Do Military Members Get Paid Enough?

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Do military members get paid enough for the sacrifices they make and the risks they take? The answer is a lot more complicated than simply looking at one's monthly paycheck.

Several years ago I wrote an article on my other website about food stamps in the US and how they are not providing enough assistance for some people. Many people are finding that food prices are quickly rising and they are running out of food stamp benefits before the end of the month. In some parts of the US, people who receive food stamps are lining up at stores at midnight on the first of the month because that is when their benefits are automatically deposited in there accounts.

This reminded me of how the base commissaries are always crowded on the 1st and the 15th of the month, because this is when military members get paid and they need groceries.

I mentioned this in the article, but followed that up with the fact that military members get paid twice per month vs. once per month, and military members have received several good raises over the last few years. However, it wasn’t too many years ago when it was fairly common for low ranking military members to be on food stamps. While not unheard of now, it is much less common than in previous years. (note: the military now offers Family Supplemental Subsistence Allowance to eliminate the need for military members to receive food stamps).

Over the last few years, Congress has voted on several consecutive pay raises, which greatly enhanced the quality of life for most military members. Here is a link to the military pay chart. If you compare the new pay rates to historic military pay charts it is easy to see how much has changed in the last few years.

But is it enough? Everyone knows the dangers of being in the military. Many military members put their lives on the line every day, which makes them some of the most underpaid people in America. But there are also other considerations, such as working with hazardous materials and in dangerous situations, being on call 24-7/365, and dealing with long term deployments and family separation. This begs to ask the question, is a job worth your life? But to me, being in the military is more than just a job. It is a duty and a way of life.

The benefits. On the other side, there are multiple benefits military members enjoy that many people don’t consider. Military members receive tax free housing and food allowances, free health care, access to high tech training and other educational benefits, multiple pay allowances depending on job and/or location, numerous veterans benefits including the GI Bill and the VA loan, military discounts, and other veterans benefits which may vary depending numerous factors including state of residence, disability status, and more. And military retirement benefits are among the best in the world.

There are obviously a lot of pros and cons to military pay. It is a complicated system, and there are many people who receive relatively little compared to other military members and their civilian counterparts, and there are others who receive more than other military members and their civilian counterparts. I think a lot depends on the individual military member and their personal situation. There simply is no cut and dry answer to whether military members receive enough pay for the service they provide our country.

In the end, you can never put a price on a human life, and I am not going to attempt to do that. Even though most military members will never get rich off their paycheck, most earn enough to live comfortably.

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About Ryan Guina

Ryan Guina is the founder and editor of The Military Wallet. He is a writer, small business owner, and entrepreneur. He served over 6 years on active duty in the USAF and is a current member of the IL Air National Guard.

Ryan started The Military Wallet in 2007 after separating from active duty military service and has been writing about financial, small business, and military benefits topics since then. He also writes about personal finance and investing at Cash Money Life.

Ryan uses Personal Capital to track and manage his finances. Personal Capital is a free software program that allows him to track his net worth, balance his investment portfolio, track his income and expenses, and much more. You can open a free Personal Capital account here.

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  1. Opal says

    No they don’t get payed enough. Even NFL players are getting more pay than them and what do they do for us? Nothing! Soldiers keep our country safe! 🙂

  2. Alexyss says

    There is no way that the Army members are paid enough. Every time I talk to my brother or his girlfriend (both in the military) they are always broke. My brother does not eat a lot and neither does his girlfriend. That cuts out groceries. And neither are party crowd type people. They don’t really leave base so no gas needed. He never has his money for my mom. He’s on our phone plan and so my mom has to make us more broke.

