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Running Your Race: Military Spouses and Retirement

Each year, millions of people will train for and run a marathon. Many of these runners have trained for years, hoping to compete in prestigious races. They’ve dreamed of what it would be like to be the first to cross the finish line as victory cheers ring out around them.

When the first three runners cross the finish line, the race is far from over. There are many runners who are still running their own race, striving to do their best even though they know they won’t be coming in first.

Approaching military retirement is not unlike running a marathon. Both require hard work, persistence, some pain, and dedication. For service members, each day before retirement has its own training hurdles; they attend classes to finalize their education and work with organizations to translate their military service into civilian terms for a resume.

As a service member focuses on his or her retirement, there is another race that is coming to an end. The service member’s spouse is also hurtling toward a finish line in an effort to check off final PCS details and other transition-related tasks. While completing this race as a couple is a cause for celebration, it’s also an important time for military spouses to ask “What does retirement mean for me?”

What do you want to do?

For many spouses, it’s difficult to conceptualize military retirement—it’s an end, but it’s also a beginning. Now that you aren’t moving every two or three years due to a PCS or juggling the demands of deployment and training schedules, you can start to think about a career trajectory that is intentional, rather than a job change due to circumstances beyond your control. For the first time in a long time, you have choices!

Wanting choices and having choices are two very different things… don’t worry if you feel overwhelmed (you are not alone). You don’t have to begin with answers, but you should begin by answering a few questions:

  • Do you want to stay in the same field that you’re in, or do you want to make a career shift?
  • What are your career goals? Do you have the experience necessary to act on them right away?
  • Do you need additional education for the work that you want to do, or updated certification and licensure?

Spend some time with these questions. Think them over and answer them honestly and thoughtfully. Once you have some answers, you can start building your post-military plan.

Where do you want to live?

While this question seems like it might only impact your family, it is an important career consideration. Although your current duty station may feel like home, or you may be thinking about moving back to your (or your service member’s) hometown, you should also think about how your location relates to employment.

  • Is the job market in your dream location viable for you and your service member?
  • Do you work (or want to work) in a field that requires you to be in a specific location?
  • Is the comfort of somewhere familiar more important long-term, or are you willing to move anywhere you receive a good job offer?
  • Will your location be close enough to military installations to meet your needs (e.g. health care, access to military services, maintaining friendships)?

As you answer these questions, you may find yourself apprehensive about the idea of a forever home. After a few years with the military, moving from place to place can become instinctive, and it may take a while to adjust to the idea of staying in one place.

What are your financial needs vs. your financial wants?

Once you’ve decided what you want to do and where you want to live, you need to have a plan to pay for your dreams. This can be an uncomfortable conversation, but it’s an important one to have—no matter how squeamish you feel.

  • If you need additional education or training to reach your goals, how will you pay for it?
  • If you’re relocating after retirement, how will you cover any extra costs?
  • If you’ll be surviving on one income/your savings until you’ve started your new career, how much time can you realistically function without a paycheck? What will your budget look like?
  • Does your spouse have a job lined up after retirement?
  • What are your current and future financial obligations? How can you start saving for them now (factor these into your budget)?
  • If you have children, how will their expenses factor into your financial plans (e.g. Do you have a child starting college, will your child be living with you at the time of retirement, etc.)?

Use these questions to help you and your spouse prepare a pre- and post-retirement budget. Creating a budget as a team will help your family have clear expectations about your financial goals and responsibilities after retirement.

Retirement Reframed

While the word “retirement” may conjure visions of sunset, umbrella drinks, and a tropical island, most find military retirements are a jumping-off point for a new career. Though you can certainly sip on umbrella drinks while you make your retirement plan (it may make the process feel more festive), make sure that you don’t forget to plan for your future career and finances as a team. Even though your race may not be the one that gets the immediate attention, your journey after the military retirement finish line is equally important.



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EYB: Walter Reed National Military Medical Center

EYB: Walter Reed National Military Medical Center

Located in Montgomery County, Maryland, Naval Support Activity Bethesda—home of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center—is centered in the National Capitol Region. It is the home of support for the hospital as well as all of its tenant commands in their pursuit of excellence in patient care, medical research, and education. Naval Support Activity Bethesda (NSAB) is responsible for providing installation support to 12,000 military and civilian employees and their families, as well as 40 tenant units. Bethesda is one of the most renowned communities in the Greater Washington D.C. area.

Mission: Milspouse is a
501(c)3 nonprofit organization.

EIN Number: 88-1604492


P.O. Box 641341
El Paso, TX 79904


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