By Doug Nordman
Military Spouse Guest Writer and founder of

It's a new year: what's your new future? After the military will you start your "bridge career", or will you work part-time? Or will you retire early and never earn a paycheck again?

When you leave the service your top priority is financial independence, and most servicemembers can do it in 10-20 years. Retirement is easier with a military pension and Tricare, but thousands of veterans have figured out how to retire early without them. Part of financial independence is planning your spending to match what's important to you. Find the ways to align your budget with your values, not your possessions. Save as much as you can in the Thrift Savings Plan and your other investment accounts. Even if you're seeking a bridge career, save extra cash to support your expenses for at least six months to let you explore your new life after the military.

We've all met the miserable people doing tours that they weren't suited for or who stayed too long. Take the military one tour at a time and stop when you can't find anything that you'd enjoy doing. Trust your feelings and your judgment. Leaving the service is challenging if you're not financially independent. However the worst situation is the soul-destroying grind of an unfulfilling tour - or a bad job. You'll only succeed at your life's goals if work makes you feel curious and happy. If you're grimly clenching your jaw to gut it out for another five years then you're making the wrong choice. You're risking your mental, emotional, and physical health.

Your next priority is the happiness of you and your family, and you have to discuss your expectations. They may want you around more often and your ideas may be quite different from theirs. When you're out of uniform, you have new choices. The best career wisdom I've ever heard is: "Do it as long as you're having fun".Your peak performance comes from being challenged, fulfilled, and happy. 20 years of part-time work (and more time with friends & family) is better than 10 years of overtime. Take the time after the military to make a good career choice. The skills that great companies truly care about - your leadership, your management experience, and your ethics - won't go stale. Spend time with family and friends before making a work decision. Don't rush. Don't lock yourself in!

Watch out for burnout. You can't make good choices when you're exhausted, frustrated, and miserable. Many people leave the military or stop working because they can't put up with it any longer, but then find that they haven't developed a lifestyle (or the savings!) to enjoy themselves. Don't make burnout decisions: get the time off to make a plan. Don't spend that time fixing up the house or taking the big family vacation. You're going to focus your efforts (and your family talks) on preparing for a change. Catch up on your sleep and let the fog clear from your thinking. By the end of the first week, you should be rested enough to discuss the issues and consider your decision.

You have to move toward your goal, not run away from bad situations. "Going Civilian" and can show you how to achieve financial independence and work on your terms for a happy retirement.

About Doug Nordman

I graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1982 and spent 20 years in the submarine force. I served as an engineering division officer and a Weapons Officer during the end of the Cold War, and then I finished my final eight years as an instructor at training commands. My spouse graduated from USNA into the Navy's Meteorology/Oceanography community and spent 17 years on active duty before joining the Navy Reserve for eight more. Both of us are retired in Hawaii, where we were first stationed in 1989. Today our daughter is a college sophomore on an NROTC scholarship.

We made plenty of investing mistakes during our careers, but we always lived below our means (easy to do on sea duty) and saved as much as we could. As my retirement approached, we realized that our investment income plus my pension would nearly replace my base pay. We've always been "green", and we made a spending plan to enjoy a beach-bum lifestyle. We overhauled our investments for low expenses and diversified income. Today we live off my pension and spend our investments to bridge the gap until my spouse's Reserve pension starts. After nearly 10 years - so far so good!

The military's inflation-fighting pension and cheap healthcare solve an early retiree's two biggest challenges. 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, and we're collecting more stories for the second edition at