1/4/2013 5:45 PM ET|
Money resentment? Put it to work
A military spouse shares stories of waste overseas, but concludes that feelings of frustration can be put to much better use at home.
My husband is in Kuwait for his third tour in the Army. Working for the joint forces in a country that is firmly a U.S. ally, he doesn't see a lot of combat. What he does see, and what keeps him up at night, is the waste.
First, there is the practical military waste. Computers are shredded to protect sensitive data. Other electronic equipment is destroyed because it's too expensive to ship back, and we don't want it ending up being used by our enemies in the area.
Second, there is the functional waste, like water shipped to the area in 12-ounce plastic bottles, too few of which are put in recycling containers and none of which are actually recycled (he suspects), but instead are being taken offsite by a contractor and burned.
Third, and most frustrating for him (and the reason I've said I couldn't bear to move there with our boys, should he find an independent contractor job), is the material waste of many of the Kuwaiti people and the terrible overspending.
Kuwaiti citizens are paid handsomely in oil revenues simply for being who they are, and their wealth is such that, he tells me, they don't take cars to be fixed after accidents. Instead, they buy new ones. For many Kuwaitis, much like Americans in some areas of the country, shopping is a recreational sport, or perhaps even a vocation.
Resenting handbags and BMWs
When my husband and I are debating long-distance over how much of a bill to pay, it's easy to resent pallets of 12-ounce water bottles or Kuwaiti women with their spendy handbags. If we could have the money spent in an afternoon by just one Kuwaiti teenager, we could pay that bill twice and have extra left over for hamburgers.
Sometimes when he's driving a VIP home from the airport, he'll consider the banged-up luxury cars left on the side of the road, thinking how, with only a few weeks' work, he and a good auto body repairman could make enough money to redo our kitchen counters and put in that cork floor I've been dreaming of.
Scraping up change while others indulge
Thanks to some of those quibbled-over bills, I recently went a week or so cash-poor. My pantry and freezer were chock-full, so I wasn't hungry, but I did run out of good coffee, and I had to get creative with school lunches for my two older boys, who tend to prefer hot meals over sack lunches.
As I was worrying to myself about whether I could scrape together enough change to buy a cup of coffee -- or maybe save all the change for pretzels, just about the only thing other than carrot sticks and candy that my middle son will eat -- my brother-in-law showed up with a couple of friends he'd been hanging out with at the pub around the corner. "Can we crash here?" he asked. None of them was in shape to drive home.
So while I was looking for quarters in the couch cushions, these guys had been spending $60 or $70 on beer and nachos! I was furious, although I couldn't exactly say, "I'm mad at you for spending your own money in the way that pleases you!" I just sighed dramatically and told them they had better not leave a mess in the basement this time.
When it comes to spending, it's easy to compare
This is something like they say in Alcoholics Anonymous (hilariously, my friend who's never had a drink in her life quotes this all the time): "Don't compare your insides to other people's outsides." In other words, what we're doing when we focus our energies on thinking how much better we'd spend money than other people do, it's both a false comparison and completely beside the point.
While my husband may have a legitimate gripe with the Kuwaitis who abandon their cars on the side of the road, most of these are isolated incidents that just happen to coincide with more sensible behavior on our part. Sure, I'm making excellent choices with the $2.50 I found in quarters and dimes. But how about that time a few weeks ago when I went out for a glass of wine and octopus salad at a bar just because I felt like treating myself?
Resentment is ugly, unless it's toward oneself
I'd be better off resenting my two-weeks-ago self, who could just as easily have put that $30 in her pocket instead of blowing it on Spanish wine and tiny bits of overpriced seafood appetizer. If I focus my energies on her decisions, I'm really comparing apples to apples -- my spending to my spending -- and I have a tool to use next time I want to go out.
I don't think I'm ready to say, "Never ever go to a wine bar again!" But maybe I could first make sure there are no big bills on the horizon. Or maybe I could just think about how I might resent myself next week -- and choose to buy a bottle of wine and some crackers and cheese instead. I love crackers and cheese!
If you focus that resentment inward, you'll have something useful. If you focus it on your in-laws or a whole people, you'll just be resentful.
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Several years ago when SecDef called for ways to save money, I offered a way that would save about $60B, yes billion, a year and would actually improve readiness. When I started working for the AF 32 years ago, it was illegal to have retirements on the government clock since retirements are unofficial functions. But with the "what's in it for me" attitude that now has spread from general society into the military, SecAF changed the rules to allow retirements on the taxpayer's expense. Typically a military member will attend 10-15 ceremonies per year lasting 2 hours each plus going away luncheons lasting 2 hours each. Also when I started working for the AF, uniform members were required to sign for leave if they went out of reasonable recall distance on one of the 12 paid holidays each year -- penalty for disobeying was court martial for AWAL. Now commanders let members have off the day before and after holidays for "family time" even though they get 30 days paid leave a year from sign on (more than any employer gives in the private sector). Also members take off for holiday parties, organizational picnics, etc, average of 15 days per year. Because the uniformed members aren't pulling their weight, the DOD hires contractors to do the job military are paid to do, but pays the contractors 3 to 10 times what the military make. So the taxpayers get to pay 4 to 11 times the real cost of the work. If politicians weren't scared of their own shadow when it comes to military, this would have been fixed long ago.
Ellupo wrote a response that I received to my comment below. Ellupo said: ""Did you ever think the military get that extra freedom when they are not deployed because when they are deployed many work 12 hour days the entire deployment? When that happens they do not get comp. time or get paid over time."
My answer: Of course I've thought about it during my 31 years with the Air Force and going on depoyments. You are wrong with your assumption about compensation for deployments. Militarty who are deployed draw battle pay and have to pay no room and board for themselves. They also get several weeks off free -- not part of the 30 days annual leave time -- to reaquaint with momma/pappa and the kids. They also get more salary and benefits while they are in garrison than the average American. They get their babies delivered complements of the taxpayer and a very handsome housing allowance for their family if they choose to live off base or else free quarters for their family if they live on base/post. While the US Constitution says private citizens do not have to quarter the troops -- that's the government's responsibility -- the government has no responsibility to quarter, feed, cloth, and provide medical attentin to spouses and the kids. The reason it's done is for retention, but the amount of salaries and perks that we now pour into the military welfare system far exceeds the cost of training new recruits. Remember that private industry practice is to replace older higher paid workers with younger lower paid. Also remember that military members are now 100% all volunteer meaning that we are not getting the best of the best but rather the people who want to be on the welfare wagon because that's the best they can do. If you think they do it for God and Country, you are dead wrong. I used to teach AF military. Several years ago I asked at the beginning of a class when was the last time they heard "one for all and all for one". One person finally raised their hand and so I asked in what context. The answer was on an old movie. Point made! The military now reflects the private secter culture; what is on the mind of the AF member is "what has the AF done for me today."
This is our cue to develop our own sources of energy, wind solar. boimass
, etc, so we can stop contributing to this lifestyle We need to keep our money inside our borders, where it turns over 7 times before leaving!
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