Introducing a weekly series A Pie in the Life, featuring an personal finance and career interview and pie chart budget from professionals around the web!
This week’s A Pie in the Life post is that of fighter pilot and real estate investor, Patch! Here is a short interview to give you an idea of his financial plan.
What is your job title?
Major in the USAF / F-15C Instructor Pilot / Alert Pilot / Assistant Scheduler
How long have you had this job or been in this industry?
Since graduating from the United States Air Force Academy in 2000. I’ve been flying the F-15C since 2002, but I started on smaller planes in high school.
How did you get your job? Describe the interview and/or training process you went through.
Well, that answer can be long and short.
Short version: Being Awesome.
Middle length answer: Getting a pilot slot was the first step, and not necessarily easy. When I was choosing a college, the highest odds to go to pilot training was graduating from the USAF Academy. I chose to do that purely to increase my odds (oh, and it was free– but only if your talking money).
During pilot training, you are graded, poked, prodded, interviewed, judged, and put through the pressure cooker. Halfway through the year of pilot training “track select” occurs and by rank order you choose which track you want. About the top third got the opportunity to go to the “fighter or bomber” track vs the “Cargo/transport/helo” track. I chose the Fighter/bomber track.
At the end of pilot training, a similar rank-ordered selection process is used to choose which aircraft you will fly. During my time, about half of the fighter/bomber track pilots got a fighter. I chose an F-15C and it took another year of training to become an F-15C pilot.
As a new F-15C pilot, your life is pretty similar to resident in the medical field. While you are a professional, there is still so much to learn that days can be long, hard, and you can expect zero sympathy from your seniors. That being said, you’re flying a $34M jet with 50k lbs of thrust with some of the best pilots in the world. Small price to pay.
Is this job your dream job? If not, what would you do if you could be guaranteed a $500,000 per year salary doing it (besides watching TV…)?
Yes. But not all F-15 career paths are the same. In the active duty Air Force, you can expect to fly the fighter only about 3-6 years before you get transferred to a leadership, staff, or flying training job.
I took the route of joining the Air National Guard. It lets me focus on being a fighter pilot for my career, stay in one location, and it adds the alert mission which is both important and rewarding.
When did you first start to think about money, saving, and finances “on your own” (aka without your parents)? What made you realize it was an important part of life?
Thinking about money is what I think is one of the great failings of an Academy education. Room, board, tuition, and food are all taken care of as a cadet.
You get (a very small) stipend, but it’s pretty much 100% disposable income.
After 4 years of “living on your own” and not thinking about finances, I think that skill does not get a chance to be learned as it would in a traditional college experience.
To answer your question: I first thought about money when I realized I spent more than my paycheck and had to carry a credit card balance for a month after graduating college as a 2nd Lieutenant. It made me realize it was important when I realized I may not be able to eat if I run out of money.
What career advice or financial advice do you have for a 20-something who is just entering the workforce?
The best advice I have is to live within or below your means. I think the “don’t carry a credit card balance” rule is a good start.
Just jumping into the workforce has it’s fair share of risks and unknowns, so having a pad in your checking account is also a good idea.
Another good piece of advice is as you start getting raises (they will come…), try to resist the urge to increase your standard of living. If you’ve been managing just fine on your current salary, that raise money should be the primary target to be used for saving. By all means, treat yourself to something–you deserved it, but it’s the reoccurring costs that will hurt your financial health the most in the long run.
I’m a little biased here because truth be told Patch is my older brother, so I think he’s awesome!
That being said, I’ve always seen Patch as incredibly financially independent. Not only is he our only sibling who escaped college without student loans, he also has a habit for picking up real estate wherever he is stationed for a few years.
Bonus fact: I have a fond, adorable memory of our mom making a big deal about him reaching a $1,000 savings goal when he was in something like Middle School or High School… I had no idea at the time how awesome that was!
And then the fun part: Brian’s Pie Chart Budget!
Oh! Surprise surprise, this is another successful financier who doesn’t maintain a monthly budget, per se.
Patch is the first person to introduce to me the idea of a checking account “pad”. Basically it goes like this: You live tight for a month or two until you have $500-$1000 kind of chilling in your checking account. Then when you get paid, you “pay yourself” in savings, make sure there is enough left to cover your bills, and kind of let it ride.
Having padding in the account means that if a bill is higher or something comes up and you go over by $5 or $50, there’s a “pad” it gets cut out of instead of over-drafting your account.
Patch adds that the pad mentality “is not necessarily the most optimum (obviously the money in your checking account usually doesn’t accrue that much interest). I see it as a fee to live my life without being tied to my checkbook. Along with auto-bill pay and a reasonable amount of discipline not to spend, I don’t have to worry much about anything. Price well worth it for piece of mind. Also, since I deploy/travel a lot in my job, that freedom is almost mandatory at times. Case and point: I’m in the desert for 100 days…”
So while it might not make the most sense for everyone, it is a system that requires less than average amounts of monitoring, leaving you free to check in once or twice a month and otherwise go your merry way!
There you go! I hope you enjoyed this look into a fighter pilot’s financial psyche… if you have any questions for Patch, feel free to leave a comment!
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