Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Reader Mailbag!

So... I'd heard this rumor. There were people saying you could save LOTS of money by living in Okinawa. And today I got a comment on the blog from Ms. Lowe...

"So hey, i'm a marine wife and we are about to have to make a decision about where we wanna be stationed. i found your blog and wanted to ask you some questions. rumor has it that there's mad cash to be made or to be SAVED with cola and housing allowance. just wanna know what you think and if you have any advice bout whether or not we should choose japan. email me...

I thought this deserved a public answer because she is not the first person to email me asking about being stationed here. And she's not the first person to think there's "mad cash to be made or to be SAVED". Don't believe the hype! But the benefits are a'plenty - so read on for my response if you'd like.

Hi there, Jesslyn!

Just got your comment on my blog, and I'm not sure how the rumor got started - but Japan is very expensive. Coming here you will save money if you're a clothes shopping addict (not much to be found here except online!) or if you live on base and eat mac & cheese all day. However, if you plan to live out in town you do not get the difference between your housing allowance and what you pay for rent (which sure isn't much anyway) and all summer long your electric bills take up all of your utility allowance in this very hot and humid tropical place. COLA isn't nearly enough - and we're still waiting for the latest survey to kick in. (side note: Does ANYONE know when that's supposed to be settled for heaven's sake? We took the survey in March!) Produce is ridiculously expensive and must be bought out in town because the commissary stuff is pretty terrible (and even more expensive than in town).

Also, if you're a dual-income family, likelihood is, unless you're a certified teacher and willing to go through DODDS applications, or a dual active duty family - you (as the spouse) will either not work or make very little money if you do. So you're down one income. (That's what happened to us.)

Also - do you plan to travel? Well- no savings to be had if you want to take flights anywhere from here (that is definitely the most expensive part) unless you do all space A, and that is a hassle. Even then you're still going to pay for hotels, food, etc. - so vacations cost money.

Now - that being said, it DOES depend on your husband's rank. (you could save/make more if he's more senior in the service.) But coming here - the decision shouldn't be made based on "saving mad money". It should be based on the experience.

You learn about foreign cultures, you dive in some of the bluest clearest waters with some of the most incredible sea life, you eat exotic foods and learn to shop in a Japanese grocery store for things like yuzu cha and onigiri. Your children learn Japanese and get to snorkel in those same waters, and they visit WWII battle sites and Ryuku Castle ruins...and it's an incomparable experience for them! You take shorter flights to visit Vietnam, Cambodia, mainland Japan, Thailand, China, and so many other incredible places. You make friends with some of the most interesting and fun people you'll ever meet. You live in a 1950's style neighborhood where everyone knows each other, takes care of each other, and helps each other - and you can let your child go to the restroom or bike to the park with friends or -gasp- ALONE. It's totally what you make of it.

Come to Okinawa for the experience and adventure of a lifetime - not to save money. Honestly, as a military family, the best way to stash cash is for your husband to go to Iraq for 6 months or more. But having been through that three times - it wasn't worth it to us. (Thankfully, my hubby won't deploy from here... knocking like mad on the desk as I type...) Okinawa is priceless.

Hope that helps :) And you know what? I'm going to post this on the blog, because I do get a lot of emails asking about the money situation here.

Thanks for the question, and thanks for reading, Jesslyn!


Abbey said...

I completely agree! We were told this nonsense about saving money and making money, as well. NOT TRUE! The military changes policies so often that all the off base money making opportunities we heard about and looked forward too had changed 2 days before we arrived on island! And the kicker, they've all changed numerous times since then! This place IS what you make of it. My friends know I can't wait to get home, but I wouldn't trade the Okinawa experience for anything! Thanks for the post, Aviva!

april said...

I found your website once previously just browsing the internet for information on Okinawa (always looking for new places to visit here) and then came across it from your profile on Okinawa Hai Society. Normally, I'm not one to post on people's blogs that I haven't personally met, but I had to for this one. 100% true in every possible way. Okinawa is absolutely amazing for all of the opportunities it provides, as long as you are willing to go out and take advantage of it. As for the money situation, I know only a few spouses who actually work and have tried in the past to no avail to get a job here with plenty of education and experience to spare. However, I have found complete happiness in being home with our son and just exploring everything there is to do here. I could go on and on about how wonderful of an experience it has been here so far, but then I might as well write my own blog post!

Kimberly said...

I agree that you WILL NOT save money here. MAYBE with the COLA and living somewhat frugal you could end up debt free before you leave - but I have to say, that was our plan 5 years ago...we have one year left and I think we are more in debt now after traveling to Hawaii, China, Thailand, etc. and buying all the great furniture! I guess I am one of the few that have been lucky enough to get a good job. I'm GS at the hospital...it does pay decent, but my job WOULD pay better in the states....they lowball us because they know we are here anyway and need jobs so we don't get any of the "bennies" like housing allowance, COLA, etc.

Ernie Santa Ana said...

The only COLA I've ever benefitted from, besides what we got while my family was stationed in Iceland, is Diet Cola...I'm losing half a pound a week!