Life is full of transitions and stages – nobody knows this better than military families! For us, life can be divided up by the usual milestones: graduations, promotions, marriage and the birth of children. We also track other milestones, marking time in deployments, assignments and relocations. And, ultimately, we work toward the goal of retirement and transition out of the military. For service members, the pre-retirement process is very comprehensive and requires years of planning for both the serving spouse and all members of the family.
Right now, I’m experiencing this first-hand. My husband is getting ready to retire from the army after 26 years of service and we have a lot to consider. Thankfully, I’m already familiar with the process, both through my work helping military families at AAFMAA and as a veteran myself. However, I’ve discovered that, no matter how many times you’ve watched and supported others through the process, retirement planning is much different when you and your family are the ones living it! And while no one solution will work for every family, there are a few simple tips and resources you can check out when retirement is in sight, which will help your family get on the right track to civilian life.
Know Before You Go: The Importance of Research and Education
The military provides mandatory transition classes ahead of retirement, many of which are open to spouses as well. Whenever you have the opportunity to join in a seminar or meeting about your partner’s retirement, take advantage of it! It’s always easier to learn key information first-hand and ask questions as they come up than through a debriefing session with your spouse later.
Make use of your network as well! Chances are you have a strong community of spouse friends, either in-person in your neighborhood or virtually in Facebook groups and blogs. Don’t be afraid to come to these groups to “crowdsource” your questions. Someone might have just gone through the same thing or, at the very least, you’ll be able to talk through a challenge with folks who have a fresh perspective.
Lastly, as I mentioned before, an increased focus is being placed on empowering, supporting and educating military spouses. In addition to the sanctioned resources available to your partner through their branch of service, we’re seeing an uptick in programs and educational resources catered specifically toward spouses undergoing transition with their family. The most significant of these is probably the Department of Defense’s Military Spouse Transition Education Program (MySTeP). The third phase, Stepping Beyond, provides videos, FAQ sheets and webinars which address retirement from the spouse’s perspective. A quick Google search will also turn up dozens of other resources from reputable companies. Take in as much of this information as you can early in the process to identify potential questions and avoid unpleasant surprises when retirement comes!
Find Your Financial Footing
Many retirement decisions center around money. Since he entered pre-retirement planning, my husband and I have assessed each financial decision in terms of the long- and short-term impact it will have on our family’s finances and, by extension, our day to day life.
Here are some examples of money moves you’ll want to tackle in the short term:
- Assessing and building up your “rainy day” savings fund, if needed.
- Researching housing options to decide if you’ll stay in your current home/area or relocate – don’t forget, the military pays for one final PCS!
- If you are considering a move and home purchase, seek out lenders and realtors who are familiar with military families, particularly if you’ve never bought a house before.
- Identify financial products that might need to be replaced or transitioned in civilian life. This includes finding life insurance from a private provider to take the place of SGLI or enrolling in the survivor benefits program.
On the other hand, some decisions aren’t as pressing and can be tackled later on in your retirement planning process. Just be careful not to put them off for too long!
- Career planning, for both spouses, is probably the most crucial “long term” decision you’ll want to make. As a military spouse, you might already be working remotely or part-time and wish to continue or even ramp up your career when your spouse retires. Your spouse might want to begin a new career and look into further education or training before doing so. If both spouses want to explore new career paths, create a timeline or plan so you both aren’t working toward educational or training goals at the same time. While tackling courses and certifications all at once might seem more efficient, it can also create unnecessary stress for the entire family. As you can see, there are a slew of smaller to make when it comes to career plans and the sooner you can sort them out, the better!
- Financial planning is also an important decision that will impact your family’s future for years to come. Pre-retirement is a great time to seek the help of financial advisors who are familiar with the military. They can help you set up a saving and investing strategy which fits your goals and post-military plans.
My husband and I are doing our best to take these decisions one at a time so as to not feel overwhelmed. It helps to set aside dedicated meeting time, over a meal or coffee, to dig into the particulars of each question to avoid feeling rushed or unprepared. We also involve our sons whenever possible. While most of the financial decisions come down to my husband and I, it’s nice to hear their thoughts and opinions on things like house hunting and career planning, since these decisions will impact them as well!
Move as a Unit
Every member of your family likely has goals for post-military life which should be taken into account as you plan for retirement as a group. In addition to one-on-one “strategy sessions” where you and your spouse talk over the nitty gritty financial decisions, take time to have open family meetings where concerns and ideas can be discussed. Get your children involved and assign them tasks or roles within the retirement planning process. For instance, my sons and I enjoy making classic “pros and cons” lists while looking at Zillow listings for new homes.
Finally, as much as things might change for you family in retirement, it’s helpful to remember that the important things will stay the same. Even in a new house or with new jobs, family traditions and rules will remain. When planning for retirement seems chaotic, pausing to remember this helps the whole family stay grounded.
Charlene Wilde is a veteran and military spouse. She is the Assistant Secretary of AAFMAA, our nation’s longest standing military financial services non-profit and a contributor to Spouselink, a site that informs and connects Military Spouses.