Personal Development

5 Ways the Military Prepared Me for Real Estate Investing

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Front side of typical american porch colonial house with white traditional columns and pillars, beautiful garden in the back and forest

If you haven’t served in the military yourself, chances are you know someone who has. Every year on Veterans Day, our nation honors those who have served. As a military child and former Marine myself, I use the day to reflect on all I gained from my experiences with the military.

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The Marine Corps challenged me physically and mentally. It taught me how to lead. It allowed me to travel. Now, a couple of years into my journey, I realize that it also prepared me for my entrepreneurial endeavors.

Read on for five ways the military influenced my investing career.

How the Marine Corps Made Me a Better Real Estate Investor

1. Courage

Many would-be investors find themselves paralyzed by fear. Worst-case scenarios of failing and losing large sums of money can keep even experienced investors awake at night. (In fact, I wrote an article about ways to overcome fear and begin the investing journey.)

The military taught me that courage isn’t the absence of fear but the ability to act despite fear. Joining the military also showed me that regularly doing scary things helps me to remain even more calm with each new experience.

I was full of butterflies before I headed to my first summer of Officer Candidate School (boot camp for officers), as well as when I showed up at my first duty station and as I boarded the plane to go spend six months in Afghanistan.

I was nervous before buying my first rental property, too. But by then, I had some experience with doing things that scared me.

Oftentimes, new things are scary simply because they are unknown. The more often you try new things, the less anxiety-ridden those experiences become. This isn’t just true in business and investing—networking with new people, trying tough new workouts, and traveling to new places can all be ways to practice pushing your comfort zone.

If you want to get into real estate, but you’re filled with fear, make trying new things a regular part of your life.

Female trainer assisting woman to climb a wooden wall

2. Bias for Action

In any endeavor, whether it’s reorganizing your closet or jumping into real estate investing, the first step is the hardest. It can be overwhelming trying to figure out how to get started.

How do you know what the first step should be? When should you take that step? What if you don’t have all the right information?

In the Marine Corps, we were taught to build a plan up to about 80 percent and then just go. During training exercises, we were given strict time limits to review the information we had and draft our plan. Once that time was up, we had to take action.

The lesson here was that, in life, we never have 100 percent of the information. We never have a perfect set of circumstances. Those who are victorious are those who are comfortable taking action and then learning and adjusting along the way.

If you’re waiting for the “perfect” real estate investment to come along, you’ll never find it. Find something good, and then take action!

3. Endurance

It’s easy to see how endurance can be associated with the military. I know my time in the Marine Corps included a healthy dose of long runs, obstacle courses, hikes with heavy packs, and field exercises.

During tough physical training, our instructors often reminded us that you can do anything for 60 seconds. The saying would morph to fit the timeline we faced.

“You can do anything for 10 minutes.”

“You can do anything for 30 days.”

Related: How Giving Back Can Help You Invest in the Future

Endurance doesn’t just apply to physical tests. Any mentally or emotionally challenging task requires endurance to see it through, and real estate investing is no exception. At some point in every investor’s journey, there will be a moment (maybe several) when it seems everything is going wrong. A renovation will go bad, or tenants will stop paying rent, or an unexpected capital expense will hit.

Having the strength to learn from mistakes and keep pushing forward is crucial to making it through those challenges. Endurance is the difference between the investor who built an empire and the guy who tried once and walked away.

4. Leadership

Leadership is complex and multifaceted. People spend entire careers studying the topic and honing their leadership skills. For the purposes of this article, I’ll focus on two leadership lessons I’ve taken from the military and applied to my real estate investing career.

  • To lead is to serve. As a Marine officer, I was taught that officers eat last. A leader is not there to be served but to serve and support those in their charge. I bring this into my investing career by striving to take care of my lenders, agents, contractors, tenants, and fellow investors. This means showing respect, helping others succeed, and seeking win-win situations in my professional relationships.
  • Leadership isn’t a popularity contest. Servant leadership doesn’t mean I run my business like a charity. While I seek to give respect and earn respect, I also try to remember that leadership isn’t about being everyone’s best friend. A leader must maintain high standards for themselves and those around them. That sometimes means saying “no” and sticking to your policy, no matter how much you may want to be liked by your tenants and colleagues.