  3. desarae says

    military Healthcare is not “free”… you pay something monthly no matter if you are married or single. wether it is 12 dollars or 30 dollars a month, you still are getting it taken out of your check… and the base medical actually sux! but thats besides the point… just like someone else mentioned about having to pay monthly for chow… this too gets taken out of your check, and so does living in the barracks.. married or single if you live in the barracks a certain fee comes out of your check also… and when youre deployed, they charge you monthly just like they do if you were on homeport. meals and housing are not free!!! so for people saying how military embers get all these extra great advantages!!! -ha shows how much you know… even worse is that the housing on base, is more when youre ranked higher… my husband is an e-6 my neighbor is an e-4. he has been in 2yrs longer than my husband but never advanced…. why shoud our rent be 2thousand more than my neighbor and we have the same number of rooms ,same style of house ame everything but yet the rate is different because my husbands is an e-6? below is an example of how the tricare works… even if its 500 yearly for a family… its still not FREE!!! people on medicaid dont pay a single penny for their kids or family to see a doctor! thats free!!! mlitary healthcare is not free….

    Tricare Prime. This option is kind of like an HMO concept, and requires that one specifically enroll in the program (active duty members are enrolled automatically). Individuals enrolled in Tricare Prime are assigned to a Primary Care Provider (PCP), which is usually the local military medical facility (base hospital). In order to receive specialist care, they must be referred by their PCP. Under this program, there is no enrollment fee or cost-sharing for active duty members and family members of active duty. For retirees (under age 65) and family members of retirees (under age 65), there is an enrollment fee of $230 per year for a single individual, or $460 per year for a family. In addition to the annual enrollment fee, retirees and their family members pay a cost-share of $12.00 per outpatient visit, $30.00 per emergency care incident, $25.00 per mental health outpatient visit, $11.00 per day for inpatient care, and $40.00 per day for inpatient mental health care. There is a maximum $3,000 “catastrophic cap,” that a retired family would have to pay each year.

  4. Ryan Guina says

    Nebu, your best bet is to see if you can find a military recruiter in your area or contact your nearest US embassy for more information. Additionally, look at the website of the branch you want to join and see if there are any frequently asked questions or information about receiving a visa to join the military. Best of luck with your journey.

  5. Lee says

    I see both sides of this discussion but I have to remark to Jon. Let me preface by saying that I am a manager of 20+ airmen and have been in for 23 years. I hear what you are saying about the military didn’t issue you a family, learn how to budget, etc. Back when you and I were both airmen, we walked to appointments and our jobs if need be, stayed in the dorm rooms, and ate at the dining facility. WE (our age group) should be financially sound. No, we didn’t have all of the resources (money management classes, how to buy a car that’s not a lemon”, we learned the hard way.

    Well, today’s military is extremely different now. Bases are bigger, appointments are more frequent, demands are more pressing. With our force shaping and roll backs, I have SrAs and SSgts filling MSgt slots because we have literally lost all of our SNCOs. Where does my point lead? We are asking more of the lower ranks. Their culture is now that of a SNCO. They have to handle this all on a Amn wage. They have to buy vehicles (one within means, of course), which leads to car payments, which leads to insurance (remember how much insurance costs under 25?), which leads to buying gas (a meek 11 gal, 4-cylinder Saturn that used to run on a full tank at $20.00 now fills up for $39.50 on the dot), which leads to car repairs…do you see my point?
    The responsible Airman that doesn’t drink, smoke, go out, drink Starbucks weekly, that lives on a good sized base has to have a VEHICLE to drive to work, attend meetings, go to mandatory appointments. Guess what…add this all up and it well exceeds the current Amn’s pay.

    No one here is right, no one wrong. Our community is unique and we need each other now more than ever. Let’s stop the judging and buckle down to help each other the best we can.

    That is my very humble 2 cents worth..

  6. Brandon says

    Military members get discounts too to help.
    An workforce that is under apprecatied is farmworkers.
    Everyone eats,farmworkers make it happen.
    Its an irony that the people who put food on everyones table has trouble puting it on his and his familys. They dont get harzard pay, no discounts, no benifents. They cant go to the doctor beacuse its to0 expensive. Their exposive to chemicals, which leads to health problems and birth defects. A lot of jobs you dont get paid by the hour, but how many boxes you fill. It’s hard work americans arent willing to do, but the people who do the work arent thanked. Please stop complaing about your horrible pay.

