Where Do You Live After You Leave the Military?

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I try to plan these posts a week or so in advance, and I’ve been following “The Military Guide” table of contents. (Of course there are detailed discussions and analyses in the book which are too long & complex for this blog– you’ll only be able to read those if you get the book!) Occasionally I’ll change the plan for a special reason, and today the reason comes from two very large military-oriented businesses.

Thanks to REWahoo of Early-Retirement.org for pointing out USAA’s and Military.com’s “2010 Best Places for Military Retirement”.

However, the list seems to miss some of the nation’s top retirement areas for veterans (like Hawaii!). The oversight becomes clear when you dig into the details, and I’ve emphasized three areas in bold:

USAA worked with Military.com to develop this first-of-its-kind ranking that recognizes the best places in the nation for military men and women to reside after retiring from their first career with the armed forces and beginning their second career as a civilian. The rankings are a resource to help military retirees find locales offering a high quality of life while making the most of military retiree benefits.

USAA and Military.com … evaluated [areas] against Sperling’s BestPlaces general quality of life issues along with variables that correspond directly to military retirees.

The top five areas included:
* Military base proximity
* Military base amenities
* Veteran’s Affairs hospital proximity
* Military pension taxation
* Unemployment rate

Each of the identified variables was weighted based on importance to military retirees and each metro area was given a score based on its total points for each variable. The metro areas were ranked based on these scores. Metro areas where the median housing cost was 40% above the national median were excluded from the list.

In other words, Military.com and USAA assumed that every military retiree wants a bridge career. They chose areas based on the availability of veteran’s benefits, retiree-friendly taxes, and your employment opportunities. They considered 15 other factors, too, but these top five were deemed to be the most critical.

When you leave the military, do you want your job to be one of the most important factors in determining where you live? Or would you rather be able to rank the other factors first?

Don’t get me wrong– if you want a bridge career after leaving the military then that’s what you should do. However, the assumption in this “best places” survey is that you have to get a job because you’re not financially independent. It’s assumed that you have to live close to your work because you need to commute there instead of telecommuting or working part time. Many wonderful areas of America (and the rest of the world) have been discarded from your consideration because of employment availability and housing costs.

If you’re leaving the military after just one obligation then you’re probably still on the road to financial independence. However, you still have many other options available to you in the Reserves and National Guard, let alone civilian employment, and you may want to be closer to large military bases where you’ll be able to find more opportunities for drills and active duty.

You Navy veterans in particular may have noticed that USAA’s “best places” list skips just about every major homeport, including Honolulu’s expensive real estate. Yet major commands and other military facilities in those areas are always seeking Reservists/NG, civil service, and contract employees. Better yet, there are places just outside the metropolis (even in Hawaii!) with competitive housing costs and many other lifestyle benefits.  Your personal criteria may be much different from Military.com’s rankings. Use the “best places” rankings to jump-start your thinking and planning, but take them with a grain of salt and do your own research.

Military.com and USAA focus on bridge careers after military retirement because their research shows that’s what most of their customers are seeking. However, you’ll have many more choices if you’ve been planning your financial independence, even if that plan involves part-time employment. It may seem easy to consult these “Best Places” lists, but make sure you analyze the reasons behind the rankings before you make your decision. If you’ve been pursuing financial independence for 5-10 years before your retirement then you’ll have far more choices than this list.

The next few posts will focus on achieving financial independence even without a military retirement. Chapter 6 of “The Military Guide” tells just two of the many stories of those who’ve left the service (well short of retirement) to pursue financial independence through bridge careers. It’s not a fantasy– once financial independence is your priority then it can be achieved in as little as five years. Most servicemembers and veterans (especially those with families) will take about 10 years, and a few will want more time. However, if financial independence is your goal from your first military paycheck, then you’ll be well on your way when you leave the service.

You don’t have to get a job after the military just because USAA and Military.com think that’s what everyone needs. And you don’t have to choose your dream location just to get a job.

Related articles:
Retiring from the Reserves and National Guard
I’m going to retire. Now what? (part 2 of 2)
Six months before retirement…

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WHAT I DO: I help you reach financial independence. For free. I retired in 2002 after 20 years in the Navy's submarine force. I wrote "The Military Guide to Financial Independence and Retirement" to share the stories of over 50 other financially independent servicemembers, veterans, and families. All of my writing revenue is donated to military-friendly charities.

1 Comment
  1. Wow – those lists are pretty TX heavy….and for Tampa, they listed a Coast Guard Station – MacDill AFB is still there as far as I know. As for locations, well, you are right – and you could also have a bridge career that is ‘location-independent.’ What about becoming a consultant? You work out of your home providing a service, travel every now and then, but choose your home location based on your desires. Yes, from a military perspective, nearness to the military facility is possibly one of your key criteria (it’s hard to beat some of the prices at the commissary), but as an independent consultant, you aren’t looking for a base of employment with an employer.

    In any case, the example above would also allow you to live in HI :-) and still have a ‘bridge’ career.

    Comment? Question? What's on your mind?