Total Pay: How much will your next paycheck be?

During my active-duty days, we used to have a frequent conversation around Hale Nords:

“So what’s your pay going to be now?”

“Well, let’s see. I’m on the promotion message, I just got a longevity raise, I’m getting submarine pay, I’m eligible for sea pay again, and the new housing & cost of living allowance rates are out. My paycheck should go up about… eh, I’ll have to go look up everything and add it together.”

And that was before the deployment to a combat zone… the family separation allowance… the imminent danger pay… the new BAH & COLA tables… and of course they’re barely on the same web pages. You still have to enter them into a spreadsheet (or on a piece of paper) and add them up.

Even worse was my spouse’s Reserve career:

“So, what are you getting paid this month?”

“Well, there’s the drill weekend of course, and I pulled an extra day of drill to take care of that project. Then there was the three-day conference and the two-week active duty for training. Oh, yeah, and I get a partial housing allowance for the AT. Hey, I just went over a longevity raise too!”

You can see why we pursued financial independence: to avoid having to figure out our pay for a civil-service job or some other bridge career.

The Total Pay icon on your smartphone

The Total Pay icon

I retired in 2002, long before the App Store launched. Heck, we were just happy to be able to look up the pay tables on the Internet instead of stealing each others’ paper copies of Navy Times. But now there’s an app for that: Total Pay. It’s in the iPhone section of the (U.S.) App Store. Look for the logo of Uncle Sam’s smiling face  –>

Total Pay tells servicemembers, active-duty or Reserve, no matter where they are in the world, what their pay deposit should be. It even includes the General Schedule salary table for federal civil-service paygrades.

The developer, Matt Pagan, has personally experienced the pain of figuring out his paycheck. He’s an active-duty Marine who noticed that a majority of his fellow Marines were largely unaware of their pay scales, what they rated, and how/where to check the numbers. Many of them were simply taking whatever was deposited to their checking accounts. They were too busy (or possibly too blissfully ignorant) to dig into the tables and figure out whether they were getting everything they’d earned.

Matt says that his vision is to get servicemembers more involved in their military finances, especially the younger personnel. He teaches “Financial Fridays” to his Marines to help them handle the basics of budgeting, investing, credit scores, and the Thrift Savings Plan. He feels that more should be done at the unit level to help these individuals, particularly those straight out of high school who lack experience with their finances.

From his “Financial Friday” experience, he designed Total Pay to be a quick view of military pay & allowances. The app parses the pay databases according to your input, and eliminates searching online through the various military pay charts. The pay data is part of the app, not just online, so after the app is downloaded & installed it can be used anywhere with no Internet connection necessary. The app starts with the 2013 military pay info and users will be provided with free updates for life.

Beyond calculating your next paycheck, the app can also help explore “What if?” questions. Users can look up BAH Rates at any location for their next duty station. You can change your rank, change your years of service, and add various skill or duty designations. You can even see what your pay should be if you’re married and adding kids.

You know there’s a catch. Stand by: the Total Pay app costs 99 cents. It’s worth the horrific expense, even if you have forgone the frippery of a frappe latte or sell a little blood plasma to pay for the convenience.

In retrospect, I can’t believe how my frugal sphincters reflexively clenched at the thought of shelling out almost an entire dollar for an app. (Jason Hull writes extensively about this typical Monkey Brain reaction.) Hey, I’ve never paid for an app in my life and I have over 11,000 iTunes tracks on my hard drive. Why in the world would I be expected to pay a whole freakin’ buck for an app that the military should be giving us for free?!?

I’ll tell you why: because one of our fellow servicemembers saw a problem and fixed it instead of kvetching about it like the rest of us. He’s made our lives a little easier by relieving us of spending 20 minutes parsing various websites and totaling up the numbers. He’s made it so easy that even our kids can crunch the app to find out how much money we rich parents are making (or could make). Better yet, he’s making it easier for all your shipmates to figure out their finances so that you don’t have to help them fix their problems.

Matt must be doing something right– he’s already had 2000 downloads in five months and he’s in the App Store’s top 40 out of over 19,000 financial apps. Those of you who know your apps math are already groaning at those results: the App Store takes 30%, Matt outsourced the programming, and he still has to offer annual free updates. He’s a little above the average app developer’s earnings of $700/year, but he had plenty of expenses and it’s a good thing that he’s keeping his Marine Corps day job. He’s already made more money in the first five months of his 99-cent app than I made in the first five months of my $12 book, so he’s ahead of the starving-author power curve. However, he’s still a little shy of “Angry Birds” territory, and I don’t think that he’ll be shopping for a Tesla this year. Maybe not this decade, either.

Here’s another reason you can afford to fritter away 99 cents on this app: to help take care of your troops. Way back in 1978, I had to memorize 30+ verses of the ancient poem “The Laws of the Navy”. I’ve long since forgotten most of them (some of my upperclass midshipmen doubt that I even learned them in the first place), but one has stayed with me for over three decades:

“Dost deem that thy vessel needs gilding,
And the dockyard forbear to supply?
Place thy hand in thy pocket and gild her,
There be those who have risen thereby.”

I think we can all find a way to cough up 99 cents for this app. Frugal side-hustlers could charge their battle buddies a nickel to verify their paychecks for them.

However, you’re also absolutely right: the military should adopt this app, pay Matt a decent price for it, and offer it to all 1.4 million servicemembers (and retirees and our families and civil-service employees) for free. I think it’s certainly worth bringing to the attention of USAA for including with their app. If you have any other suggestions, please contact me or send me an e-mail.

Matt is considering whether to program an Android version. I can vouch that this iPhone app will run on an iPad. (Switch your iPad search to the App Store’s iPhone option. When you run the app, look for the “2x” button in the lower right corner.) If you’d like to help him with the Android programming (and testing on all the Android open-source hardware) then let him know.

A few of you have already seen where this could be going: a retirement calculator, especially for the Reserve and National Guard. Heck, imagine if the phone had a credit-card reader for your CAC data.

I know at least a couple of readers are wondering “Holy crap, when does a Marine find the spare time and the money to write an app?!?” Well, Marines are pretty good at establishing priorities and managing their time (or cutting back on their social life) to accomplish them. Since it’s a financial app, I suspect he figured out how to allocate his financial resources too.

However, if you want to read the whole story then he could use a hand writing it. He has a few other ideas that he’s working on, so let him know if you’d like to partner with him on an eBook. I’m already behind on my own eBook projects that I should be working on, but Matt’s looks like a winner.

WHAT I DO: I help you reach financial independence. For free. I retired in 2002 after 20 years in the Navy's submarine force. I wrote "The Military Guide to Financial Independence and Retirement" to share the stories of over 50 other financially independent servicemembers, veterans, and families. All of my writing revenue is donated to military-friendly charities.

  1. I remember this was such an issue when I served in the military. I am glad that someone has provided a way to make this easy to understand.

  2. I am sending this app on to my daughter. I think every one of their friends has been hit with an, “you have been overpaid and we will be taking your pay to pay us back” memos.
    At least the Marines let my son in law pay back the “overpayment” over a three year period–yup the overpayment was monthly for three years of his enlistment. He was informed of the overpayment a year after he left active duty.
    The Air Force just informed an active duty family that they were overpaid housing and took two months of paychecks- back to back- just before the family was supposed to PCS. The only part that helped was Picerne could not kick them out of base housing for lack of rent and the Airman’s closet (and friends) have been supplying food. He rides his bike to work.
    Go to finance and fix it? Those people are on sequester.
    The app could not be more timely.
    Off to let USAA know that I think they need to buy this app.

    Comment? Question? What's on your mind?