  7. josh says

    I have noticed both sides of this argument on here and each has valid points. I am and E-4 in the Air Force and have just recently hit a point where my wife and I feel we can live comfortably the way we want and still put some money away each month. I will tell you though, the years leading up to this were pretty rough financially. Another factor for spouses is that, these days especially, it’s difficult to find a decent job when the military member has to move every few years or less. My wife had just found a couple part-time jobs she liked then we had to pack up and move. Now she is once again trying to find a decent job. This is one of those things that isn’t really taken into consideration much. The DLA helps a little, but not much. We should get paid more to compensate for the wages our spouses are unable to find because of constant moves. Oh yeah, there’s also that one little point that we could be put in harm’s way on a moment’s notice. Ya ya, people are supposed to join the military because they want to protect their country and all that, but in the end it is a job, and we don’t really get paid for what we do. With my technical experience, obvious work ethics, and complete background check I should be able to get a great job on the outside. But in today’s economy is it really worth the risk to quit a decent job and hope to get hired at a different job? Nope. Most of us are worth so much more than what we are getting paid.

  8. valerie says

    I would rather receive comrats(food allowance) vs it coming out of my pay. I am a e3. And I have 300 a month come out for food..that I rarely even get. I’m part of the lcac community so many a time am on flights the hours vary. If I don’t get home till 2 am and you really expect me to wake up at 6 am just to get breakfast? The gally is only open during certain time periods. So needless to say I spend money on my own food in ADDITION to the 300 a month that’s being automatticly taken out. Yes I do not have a family to support I suppose many would tell me not to complain. But I do make less, I save every penny that doesn’t go to bills. So that additional 300 being taken out plus what I spend on food a month is a lot to an e3. I agree that we should get some kind of noticable raise. If I got paid by the hour at minimum wage I would be living comfortably for sure!

    • Ryan Guina says


      I hear you – I worked irregular hours when I was enlisted as well. Our chow hall had 4 meal times, with the last one being until around 1am. I know several enlisted members who were able to get their First Sergeant to allow them to receive BAS instead of receiving chow hall benefits because they were rarely ever able to make it to chow because of mission duties. Many senior enlisted members and officers don’t consider the hours as a factor for meals because it isn’t something they experience on a daily basis. I recommend taking this issue to your First Sergeant and/or CO to see if they can work out alternate arrangements – either convince the chow hall to change their hours if enough people are affected, or give you BAS.

      Best of luck, and thanks for your service.

  9. Jon says

    As a Staff Sergeant with 7 years of service in the military so far I can honestly say that we get compensated very well. I have never had a problem taking care of my wife and my son. I’m tired of other soldiers complaining that we don’t get paid enough (especially the young, single soldiers). You simply cannot compare military pay to civilian pay. You chose to join the service knowing that you would deploy to combat zones and be put in harm’s way. Stop complaining about how much money you make; being part of the service isn’t even about the money. If you ask me, Commissioned Officers, Federal civilian employees and military contractors get paid too much. I completely agree with “Frank,” looks like me and him are in the same boat. To the lower enlisted service members who are supporting their families: learn some basic money management skills (don’t buy that fully loaded 2011 whatever with 20″ spinning rims), build an emergency fund, quit smoking and drinking and stick it out for a few years. Like with any job, civilian or government, you need to put in your dues and earn your way up the ladder until you have reached the point of “comfortable living.” To be perfectly blunt, it is not the Army’s (or whatever organization you are a part of) job to take care of your family, it is yours.

  10. frank says

    Military members do get paid enough. I have been in for 7 years and am a E6. I get almost 60k a year with health benifits, dental benifits, 30 days leave a year, get less expensive groceries at the commisary, have college paid for one of my kids by the VA, get lots of discounts when going out. I have enough money to pay my bills and to have a little to spend. People in the military who think they need more money need to think of the people who are living off of 10-20k a year and need to do a better job budgetting their money.

