Every day, I talk to military family members who are facing transition out of the military. Whether it’s the end of a four-year enlistment, a medical separation, or retirement after 20 or 30 years, it is a major life change when you leave the military. Many of the service members and spouses feel unprepared! That’s why I ask:
Why You Want To Prepare
No matter where you are on your military journey, there is something you can do to prepare for the day you (or your spouse) take off the uniform for the last time. Whether it is taking a class, saving money, exploring post-military careers, or paying off debt, it is never too early to start. Heck, if I had my way, I’d have everyone start planning for the end of their military career during the very first days of basic military training. It’s a lot easier to start small when your needs are small, then gradually increase your preparation as life gets more complicated.It’s a lot easier to start small when your needs are small, then gradually increase your preparation as life gets more complicated. Click To Tweet
What Does Preparation Look Like?
During the first few years of military service, perhaps your transition plan is simple. Get all the education you can, and save up a few months’ expenses. That won’t be a huge amount of money if you are unmarried, or don’t have kids, and have stayed out of debt.
If you stay on active duty beyond your initial obligation, your transition plan probably needs more thought. Perhaps you’ve gotten married, or had kids, or taken on a mortgage. Once again, education and savings are key. Get the skills and credentials to land a civilian job, and learn how to write a modern, competitive resume. Help your spouse with his or her career, if they want to work, or perhaps consider small business ownership for either of you. Keep your debt balances small (or none!) As your monthly expenses increase, increase the amount of money in your transition fund. I’d say six months is great; a year’s worth of expenses is ideal.
As the years of service increase, it’s normal for your situation to get more complicated, but the solutions are the same: be prepared financially and professionally. Gather a few more credentials, build a rockstar LinkedIn profile, and learn how to interview. Create an amazing network of friends, co-workers, and that cool guy who sat next to you on a plane one time. Stay out of unmanageable debt, and consider that being debt-free provides maximum flexibility. Bulk up your savings to continue to cover six to 12 months of current expenses.
Things You Can Do Right Now
- Set up a savings account for your transition fund, figure out how much money you’ll eventually need, and set up an automatic transfer or allotment.
- Start researching what jobs you might want to do when you leave the military.
- Make a plan to pay off debt.
- Sign up for a college class or a professional certification.
- Glance over my Military Separation Checklist or Military Retirement Checklist.
Some people leave the military and slide right into an ideal situation, whether it is a new job, a return to school, or even full-time retirement. For the majority of folks, though, there are unexpected challenges and hiccups along the way. Start now to ensure you have the best possible chance of weathering the transition without extra stress and financial turmoil. I’ve worked with hundreds of folks, and no one has every told me they were over-prepared for their transition.
Every step you take today is one less step you’ll have to take when the time comes. And trust me, that’s a good thing. The weeks leading up to leaving the military can feel like running ahead of an avalanche. Give yourself a headstart!
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