Whether you have two rental houses or 2,000 units, you must be a leader in your business to keep your real estate investments on track.

5. Financial Foundation

It’s a common misconception that military service members make next to nothing. Look up current military pay scales (which are easy to access online), and the base pay rates do appear meager. In their first year, a newly enlisted servicemember makes right around $20,000 per year. A newly commissioned officer (someone who has completed a four-year degree) makes just over $38,000 per year—25 percent less than the $51,000 per year average of college graduates in 2019. (1)

However, base pay rates are just one piece of a rather large array of pay and benefits that servicemembers receive. On top of base pay, servicemembers also receive an initial allowance to buy uniforms, free health care, and free housing on base or a housing allowance to live off base.

In certain instances, during deployments or other situations involving “hazardous duty,” servicemembers are exempt from taxes and earn additional incentive pay. Finally, there are many programs that offer educational and real estate-related benefits to those who have served.

Related: 8 Ways the VA Loan Serves & Protects Veterans

In my four years of active duty, I took advantage of a college loan repayment program that wiped out my undergraduate loans, made completely tax-free money plus hazardous duty pay during a six-month deployment to Afghanistan, built a positive net worth by living below my means, and qualified for the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

After the end of my active-duty service, I continued to make money by serving in the Reserves while using my GI Bill to get an MBA for free. That MBA led to a corporate position with a six-figure salary.

Finally, I bought my primary residence using a VA loan that required 0 percent down, allowing me to put more cash toward my real estate investments. So, while it may surprise some people, the Marine Corps gave me an immense leg up in building the financial foundation from which I began my investing journey!

The Botton Line

These five things are just a few of the ways my military background has helped me as a real estate investor. Now, take the opportunity to think through how your background has prepared you to invest.

We all have experience and advantages that can be applied to real estate investing. Find yours, and use them!




How has your background prepared you for investing?

Share in the comment section below.