  11. Crystal says

    It took me a moment to read through your article since one comment on how there are less military on food stamps now. I want to inform you why. I am a military wife and we have two small kids. We are stationed in hawaii, we have been litterally out of food and gas on many occasions. My husband works 12 hour days and that is not counting the schools, the training, and schools spent away. We decided to join the military when i was pregnant with my youngest daughter, this was when my husband got layed off and we had no other choice. Ok now that i have partially explained my scenerio i will get to the point. Military are not to get food stamps here in Hawaii atleast. To get a two bedroom house off post it cost over 2,000.00 therefore we recieve a higher bah than in the mainland. So the state gets around giving us food stamps by counting our bah which we never see. I was recently speaking to my father about the chow hall and how he used to steal food from the chow hall to feed his early wife when he was in the military. He was baffled when i exclaimed to him that the chow hall was no longer free, it is 5.00 per person single or married. I am confused by a comment also, I am not sure what the navy says to do but my husband and I are smart and did what we were supposed to with the whole 2,000 a month pay we received. I have a degree in busness and I am convinced that there is no way that a low ranking family can comfortably live with the pay being recieved. One last thing, the pay has rose but look at the economy. For instance my father got paid way less then us but look at the cost of living then. The pay is equivelent to the pay now versus the cost of living.

  12. haitian represent says

    o.k am talkin with nikko. what a smart men mean for you? when they bought an antique toyota already broke that’s a smart men for u, that’s considering idiot and who doesnt love nice stuff please? this is 2010 not 1806. let me tell u guy am not on serve yet but am interesting about it, cause i love army in protect usa not even my country, am from haiti living to usa. to finish with some people comments. get pay in army is very important yes it is. army not only to protect its also a job u have to get pay cause u have family to take care of commo’n.

  13. clifford zawel says

    we shoud be more concerned about restoring veterans bennifits like free dental for all honerable discharged veterans.

  14. Nikko says

    Whoops, can’t edit, can I? $26004 a year. I could easily get a 1 bedroom apartment on LI for 1K a month, meaning that I’d be able to walk up to a landlord and hand them rent and security without batting an eyelash if I stuck to an intelligent budget.

  15. Nikko says

    My husband just joined the Navy (And by that I mean he is still in basic) and is an E2. We also have many younger male friends who are in the military (Army, Navy, Air Force) The pay rate for that is about $17,000 a year, and doesn’t include the basic allowance for housing that I get. My BAH is $26,004 a month, or $2167 a month, because I live on Long Island.

    What people are forgetting left, right, and center is that while a lot of the young unmarried enlisted men don’t make much money, they don’t NEED much money. They have food and shelter taken care of. When the smart ones get out of basic, they begin to invest, or at LEAST they save their money. The stupid ones buy fancy cars that they can’t afford. The smart ones buy a Toyota Corolla.

    I’ve never had any of my intelligent low ranking friends complain about what the military pays. It’s always the ones who didn’t listen to the advice of the financial advisers and their parents who end up in trouble.

  16. top gun says

    kalsi how about you do my job and try keeping terrorism out of our nation. You stand in the hot sun fighting people who want to die and take you with them. You do something great for our nation instead of talking on a email chat line.

  17. kalisi sete says

    What I think about that is….It is not about the Money. It’s about serving our country…Sure you won’t get paid enough but first of all why did you join the millitary then? Mens and womens joins the army for a reason. Its not about the money, but if it was they should be doing sports or other jobs that pays more. But the reason for the army and millitary is to PROTECT the people in the U.S. And when they die, they will die with honor and respect. That is a true HERO and a SOLDIER. And if they argue about not getting paid more they are not true heroes. Cause I reapeat. Soldiers are there to protect people with risking there lives….yeah they should get paid more cause they are risking there lives. Well its the military…Its to serve justice and to the people you LOVE and if you argue about whatever….then you are a fake person and a disgrace to the people. But it’s the military. You protect you’re people no matter what.

    • Ryan says

      Kalisi, you are correct – people join the military on a voluntary basis, and they do so to serve and protect. But they also need to be compensated just as they would in any other job – otherwise they wouldn’t be able to support their families. I don’t think anyone is saying all military members should earn six-figure salaries. But they should receive a wage that allows them to live a comfortable, but not lavish, lifestyle.

