Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Is living on base so bad?

Forest City Housing in Hawaii, from Pintrest

With all the debate raging about military retirement, one issue that gets overlooked is the reduction in BAH allotment.  Many servicemembers talk about "making money on BAH" but is that truly the case?  And would that be true if BAH is cut to 99% or 95% of costs?

I decided to do a comparison of costs here in Hawaii.  I happen to live on base in public/private housing administered by Forest City.  I have a friend that lives in Ewa Beach (a popular place for military to live) who swears he's making 600 dollars a month on BAH.  To see how true that was, I busted out some Excel skills and started looking at costs.

Gas Pump, from Wikipedia
I live two miles from work.  The average house in Ewa Beach is about 14 miles from work.  Assuming your car gets 25 MPG and that gas costs 2.75 (a low estimate, but that's what it was yesterday), it only costs me $8.80 a month to drive to and from work, but my friend (assuming he has the same vehicle) shells out $61.60, meaning I pocket ~$50 dollars a month.  Go me!

Electrical arc, from Wikipedia
I live on a rolling average bill.  This means every month my electrical usage is compared to similar model homes.  If I'm really above the average, I pay the difference; if I'm below, I get a check.  Conveniently, this month I was exactly the average, and I used 1,017 kW hours, and I paid nothing.  I used a website ( to find the residential kWh cost for Ewa Beach, which is 35.1 cents, so I should have had an electric bill of $356.97.  According to my statement, my area costs 41 cents per kWh, so I would have been zapped with an over 400 dollar bill!  Ouch!  Considering it is for the month of January, that's low.  Looking at my summer time usage, it would have been about 1300 kWh, with a bill of about $450-$500!

Sprinkler in action, from Wikipedia

I don't pay a water bill.  I can't find an established water bill figure anywhere, so I trolled on Yelp a bit.  It seems like most people pay $250 every 2 months, so about $125 a month seems reasonable.

Money Bag, from Wikipedia

I pay no rent.  My BAH is 4,062 a month, and I live in a 4 bedroom, 3 bath house.  A similar sized house in Ewa Beach would cost 3600 a month.  Yes, I found listings as low as 3000, but I also found listings as high as 4500.  3600 was a good mean value.


Based on all this, I make 20 dollars a month more than the average Ewa Beach person.  So how does my friend make money?  For starters, he got a good deal on a house rental, only 3,000 a month.  Nice!  He also doesn't run his air conditioning, which in the winter time (right now) isn't bad, but during the summer months is horrible.  My wife home schools, so this is not a viable option for us.  I also sleep during the day when I work the night shift, so having a hot house would negatively affect my ability to work.

I fully realize you can play with the numbers and work a good deal out of living off base.  If you can, more power to you!  Especially if you're single and spend a lot of time at work (read: most junior officers), you stand to gain by living out in town.  But living on base is NOT a bad deal, contrary to many idiots that send letters to the Navy Times.  I found a heck of a lot of other benefits:

Traffic, from Wikipedia
I don't sit in traffic, since I'm only 2 miles away from work.  Travel to Ewa Beach though is awful.  I spend only about 2.5 hours per month in the car commuting to work.  Using a bit of Google magic, I get about 40 hours a month lost to traffic if you live in Ewa Beach.  40 hours!  That's a whole work week!  Each year, that's 480 hours.  Do you value your time?  If you put a price on your time at 25 dollars an hour (that is CHEAP BTW, but stay with me), that's 12,000 dollars you're throwing away each year, or 1,000 dollars a month....much more than the 600 dollar a month difference my friend makes.

DeCA Logo, from Wikipedia
I use the commissary a lot more, because it's even closer to me than work.  In Hawaii, that's a massive savings, especially for a family of 5.  Even if you're single, you're still saving money on everything from potato chips to canned food.

Keaton Neighbors, from Wikipedia
I have a ready source of good neighbors.  Most of my neighbors outrank me, so it's a good source of mentorship, especially since they aren't in my field.  The only crime we get is locals stealing items from people's yards.  I know this isn't the case for all military housing, but it has been for me for the last two times I've lived on base.

Yes, I could possibly pocket more money out in town.  But really, why?  I wouldn't enjoy a house without air conditioning, or spending a week's worth of time in traffic?  I wouldn't have the time to do things like blog or play with my kids.  Sure, I could spend that money on something, but what?  A nice date night?  Let's be generous and say that a date night costs about 150 dollars (for food, parking, babysitter, etc.).  So you'd get 4 date nights a month.  That comes at the cost of not eating with your family for 20 days out of the month.  Do the math...not worth it.