No one stays in the military forever. That can be an exciting, but also scary thought, especially if you have spent your adult life in military service, or married to a military member. Transitioning to an after military life is a big change, logistically, emotionally, and financially. Preparing for those challenges can make it easier – but how do you prepare for so much at the same time?
The first step is to recognize that it is a big change. Many military families are so excited for the next chapter of their life that they sometimes forget that there are a million little steps along the process. Communication and organization are key.
Spouses need to talk to each other. A lot. Figure out a way to gather the details of your transition, whether that is a notebook or a spreadsheet, or a checklist. (I have a retirement checklist, and it can be used for ETSing, too.) Take some time regularly to review your list together, and discuss how things are unfolding.
The next step is to identify the big changes that will happen in your unique transition. For some, the biggest parts are moving their family and kids starting a new school. If you’re not moving, the biggest changes for you might be a new job and/or going back to school. Consider the logistical, emotional, and financial aspects of each item.
Now, start to make a list of the things you need to do. Here are some ideas to get you started:
|Finding a new job||Writing a resume|
Buying interview clothes
Traveling for interviews
|The process can be discouraging||Lack of income|
Cost of interviewing (clothes, travel)
Delay for first paycheck
|Moving house||Finding new home|
Preparing to move
|Balancing loss and excitement||Setting up new home|
Down payment/security deposit
|Starting a new educational program||What course to take||You may feel both excitement and anxiety||Tuition and fees|
|Changing your state of legal residence||Paperwork|
|Hopefully none, but some people do feel a loss at leaving their “home” state||Registering vehicles|
New drivers licenses
|Kids changing schools||Get transfer packets|
Find immunization records
Gather proof of residence
|Help kids with sadness, anxiety, and trepidation||New uniforms|
Sports team fees
Your list will be different, and probably a lot longer. But you don’t have to do it alone, and you don’t have to do it all at one time.
Start as early as possible in the transition process. Most of us know that we’ll be leaving military life a few years in advance, even if we don’t have an exact date. Take one step at a time, chipping away at your to-do list.
Bring in help whenever possible. Help might be:
- Your best friend to help you weed through closets and drawers.
- A family therapist to work through the emotions that come with life changes. (Your installation probably has a Military and Family Life Counselor, or Tricare has very good mental health coverage.)
- The on-base personal financial educator to help you create a post-military budget.
- A babysitter to give you time to do things.
- One of the many military and civilian programs to help veterans create a resume.
- A home stager to get your house ready to sell
Lastly, I can not emphasize enough: Make sure the service member attends the Transition Assistance Program classes. Twice if possible. If you’re the spouse, try hard to attend also! 97% of the frustrations I hear during transition are things that are covered in TAP. COVID space restrictions have made it hard for spouses to attend in many locations, but the situation seems to be improving. If you can’t get into a physical class, utilize the online version.
Most of all, give everyone some grace in this truly once-in-a-lifetime situation. While you are working through all of this, your spouse is processing their own set of concerns and challenges. Kids may be feeling the pressure, too. If things are tense, step away and let them cool down before tackling the issue in a productive way. Practice self-care, and encourage your loved ones to take care of themselves, too.
For most people, leaving the military is a big project. Just like any other big project, it will go a lot more smoothly if you plan carefully, work with your teammates (aka your spouse and kids), and bring in help when necessary. Then you can get started on your next big adventure!
Kate Horrell is an Accredited Financial Counselor® and personal financial educator who helps the military community make the most of their pay and benefits. She shares the most up-to-date information in understandable terms, and highlights how rules, programs, and laws will directly impact your personal finances. With over 10 years working with thousands of military families, she understands the concerns of currently serving, retired, and veteran families. You can find her at KateHorrell.com.
Want to write a guest post for Soldier’s Wife, Crazy Life? Please email me at Julie@soldierswifecrazylife.com and let me know! I take pieces on anything milspouse related, from deployment tips to duty station reviews.