  18. Jerry says

    Noooo, not nearly enough.
    (Adam, officers are hardly overpaid, compared with their own civilian counterparts. Apples to apples, here…)
    But what will lead the fed to pay service members more, when they are in the middle of a financial disaster? The mismanagement of resources truly boggles the mind.
    The advice above about utilizing every available benefit (GI Bill, insurance, etc.) is sound, indeed.

  19. Ryan says

    Lloyd: I agree that it makes sense to pay military members based on civilian counterparts, but then you would get some major discrepancies between, say an E-6 in a computer field vs. an E-6 who works services. The military pays everyone based on rank and time in service to ensure each member of the same rank gets paid the same regardless of job. If you start paying people more or less based on the job they perform, fewer people will want to work lower paying jobs.

    One change I would like to see is paying based on time in grade instead of time in service. For instance someone could make E-7 in 10 years (pretty fast in all services). Now let’s say he has the stripe on for 4 years before his counterpart puts on E-7, and his counterpart has 18 years in the military. Even though the first person outranks the second by 4 years, he would earn substantially less money. Paying by time in grade instead of time in service provides extra incentive to make rank, and would help keep troops around longer.

  20. Lloyd says

    The military should be paid wages correspendent to their civilian sector counterparts. Govenrment has been struggling to equalize the military wage with the civilian rate, instead of giving a one time significant increase they have been slowly increasing the wages in yearly pay increases. I encourage all to use the benefits available to offset the lower wages.

    • Marlon Zuniga says

      LLoyd enlighten me with your knowledge about “equivalent” civilian salaries, or “corresponding” salaries. I would be more than happy to get you to climb a 20 foot ladder to install a roof making $20 an hour. I would invite you to sacrifice four years of your life in a crummy university with the promise of a better future to find out that you were con or lied to at the end of four years. On top of that find out a you were handed a death sentence at the end of those four years equivalent to $35-40K called: student loans which you cannot paid because civilian pay is so crummy. Think about what you are saying and don’t just open your mouth because you have a mouth.

      • Steffen Kelly says

        You are attacking people’s opinions based off your personal vendetta. While I understand your qualms, being vitriolic about your sub-par situation in life is unprofessional. There is a lot you can do with two, 4-year degrees. The resources are at your fingertips. Instead of blaming a “unjust society”, take initiative and change your situation as you are the only one able to. Or continue “climbing 20ft ladders to do roof work for $20/hr”. The choice is simply yours and yours only. Coming from current army, if the military has taught you anything, it is that you have to go out and get it and not wait for it to be handed to you.
        “Do or do not, there is no try” -Yoda

  21. Adam says

    Oh one other subject shall we.
    What are your feeling about the middle and upper age groups joining the military to make up for the shortages of soldiers in combat areas? Now look at this is real terms. That would mean younger men and women would not have to serve until they reached their peaks in life. This gives them time to raise a family. Buy a home. Live some of their life fun and fancy free. Instead of having it snuffed out at 19 or 20 in a battle zone. Covered in sand and dust!
    I for one would re-enter the military to curve the shortages of man power. But that is just me. Hell if we can elect a Hussein President, we can do anything Right?

  22. Adam says

    Paid Enough? Well lets put it in prospective shall we. Some say a H/S grad making a $1,000 a month or more is great for that age group? Well I think his life is worth more than a $1,000; myself but that is just me thinking out loud. When I first entered the service it was a hell of lot less than $300.00 a month but we servived. But times have changed. Prices of basic’s such as home,car,food and furniture have gone through the ceiling. So it is not a question of pay its a question of economy. As for OFFICERS well they are OVERPAID like POLITICIANS talk the talk but can’t walk the walk!

  23. Thompson says

    The military men and women should definately get paid more. We risk our lives for the rights of others. We waived them rights when we sign our contract. Actors, atheletes, and other highly paid people should take a pay decrease and help support us. After all its their rights we protect. The benefits are great I can’t argue about them but we harldy use them or we have a hard time to use them. Overall a pay increase should definately be increased. And not a small percentage, a raise that we can actually notice.

