As dollar drops, Europe-based soldiers adjust

Though off-base buying power shrinks, troops not going broke

By MATT MILLHAM | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 17, 2007

The euro’s up, the dollar’s down, but soldiers’ spending habits are more or less the same.

Even last month’s announcement that the cost-of-living allowance given to U.S. troops in Germany will begin a major slide May 1 has done little to change how much they’re willing to spend off post in the country — at least in dollars.

But the weakening exchange rate has cut into the amount of goods and services troops can buy off base.

Sgt. Tiara Marshall, for example, has continued to spend about $400 a month to restore her classic Mini Cooper. But because of the exchange rate, that $400 doesn’t go as far as it used to.

The euro rate at U.S. military banks on Tuesday was .7383, a nearly two-year low.

She used to spend about 200 euro every pay period to restore the car, but as the dollar dropped, “that was actually chunking into my food money,” said Marshall, a member of the 66th Military Intelligence Group in Darmstadt.

She’s had to decrease the amount she spends at the German garage that’s fixing the car to about 150 euro every two weeks, she said.

She’s cut back on at least one other activity as well to keep up on with the restoration. “I don’t go out drinking anymore because it’s too damn expensive,” Marshall said.

Staff Sgt. Kevin Eick thinks dwindling drinking budgets are one positive effect of the weaker dollar. Sure the exchange rate is terrible, he admitted. But, “There are facilities here that let you buy things” in American dollars, he said.

“If they do away with COLA altogether, I’ll be upset," said Eick, who is also assigned to the 66th MI Group. But, he added, “Just because your spending power decreased doesn’t mean you’re going broke.”

Indeed, no troop who spoke to Stars and Stripes said they were suffering financially, and some who live more simply or don’t spend much off post have continued to do well.

“I’m more of a saver, so it doesn’t really affect me that much,” Sgt. Elizabeth Lowe said of the prospect that her COLA will go down beginning May 1, “but less COLA means less money in the bank.”

However, added Lowe, a member of the 66th MI Group, if COLA is going down because stateside purchasing power has already decreased, “That’s only fair.”

“The crux of it is that I joined the Army to serve my country, not to get a fat paycheck,” she said.

But some who haven’t curbed their off-post spending have seen their savings dwindle.

“We still have some spending money,” Sgt. Andrew Majors, a member of the 32nd Signal Battalion in Darmstadt, said as he stood outside the Army and Air Force Exchange Service store at Kelley Barracks with his wife, Spc. Tabetha Harrison. But “my savings from downrange is gone,” he said.

Harrison added that saving money has recently been impossible for the two, largely because they haven’t cut back on spending. But they aren’t despairing. “We do pretty well for ourselves,” Majors said.

“I’ll admit that me and my husband don’t eat at home except maybe once a week,” said Sgt. Maya Hill, also of the 66th. But with gas prices going up and the dollar going down, “We’ve actually started eating at home more,” she said.

“The biggest thing I see coming from this is our bills,” Hill said. “The Army gives you so much for your rent, and it’s a scheduled rate, and you sometimes end up paying out of pocket because of the exchange rate fluctuating,” Hill said.

Daily specials

Save your dough

Teresa Dooms selects a few pieces of fruit Monday at the Defense Commissary Agency’s store at Aviano Air Base in Italy. Items produced in the States are a bigger bargain on base with the euro rising against the dollar.

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