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Anyone who has every served in the military has been asked the dreaded and oftentimes uncomfortable question, “are you gonna stick it out?”
Stick it out –Military jargon for “completing at least twenty years of active duty service, for which time one becomes eligible for a pension that includes up to 50% of his or her base pay, medical care, and ancillary military benefits for the rest of his or her life”
Sticking it out is one of the military’s most attractive benefits for retention but, it comes at a huge opportunity cost.
Despite the attractive worth of the military pension, the decision to “stick it out” can be hard, especially if you have or want to start your own family. After all, love in the military is hardest.
Military assignments can be arduous, being geographically located away from family and friends can be lonely, and not having the opportunity to earn a salary beyond the capped limits set by Congress can be depressing.
Therefore, the majority of you, at some point, will decide to transition from the military and into the civilian world instead of sticking it out. In fact, according to the Modernizing the Military Retirement System brief in 2011, if was found that only 17% of military force serves until eligible to retire, namely 43% of the Officers and 14% Enlisted personnel.
The choice to “stick it out” is yours so, don’t let anyone shame you. Only you know what’s best for you.
However, I’d invite you to consider these questions before you “drop your papers:”
Have you taken an active role to make yourself marketable?
Although the military teaches valuable skills that can be put to use immediately after leaving the Service, you’ll still have to stand out and be competitive among other veterans and civilians who will applying for the same jobs for which you are interested.
When you’re in the military, you should always seek to improve beyond your military skills. You should use your tuition assistance or active military status to attend civilian education institutions at discounted tuition rates. Achieve your associates or bachelor’s degree or, completer certifications in a field that you think you’ll want to enter as a civilian. Read about the career that you’re thinking about entering and see what other qualifications would make you competitive…and then achieve those, too.
Have you saved at least two years worth of living expenses?
If you haven’t saved at least two years worth of living expenses, don’t even think about getting out the military if you’re not yet marketable for the career that you want to enter. Having at least two years worth of living expenses set to the side buys you peace of mind when you know you can maintain a roof over your head and minimizes your stress if you are constantly being rejected for job opportunities.
Figure out what two years of living expenses are by estimating and then projecting your monthly expenses for a two year period. For example:
Other Bills: $250
Assuming that your expenses will be as low as the ones in this example, you should have at least $36,000 ($1,500 * 24 months) set to the side to cover them for the next two years, prior to leaving the Service.
While it is true that some, if not all, veterans will be eligible for benefits such as unemployment or the stipend from the Post-911 GI Bill, if attending college, it is not certain as to when these benefits will begin after you leave the Service and apply for them. There is a processing lead time for your paperwork that must be considered.
More importantly, it is not guaranteed that you will transition into a job right away. Having a two year safety net will hopefully prevent you from taking the first offer received for a job that you may not like.
Do you have an active plan?
The opportunities outside the military can be endless, depending on the skill set you have and those developed while serving. However, it has been said that, “failing to plan is planning to fail.”
Your plan should be concrete. If your intentions are to leave the military to pursue an education, have your college acceptance letter and application for FAFSA submitted before leaving the service. If you plan is to start a full time blog or eCommence business, make sure you’re already earning money from one so you know what type of effort it requires. If you want to simply travel the world like a Nomad, make sure you have already given away all your items and cut your expenses down to the bare minimum.
Again, it’s your choice but, be sure that it’s a choice that is made with more thought that is rational than emotional.
Romeo Jeremiah teaches how to spend money, guilt-free, but still give a damn about tomorrow, on his personal blog, Life and Personal Finance Reflections. He also writes about life and relationships, in general, and is currently working towards financial independence so he can become an expatriate in the Dominican Republic in 2020.