    • Marlon Zuniga says

      You have no idea what you are saying. I was in the military myself and yes you do get more than enough. Good luck when trying to get a job other in the civilian sector. I graduated with a very competitive GPA from two universities and I make 1/4 of what someone, say an E-6 makes. The problem with the military is they feel the whole world owes them something. I decided I wanted to join the military when I was 18 and it’s funny because I had no one tell me what the military was like. I remember the day during my uniform issue of someone telling me that my uniforms would be deducted from my paycheck.. I remember saying to myself “what paycheck? you mean to tell me we get paid in the military?? ” See, I didn’t join for the money, I joined for the pride and for the honor of serving this beautiful nation. The problem we have nowadays is a generation of snobs especially military spouses and officers who think everyone should bow down to them and thank them for their sacrifice. I for one did not ask anybody to sacrifice themselves, it is a decision that comes from within. I am sick and tired of hearing all these organizations collecting money for the military as if the military were getting scraps for salaries. I don’t remember the last time hearing of an organization for collecting for people who have student loans and cannot afford to make payments. I’m sorry but most of that money doesn’t go to you it goes to the people who started those non-profit organizations, it goes to fill their pockets. It sickens me that I have close to $40K in debt on student loans and I have tried so hard to find me a decent job that will pay me half of what an E-6 makes. Stop complaining about your salary. Even if I was to make the same amount at least in theory, I would come short after paying my insurance premiums and deductions. That sense of entitlement is got to stop, who says you have to have an increase on your salary every year????? When was the last time a university professor saw a $100+ increase on their weekly paycheck ??? When was the last time I got paid for housing or for food subsistence ? I know my job doesn’t pay my rent!!!! You have no clue what is like to be a civilian. Stop crying, I have no sympathy for you. Try to work in construction– installing roofs, or working for the restaurant industries –washing dishes, and waiting tables to make ends meet; I have two university degrees and don’t blame my woes on anybody. It was my stupid decision to think that I would get somewhere in life getting an education. Stop wasting your money people, degrees do not guarantee you junk!!! Work to get your small business going or start working for the adult industry or do some exotic dancing at night if you want to get close to what an E-7 makes every two weeks.

      • Vic says

        The average E-6 with over six years of experience makes $3,033.60, which would amount to only $36,403.20. And you’re claiming you make less than half which would be $18,201.60 with two bachelors degrees. No offense but they’re not living a lavish life, yours is just very unfortunate.

      • vincent A rolen says

        Vic… An E-6 makes alot more than that. a good amount of my pay as an E-5 is NOT from base pay, Its BAS, BAH (non taxable). My BAH a month is 1700 alone, BAH is around 450. (thats when im on active duty status) I work under the department of defense as a civilian at 35.50 an hour. about 72,000 per year. and as far as TAKE HOME goes, E-5 is a good amount more. Thats just E-5. Theres a big big difference between base pay and take home especially since BAH and BAS are non taxable VS my civilian pay check is fully taxed not to mention about 400$ a month deducted for healthcare for my family.

  24. Jarhead says

    My opinions on military compensation vary from what most others would say. I feel that for young members that the pay is very competitive with what they could get in the civilian sector. How many HS grad do you know can have about $1000 spending cash a month. If you join the military right out of HS (I would venture to guess that is about 95%) you shouldn’t have many problems as long as you live within your mean. Most officers are very well compensated as well. I think the problem lies in the mid to senior enlisted ranks. I believe that most E-6 through E-9’s should get paid more so than they are now.

  25. David says

    It is most definitely not enough, if you ask me. Military, teachers, police, fire, etc are all underpaid for their value to society. They should be getting all the help they need!

    • Crystal says

      I agree. My father is a military veteran and a Junior High School teacher and he’s not paid anywhere near enough for what those kids put him through every day. Military veterans are no different. There’s no price for life, but as a society, we could at least pay them a worthy salary for their service.

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