Dealing With "Retiree Guilt" By Doug Nordman - GOING CIVILIAN Guest Writer and founder of

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"Retiree guilt"?!?  That subject wasn't discussed at any of my transition seminars.  However this unexpected speed bump can be an especially surprising source of family stress.


It's the retiree's equivalent of survivor guilt. Instead of coping with the emotional turmoil of surviving a life-threatening situation, your retiree guilt may be rooted in your new financial independence:


  • How can you sleep in when the family has to get up early for commuting and school?
  • How can you possibly "play" all day when others are trapped by work?
  • How can you share your joy at the fun you've had when your loved ones are dragging home from a 12-hour day?
  • "Hey, we working stiffs have an early day tomorrow, could you please turn down the TV volume a bit?"


Most of the syndrome can be handled with discretion, common sense, and good manners. If anyone else in your household has to go to a job or to school, then it's probably a bad idea to stay up late that night and then complain about the household noise next morning.  You don't want to drive by your kid's school bus stop with your longboard sticking out of the tailgate. (Let's not get into how I learned this.) When the family straggles home after a hard day they'll appreciate a clean house with dinner on the table instead of your texts that you're still on the golf course. Everyone should still have their fair share of chores and responsibilities, but you can score bonus points by devoting your time and effort to the tasks that always come up when everyone else is rushed or exhausted.


Another way to handle retiree guilt is reminding yourself that you sacrificed and worked hard for the retirement privilege. You spent long hours in terrible conditions with lousy food and worse sleep, let alone getting shot at.  You've endured years of deprivation.  Even if you've avoided post-traumatic stress symptoms you're probably still burned out and chronically fatigued. You may have been exposed to hazardous materials that could injure your health (or shorten your life) and you may have some degree of disability. You've earned your retirement and you deserve to quietly revel in your accomplishments. People who envy your new lifestyle are welcome to visit the nearest military recruiter.


Jealousy is another ugly aspect of retiree guilt. Your family & friends appreciate your sacrifices and endured a lot of their own. But others may have no idea what veterans have to survive to get to retirement-- they only see the benefits you're enjoying without appreciating their cost. They certainly don't understand what pain and loss you endured to get to your retirement, and it's not about you at all. Some of them may resent the way that your retirement makes them contemplate their own lives. They don't want to be reminded that they could have lived more within their means, saved more aggressively, pursued more education and training, or tackled a more challenging occupation. While they may claim that you're wasting your life, they're really afraid that they're wasting their own.


You worked hard for your benefits. Enjoy them. Share with your family.  You don't have to flaunt your lifestyle, but you have every right to be happy!


About Doug Nordman:

I retired in 2002 after 20 years in the Navy's submarine force. My spouse spent 17 years in the Meteorology/Oceanography community and eight more in the Navy Reserve. We've enjoyed life in Hawaii since 1989, and today our daughter is a college senior on a Navy ROTC scholarship.


I wrote "The Military Guide to Financial Independence and Retirement" to share the stories of over 50 other servicemembers and veterans. All royalties are donated to military charities (over $9000 so far), and we're collecting more material for the second edition. Stop by to share your story and learn more about financial independence!