By Anna Larson
If there is one thing I’ve learned over the past six months, it’s that there is no standard retirement experience when it comes to transitioning out of active-duty status in the United States Military. Some spouses start planning five years out and some don’t. Some participate in the SFLTAP program offered by the military and some don’t. Some feel a deep loss of identity and some don’t.
While I can’t pinpoint exactly what your experience is going to be, I do believe there are best practices that every military spouse can consider before that final active-duty day comes to ensure that they are as prepared as possible.
My family made this transition during the pandemic shut down which made our experience unique from many others. It also made me realize how many holes there are in the transition process to accommodate the family as opposed to just the soldier.
To help military spouses that are starting to help their soldier spouse make their way through retirement from active-duty service, I’ve compiled a short-list of things to be thinking about and why.
Begin sorting your finances
I’m sure this first suggestion comes as no surprise. Finances are the hot topic for most retiring soldiers and their spouses. It’s the big uncertainty that forces so many of the other decisions your family is going to have to make.
You won’t know exactly what your retirement pay or VA disability benefit are going to be until your soldier meets with finance and completes their VA process. That usually happens in the last couple of weeks or shortly after retirement is finalized, but until you have that information you can make a pretty accurate guess about what your monthly income will be based on rank and years in service and you can build a financial stability plan for your family.
What should you be considering? Potential locations you want to live in and the cost of living for those locations, your current standard of living, and any benefits you count on from the military that will no longer be available. Do you have enough savings in place? How much monthly income will you need to feel financially secure? What upcoming expenses like your kids’ college tuition, moving expenses, taxes, medical costs, and more do you need to be putting money away?
You will not have all the answers now, but this early preparation will open options for your family later and will help keep the financial strain and stress of the loss of a 20-year career at a minimum. It will also help you and your Veteran make plans for continued employment and keep either of you from jumping into jobs that are ultimately not a good fit.
Plan for your own future and not just your Veteran’s.
One of the greatest qualities of a military spouse is their ability to support their soldier and family through all the challenges that military life brings. You hear phrases like, “holding down the homefront” to describe the strength and resilience we exhibit as we make sure our soldier has what they need to be successful in their career, during deployments, and through each and every move.
After retirement the emphasis is different. Instead of the needs of the military and the soldier’s career being the primary focus, there is now space to consider the goals and dreams of the entire family unit. Retirement offers a chance for military spouses to focus on their own profession, hobbies, volunteer work, or any other activity that they have had to put off while navigating military life.
When my family made this transition, I had already started to turn my focus onto my career and many discussions happened about the need to shift household, homeschool, and childcare responsibilities to my Veteran spouse. Despite having had those conversations and putting a plan in place, it has still been a struggle to find the right balance between work, family, supporting my Veteran in their new career, and creating time for myself.
Consider all of the things you have had on your want or to-do list and as you create your long-term plan don’t forget the importance of including what will make you feel happy, successful, and fulfilled.
Acknowledge your feelings as valid.
Whether you love being a military spouse or not, the shared experiences and community that come with that title are real and impactful. Military spouses going through transition are often surprised at the sadness and loss they feel. Other spouses have the exact opposite experience and feel elation and joy. And many others feel a combination of both.
Military life brings so many ups and downs and, until retirement comes, there is no way to know for sure how it will impact you personally. The important thing is to realize that there is no right or wrong way to feel.
It all goes back to the idea that each and every transition is unique. There will be emotional highs and lows as you get closer to the day that your spouse leaves active-duty status and your family joins the thousands of others who are navigating a new civilian life. As you get closer to the day that the DD214 finalizes your active-duty military life and you begin a new journey, I hope that pre-planning your finances, considering your future goals, and acknowledging the feelings that come with this change will make the transition process easier for your family.
is a copywriter and digital marketing strategist, and owner of NomadAbout, a digital marketing strategies company that helps entrepreneurs and other business owners showcase their organizations through social media, websites, and marketing campaigns what they are passionate about and how they do it better than anyone else. She is active in the military community, co-hosting a weekly business-oriented livestream and co-leading the Fort Hood Cha Chapter of the Association of Military Spouse Entrepreneurs.
Europe, Africa, and the United States, her family made the leap into military retirement. Anna is also a SpouseLink Ambassador with two kids and two dogs. She’s a long-time homeschool mom that loves dance parties, popcorn, camping, and snorkeling in the ocean. In her spare time, you’ll find her traveling the world with her family, relaxing around a fire pit, or on a long walk with her pups.
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