This blog was written by U.S. Army SF LTC Gregory Reck, a GSF SkillBridge Fellow in the process of retiring from Active Duty.
Transition sounds like such a paltry word when the reality of what it entails is so fundamentally profound: you are leaving the only entity in your life that you both love and hate with equal fervor.
When you begin your transition journey, when you finally decide to hang up your military life, you probably are already behind in your preparations. I first started retiring in 2016, but opted for just one more year –that turned into three more years, and I still don’t think that I was adequately prepared.
Get Your Budget in Check
First off, the decision to separate is financially daunting. I witnessed many fellow lieutenant colonels in TAP realize that they had no clue as to how they were going to pay their bills, put their kids through college, and have money left over for investments because they had spent a lifetime living large. Well, going back to my previous statement that when you decide to leave, you are already behind in your preparations, I can only say that you should really give yourself the suggested two years to start cutting back on spending, paying off large bills, and saving enough money to bring you through some lean months. Basically, get your budget in check.
How you do that, I really can’t say. I didn’t have half the worries that a lot of other people did: I had no kids, no big house, no expensive car, and my hobbies were cheap. In addition, you are going to need some money set aside for suits, travel costs (to job fairs and the like), and sundries that you may not have had to worry about when you just had to put on a uniform every day. And you can’t go cheap on the suits, ties, and shoes. People notice.
But since this is a blog about my transition, I will give some details into how I did my budgeting. TAP does a fairly good job at making you put a budget together, but I wouldn’t wait till then to start working on it. I started tracking my spending early and I adjusted accordingly: going out, expenditures on hobbies, expenditures on travel, and car maintenance costs. Hey, if you have a huge, expensive car or a money-pit of one, you may want to get something more affordable. It’s great having a BMW, but it is expensive to maintain it and to insure it.
Overseas? Add a Year.
Things are a little crazier if you are retiring overseas. You are definitely missing out on a lot of things, but I can’t help there because I retired CONUS. Maybe you should add a third year to your prep if you want to retire overseas?
Also, if you’re interested in this route, you will need to get your waiver in order to go for GS jobs right out the gate; otherwise, you will have to wait 180 days after you retire before you will get a look.
People say different things about that, but I go by what the book says. Prepare for the worst, right?
The (Very Important) Odds and Ends
Don’t forget that you will have to adjust your savings or allotments into IRAs or the like. I had $1,500 a month going into TSP, IRAs, mutual funds, and savings accounts. One you get on a fixed income, you can’t afford that until you find a new career.
That being said, don’t forget, you have to start paying for medical, dental, and vision when you leave the military. For an individual, it isn’t too expensive, but once you start looking into family plans, BAM! The costs skyrocket.
I put money first for consideration because it is the hardest thing to prepare for. Start early so that you can navigate obstacles and problems that arise early. Keep the family informed of the situation because this is going to impact them too.
You will all need to tighten the belt until you get that new career going.