When it comes to online resources and support, today’s military spouses are fortunate to have many options. From officially-sanctioned readiness classes and webinars to less-formal spouse support groups and blogs, it’s easier than ever to find information or simply connect with others in the community who can provide advice. As part of a national focus on empowering military spouses, the Department of Defense has been building out its Military Spouse Transition Education Program (MySTeP), which focus specifically on key phases of military life and how to spouses can best prepare for transitions between them. The recently-announced third phase, Stepping Beyond, seeks to empower military spouses whose partners are preparing to retire from service.
Military retirement is a time period where many families must make significant career, lifestyle, and financial decisions. While service members are required to undergo transition classes as they head toward retirement, it’s incredibly important that the DoD and other organizations are also making an effort to actively involve spouses in this process with educational resources made just for them. When the third phase of MySTeP launches soon it will include video walk-throughs answering common questions related to transitions, downloadable guides and factsheets, and an extensive collection of external resources where spouses can go for more help.
Even with the rollout of programs like MySTeP, there will never be one, blanket solution to guide all military families through a transition to civilian life. As my own family faces my husband’s retirement in a few years, we’re falling back on these resources, learning from others and finding our own unique solutions along the way. If you’re not sure where to start, it’s a good idea to look into key areas—financial readiness, employment (both you and your spouse!), and social/family life to identify questions and areas of concern heading into a transition.
Plan for Your Financial Future
By the time your spouse is getting ready to retire from service, you’ve probably become a master at managing family finances. You’ve handled bills and expenses through countless deployments and managed relocations across states and continents on a strict budget. However, sometimes planning for the next phase of your life can fall by the wayside. Step back and assess a few factors, both within your family and externally, to gauge your finances before retirement:
- Do you have a long-term saving and investing strategy? Pre-retirement is a good time to research military-friendly financial planners who can help you outline a long-term strategy that takes your goals and plans into account. These planners are well-versed in military entitlements, pensions, and state and regional laws that might impact how your income is taxed.
- Are you planning to relocate for retirement or stay put? The military offers reimbursement to retiring families for one final PCS move. While exploring new areas, don’t forget to research the cost of living to see how it matches up with your current expenses.
- Will you buy a new home? It’s typical for military families to rent for the majority of the servicemember’s career, as it makes relocations and PCS journeys less-complicated. However, when facing retirement many of these same families seriously consider making a down payment on their first long-term home. It’s fun to poke around on sites like Zillow to see what’s available within your means, but when you really get into the nitty-gritty, it might be helpful to enlist the help of a military-friendly realtor or loan officer who can make sure you’re taking advantage of all the benefits available to you.
- How strong is your “rainy day” fund? Do you have enough to cover an employment gap if your spouse takes time to find a civilian position? This money might also need to be tapped into for repairs on your new home or travel incidentals (which always come up, as we know!)
- Do you need to explore new financial products? This is a broad question that can refer to everything from life insurance (making the switch from SGLI to a private provider) to enrolling in the survivor benefits program (SBP) and learning its particulars before your spouse retires.
Of course, there are transition readiness classes offered to service members and spouses which focus solely on financial education. However, it’s never a bad idea to get a head-start and flesh out your plans by asking questions like these, which you can bring to class with you or bring up with trusted friends and family!
Forging New Career Paths
The possibility of an “employment gap” for retiring service members is very real if often underestimated. For many military families, this might be less of an issue as more spouses are taking advantage of employment opportunities than ever before. However, the retirement transition is the perfect time for a military family to reassess everyone’s career goals and make adjustments if needed.
Maybe you’re already doing some remote or part-time work to supplement the family income, are you ready to transition to a more involved role to advance your career? If so, this is a conversation you’ll need to have with your spouse as it might involve them taking on more household responsibilities in retirement to allow you to focus more time on your career. Of course, any major changes to either parent’s career will impact how your household is run and must be communicated with children as well.
Face Life Changes as a Team
If your spouse is preparing to retire, your children may be old enough to really understand what’s going on. Treat the preparations for the retirement process just like you’d treat a deployment or relocation and keep your kids in the loop on developments as this change will impact them too! Tell them what will change (their school, mom or dad’s work schedule) and what will stay the same—house rules and favorite family traditions. Let them be a part of any decision-making whenever possible and keep them involved by assigning tasks and chores that help with the transition process.
While finances and employment might be major concerns for you and your spouse, lifestyle and social changes will be felt most by military children. If you’re researching a new town or state, let your kids look into schools, activities, and local attractions with you. If it’s possible, arrange in-person visits and tours and bring the whole family. If you’re house-hunting, either physically or virtually, do the same. My older son has recently taken an interest in browsing Zillow listings with me and it’s fun to build out a list of “likes” and “dislikes” when exploring features of potential new homes.
No matter how long your partner has been in the service, retirement will bring changes to your family’s life. The good news is, we’re living in a time where military spouses aren’t left wanting for trusted resources or support systems to guide their families through transitions.
As you mull over decisions and seek help, remember that family always comes first! Make time to have an open discussion (or several) with your children and spouse as you head into a transition so that everyone can feel like their voice is heard and that they have an opportunity to thrive in post-military life.
WANT TO READ MORE?
Check out How to Move Your Business When You PCS
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.
Charlene was interviewed for a previous piece on her experience PCSing as a military spouse. Read that here.
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