Drummond

    This is straight out of every finance book and magazine written since 1981! IRA’s and 401K’s won’t do it, circa 2006. Explaining it simply: somewhere, some trash network directly connected to the Rothschilds, the Abrams Complex, (until 2003), now the Pentagon and Gen William Walker (ret) is funneling former military personnel questionably legal amounts of cash via CEO-appts in places like Serbia, where Gen Patreaus’s status as CEO of of a certain Serbian Television network amounts to a violation of looting laws, and no one stops these scumbags.

    There should be an investigation that is able to follow IG lines, but the money we are talking about is the devil’s and he will see the US fall, first. And if you lift up that rock a tad higher and see who all is crawling under it, it lays bare the fact that change must come. And I will leave it to your imagination where the retired Gen millionaire came from….or the scummy retired Colonol class that got that way such as the one who owned the Camelia Hotel complex in Columbus, GA….

    Bribes R Us!

    • I’m keeping your comment not because it adds substance, but because it’s frickin’ looney tunes. Either that, or I’m just not intelligent enough to know what the hell you’re talking about!

  8. Joe

    Just went over 14 years of service. Entered as an O1 and am now an O4. Will be a millionaire within 5 months. All cash. I have 1 rental that has not really made me money but the tenants are making my payments. I have about $60k in equity in it now but not making money on the rent/mortgage delta, at least not after repairs are factored in. I have gotten here by living like an E4 my entire career. While my buddies live it up in expensive condos or townhouses, I have rented VERY modestly. While others buy expensive cars, my 03 carolla keeps chugging along nicely. I am buying time…not things. I am looking for complete, 100% freedom from the 9 to 5 routine upon separation. I know I can be doing some things smarter, such as buying cheap homes rather than renting cheap residences; however, there is a simplicity and low stress aspect to my approach that, while I know I could be even more efficient, makes it worthwhile to me. Financial freedom is not impossible. People make it seem as such. All you need is common sense. Maximize your savings rate and do it consistently. Pay yourself first. Don’t follow the masses…sometimes the “m” is silent…

  9. Coop

    I am commenting because I am looking for an impartial perspective to my situation and (hopefully) affirmation that I am on the right track. I agree with all the points that you said, except for not buying the big house. However, my situation is different that most military as I am AGR, meaning I don’t have to worry about being stationed somewhere else so it’s basically apples to oranges.

    I still have a little more that 16 years left until I can retire, which will put me at 51 years old. Currently, I have 95K in my TSP and am contributing the annual max of $18,500 to the Roth TSP as an E-6. My wife is working and her employer puts 15% of her salary ($85,000) into an IRA. I currently owe $220K of a $300K mortgage on a house that is valued at about $340K.

    My plan is to pay off the house within the next five years and then start putting about $4K/month into an investment account spread across a few mutual funds/index funds. My hope is to have around two million in savings between me and my wife by the time we retire which should add plenty of cushion to my pension.

    Every retirement calculator I look at tells me that I’m basically going to run out of money around 80 – 85, but I just don’t see how I could. I believe that I will barely be touching more than my pension, as most of income now goes to retirement savings, paying off my house, and childcare for my children. At retirement, all of these expenses will be gone, and I imagine I will have plenty of disposable income.

    Do you think I am missing something, or is this a symptom of the retirement calculators putting too much emphasis on current earnings?

    • I don’t necessarily see the reason to pay off your mortgage in 5 years if you are retiring in 16 years. I think you would be better of investing the money that you would have used to pay off the mortgage early. The advantages of paying off a mortgage early are more psychological.

      Fully max your TSP/401ks and IRAs for wife and yourself, then start investing money in taxable accounts, assuming all other debt is paid off. I think you’re doing great!

  10. Aiden Brimhall

    Hey Rich,

    I ship off to Parris Island in about a month and I’m trying to find an aggressive plan to use my money, considering I’m getting a sizable enlistment bonus. I want to start investing once I join the Corps and being 19, I’ve never done large-scale investing like real estate. I’ll have to live in the barracks (unless I marry the first girl I meet haha) and so buying a house seems a little far-fetched. Do you think it’s still a wise investment to buy properties while I’m still living in the barracks?

    Best,
    Aiden

    • Shinwon

      Hey Aiden,

      My last assignment was as a company commander of a basic training unit at Fort Benning so I’ve had the chance to spend a lot of time with new Soldiers. My advice to new military members is to max out your TSP in the C and S funds. Since you will be in the blended retirement program, you’ll be getting a 5% match on your contributions so make sure you take advantage of that free money. Next, open up a Vanguard traditional IRA where you will buy $5500 worth of shares of VTSAX each year. If you have money left over, open up a brokerage account with Vanguard and invest in VTSAX. Let the brokerage account grow while living in the barracks by investing 50% of your base pay. After a couple years, you’ll have a higher net worth than 99% of your peers who will have spent their pay on cars and video games. You can then explore “house-hacking” a multifamily at your next duty station using the VA loan and start building a rental portfolio.

      I didn’t start investing in real estate until I grew my Vanguard account to $100k which took about 3-4 years. I regret not maxing out my TSP since commissioning as a brand new 2LT. Had I done so, I’d be a lot better off (though $400k net worth isn’t too shabby for a 30 year old CPT).

  11. Greg Parker

    I think your best idea is “no expensive hobbies”. ALL of my buddies have hobbies, hunting, fishing, boating, sports, whatever. I chose to find a productive hobby that I enjoy – real estate. I spend 20 hours/week and usually end up making about $50/hour(flipping, new build, working for other builders). Multiply that x 50 weeks for 20 years = wealth.

    • Hobbies can be expensive! You picked the right hobby. Someday, you’ll have enough money to pick two or three of the expensive hobbies if you want. I like making the money first, then having the hobby, if I even want it at that point!

  12. Luis

    Rich,

    Thanks for this expanded information.

    Question, you mentioned in passing that Vanguard is doing “something” that may cause them to increase their fees. Therefore, can you please clarify, thanks.

    Semper Fi,

    Luis

    • Perhaps I misspoke if it was the video. USAA is changing how their investments are run, and it means that some of their funds may have front-end loads, or basically an up-front cost when you buy. I don’t know the details about this yet, but watching it carefully.

  13. Diana

    Rich,
    So glad I came across your article. My husband and I have been “investing” in real estate since we got married (all were our homes at each post, which only worked well in TX and NC profit wise).) Our starter home was probably our best investment and after 11 years of renting it we ended up selling it. (Bad decision in my opinion). Now my husband is 5 years from retiring and has got it in his head that he wants to buy land now in Montana (20+ acres). While investing in land is great imo, I feel this plan is too risky because we have never been or visited Montana ( we came to this conclusion after seeing their veteran homestead exemption). On the other hand, we already have IRAs for each of us and have our 2 boys setup with a trust small trust fund. So our retirement portfolio looks pretty good. With my VA compesation (medically get from military at 100%) I dont have to work and makes it ideal for us to invest without feeling a lot of pressure, plus his retirement in 5 years I feel also puts us in a good situation. Also, we have a home that is huge in TX, giving us a ton of profit. Basically, my texas tax exemption makes my mortgage 984 and rent is $2000(home has pool) . But what I am trying to ask is, is making a decision to buy land now before his retirement a good idea? Or is it to quick of a decision to make?

    • From a purely financial perspective, I don’t think it’s a good idea. The land may or may not appreciate. It’s not a purely financial decision, however. He may want to own land there for reasons other than investment. That has to be considered.

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