Megan Greathouse is a real estate investor, mom, and wife located in St. Louis. Since jumping into real estate in 2017, her primary focus has been small multifamily rentals. She currently owns 10 u...
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    Lisa B. Real Estate Investor from Rockledge, Florida
    Replied 5 months ago
    I was also a military officer and my first property was a duplex. Moved on to three more single family homes and lost everything in the 2007-2008 market collapse. I purchased my home in 2011 and have been fearful ever since even though I miss and crave it. I need some new courage!
    Megan Greathouse Rental Property Investor from Saint Louis, MO
    Replied 5 months ago
    I'm sorry to hear that, Lisa. But you were able to buy another home just a few years later, which is fantastic! What did you learn from 07/08 that could help you this time around?
    Lorraine Santirosa
    Replied 5 months ago
    Great article and thanks for your service!
    Megan Greathouse Rental Property Investor from Saint Louis, MO
    Replied 5 months ago
    Thank you for reading, Lorraine!
    Solomon Morris Rental Property Investor from Maryland
    Replied 5 months ago
    The military has given me so much. Networking and accomplishing goals outside of our military profession seems to come much easier with the discipline and intrinsic "call to action" you have described above. I really do believe my multiple iterations overseas on the battlefield give me an advantage to others who have never experienced war. The experience taught me to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, maximize the resources present and to take care of others while placing immense focus on the mission at hand. Success is inevitable Happy Veterans Day Megan
    Megan Greathouse Rental Property Investor from Saint Louis, MO
    Replied 5 months ago
    Well said, Solomon. We've had some unique experiences that allow us to really take on the world, if we remember to use what we've learned! Happy Veterans Day to you as well.
    Corey Harlow from Clarksville TN & Auburn, ME
    Replied 5 months ago
    Great article, and happy belated birthday, Devil. When did you start investing? Currently Active with the 101.
    Megan Greathouse Rental Property Investor from Saint Louis, MO
    Replied 5 months ago
    Thank you, Corey! I started investing in 2017. Wish I'd started while I was active duty!
    Angel Rafael Barrett
    Replied 5 months ago
    Thank you for your service. I was in the marines myself. I have two quadplexes now trying to figure out my next move. Your story is motivation thank you
    Megan Greathouse Rental Property Investor from Saint Louis, MO
    Replied 5 months ago
    Congrats, Angel. You're doing great! Semper Fi.
    Anastasiia Gorkunova
    Replied 5 months ago
    Thank you, Megan! It seems you are a professional writer and motivational speaker! Your words inspired me a lot!
    Megan Greathouse Rental Property Investor from Saint Louis, MO
    Replied 5 months ago
    I'm very glad you took something from the article. Thank you!
    Adam Whitney Rental Property Investor from Twentynine Palms, CA
    Replied 5 months ago
    Great job Megan! Relevant parallels.
    Megan Greathouse Rental Property Investor from Saint Louis, MO
    Replied 5 months ago
    Thank you, Adam. Glad you enjoyed it!
    Raymond F Loo Rental Property Investor from Honolulu, HI
    Replied 5 months ago
    Hi Megan. Great article! My story parallels yours. I received my Army commission in 1987 and bought my 1st Real Estate investment in Hawaii. Continued to serve 4 years on active duty in Korea and Ft. Polk, LA then joined the Army Reserves in 1992 and served 1 year in Iraq in 2006/2007. I retired in 2017 after 30 years and today my wife and I own 15 cash-flowing REI properties in 4 states. My military experience has taught me: a) Mission First and always take care of your people b) Set right conditions for success - create "shaping" operations to set the conditions for the "Decisive Action" - Align your finances and lines of credit, etc. before looking at properties c) No OP-PLAN (Operation Plan) survives 1st contact with the enemy - This allows applies to real estate investing, no REI investment plan or thorough analysis survives the engagement with the seller, rehab contractor, tenants, or market downturn. How do you eliminate risk or uncertainty? You don't. You adapt, improvise, and overcome. Happy belated Veterans Day and Semper Fi!
    Megan Greathouse Rental Property Investor from Saint Louis, MO
    Replied 5 months ago
    Yes! So many great points. And your answer to how to eliminate risk or uncertainty is perfect! Thank you for sharing. Happy Veterans Day to you!
    Dorothy Edwards
    Replied 5 months ago
    Very interesting article, has been investing since2001 1 duplex 3 rental homes working very well, congrats to u young lady
    Megan Greathouse Rental Property Investor from Saint Louis, MO
    Replied 4 months ago
    Thank you! Glad your investments are working out for you!
    Marija Sparano Accountant from White Plains, NY
    Replied 4 months ago
    Megan this is amazing! Thank you for sharing these great tips with us. I do not have a military background, however I used to be a professional athlete. That experience taught me to be respectful, dedicated, responsible, motivated, team player...Most of the skills I have today are because I spent over 10 years playing team handball professionally. If you don’t mind, I would love to connect and chat more. Thank you again for this amazing article!
    Megan Greathouse Rental Property Investor from Saint Louis, MO
    Replied 4 months ago
    Marija, I'm glad you took something from the article. Please feel free to reach out. I'd be happy to connect.
    James Edlund Investor
    Replied 4 months ago
    Great article Megan! You touch on a lot of great topics in your article and I find it inspiring how you relate your time and experience in uniform to your civilian endeavors. I am also a Marine who just returned from a 7 month pump in the Middle East. I often use many of the topics as selling points to discuss why the military can benefit others, besides the obvious service to our great country. Keep doing good things Megan and Semper Fi.
    Megan Greathouse Rental Property Investor from Saint Louis, MO
    Replied 4 months ago
    Thanks, man! I agree... I love sharing all the ways the Marine Corps benefited me so others can at least consider it. Thanks for reading. Semper Fi... and welcome home!