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Retirement prep from the military member’s point of view

I recently asked my husband his lessons learned from retirement. I thought it might be nice to get the servicemember / retiree perspective on things.

As usual, he was quick to point out that he’s no expert and his advice may or may not be welcome. And that everybody’s situation is different. And that what might work for one couple or family might not work for another.

Of course he’s right.

But I told him there is value in hearing from someone who’s been there, done that.

So he rattled off the first four things that popped into his mind, in no particular order. I’ve expanded on a few of them a little, but all are sound words of wisdom:

  1. Travel Space A while on terminal leave. We’ve talked about this a couple of times before. Traveling Space A while still active duty puts you in a higher category than retirees. And if you’re lucky, you have the benefit of lots of leave time so you can sign up early. We went Space A to Hawaii after retirement, and kicked ourselves for not doing it, and maybe some other trips, during our 120 days of terminal leave.
  2. Consider trying to get your last duty station in a place you’d like to retire to, or at least where you could be happy living during the first year or two. I didn’t really agree when he first said this, and it should also be noted that this was our original plan but it didn’t work out for us. That being said, there are some definite benefits to having a home set up, friends, kids settled in school, possibly a working spouse and just a place where you feel comfortable – maybe not forever, but at least while working out the kinks of leaving the military. There are a lot of costs associated with moving and setting up a new home. Not to mention possible months of uncertainty while deciding where to go or what you want to do, or waiting for job offers. There’s nothing wrong with just paying for a while while you figure out.
  3. Go to one of the online retirement calculators right now, no matter how many years you’ve been in, and figure out your retirement under different scenarios. How much would you make at 20 years, 25, or even 30? It doesn’t matter if it’s you’re an E-1 or an 06, knowledge – especially financial knowledge – is power. Once you have that number you can start to make plans and goals for your future, including saving and investing when you are able to.
  4. Get your medical issues documented. He did add this caveat: Do it as soon as you are comfortable with your command knowing everything that is wrong with you. He really started documenting everything about two years out, once he knew he was going to retire, didn’t need to be on jump status and was unlikely to deploy on short notice. Like many who are still active duty, he did not want to risk being put on a profile. From a spouse perspective, of course this is hard for us to accept. Either way, get everything documented as soon as possible so that any disability claim can go more smoothly. It also just helps to know where you stand health-wise before leaving the military.

And at the end of our conversation he added this: “The bottom line is, be prepared. We didn’t really do that as much as we should have, but we got lucky and it all worked out.” Ha!

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