Phew, it's bee a WILD, wild ride! Kyle joined the Air Force way before we were in each other's lives, in fact he was half-way across the world in Germany when we met, mind you, I was in Brazil at the time, and you can read all about our crazy love story HERE. Fast forward to 2012 when we got married and I had absolutely NO IDEA what was to come, what it meant to be a military spouse and what life would throw at us, deployments, TDY's, short tours and a lot of time apart. The Air Force has its ups and downs, but the biggest ones were deployments for me, and the fact that we were stuck in the same small southern town for 6 years. A town I didn't like, a place we called home but didn't feel like home, a place where we didn't quite belong, but rejoiced with our other friends who also didn't belong; we didn't belong together!
Four years ago, in 2014, Kyle's enlistment was up, but really, we had no plan, or money to leave the military. We didn't have any other choice at the time and the only right decision was to reenlist, but we reenlisted with a plan! Kyle had 4 years to finish his CCAF/Assiciate's and get a bachelor's. I continued to work towards a career to no avail, Valdosta was the opposite of the land of opportunity, but that situation made me fall into Photography professionally and I will always count that as a win
Throughout the years he worked HARD, between his trips, deployments, life, demands, work and classes, he finished his degree, I worked my way from 0 knowledge and 0 experience to photographing weddings and portrait sessions to many families, professionals and friends. We worked hard to accomplish those goals, Kyle was promoted twice within that time and we continued to try to get stationed elsewhere (for the whole 6 years) but it was clear it wasn't happening.
So, the time came, and we left. We have been OFFICIALLY out of the military for a week, but we left the area and our friends 8 weeks ago! I knew it was going to be hard and stressful, I knew we had to stick together and make it through everything without getting on each other's throats or nerves, everything is new, we don't remember how to be civilians anymore, but we had made a choice, strategized a plan, and we made it happen the best way we could, but there were still curve balls, and that's what I am here to share today!
MOVING WITHOUT ORDERS
Moving within the military (although I never had the chance to do that) is much easier than moving without it. In most cases, when you are a military member in a state, that doesn't make you a resident automatically, you can choose to be one for car titles and insurance purposes, but you get to keep your home of record, their tax status and your driver's license. That means less money and time spent doing bureaucratic shenanigans. We have been here for three months, have had a home for about two, and between new jobs, looking for jobs and a new home, we still haven't gotten around to get it done.
That is not only more money out of pocket up-front, but it will also take us ore time to go to the DMV, get cars inspected, and it will be more expensive to title our cars here too (we did our research and we knew it was coming, but we didn't really know where we were moving to until last minute, which brings me to the next topic.
CIVILIAN PAY IS NOT NECESSARILY HIGHER THAN YOUR MILITARY PAY
Truth is, taxes are a blessing in the military. Sure, we don't get paid loads of money, but our BAH is not taxed, so the amount of your paycheck that gets taxed is much lower than what you're actually making. Taxes vary from state to state but all of the information should be available online (be prepared to do some math) so if you make 50K in the military, your take-home pay will be much higher than a civilian who makes 50K. No matter how much you think you're worth it, how hard you've worked and how impressive your resume is, company budgets and a specific position will have average pay that varies with the location you are at and you'e only as good as someone thinks you are! A great place to look up averages and company-specific pay is glassdoor.com. Keep in mind that just because the national average is X, that doesn't mean that your new home will be in that range.
Kyle spent 10 years in the force, multiple promotions, raises and awards, but we had to take a pay cut initially. It will take him a year to start earning close to where he was before, although our costs have increased significantly in the new area. Be sure to ask for more than you actually want and expect because employers will likely do the opposite to get as much out of you as possible at a lower salary. It's just how it works.
TAPS IS NOT A WASTE OF TIME
You know the drill, you've heard it, it's just going to be another death by power point week. Not gonna lie to you, it could be. Kyle and I attended two TAPS (transition assistance program) and each of them was helpful in their own way. Some of it was very veteran-related, things spouses wouldn't necessarily need to go through, but especially the resume, interview and training for the workforce can be very helpful, especially if you go with an open mind. The two groups we attended with were extremely different and so were our speakers. Each TAPS could be a totally different experience and I highly recommend pouring into it, asking questions (even if you think they're dumb) or attending again even if you didn't like the first time. A lot of the info was helpful and both us us have landed full time jobs in our new home.
THE JOB SEEKING AND HIRING PROCESS CAN BE LENGTHY
In a perfect world you want everything to fall into place perfectly, right? We planned for the job search to start, we kept some options open between Colorado and Maryland, and Kyle started his research, his degree, pays, positions, possible companies to look for, networking and finally applying for jobs. He started applying in Dec/Jan and we wanted to move before April. Some companies never get back to you, some will send automated rejection messages and some will string you along and never give you an answer.
A lot of his peers were on the same boat, receiving job offers just days before they were supposed to start their terminal leave and start working in the civilian world. For us is was very stressful. We had 60 days of terminal leave and we wanted to use them all, we had to coordinate the move with TMO and we kept anxiously waiting for a job offer after Kyle came to Maryland to interview in person with a few companies. The date came and went and we still didn't have an answer, despite the rush, we got pushed a week, that meant coordinating with the landlords as well.
Using terminal leave gives you healthcare and a paycheck while you get settled into your new home, so I highly recommend saving up as much as you possibly can! Be prepared to push that back and be flexible, but have a plan.
HEALTHCARE IS EXPENSIVE - MORE THAN YOU THINK
So here's the thing, We knew it was going to cost us a lot, but we didn't anticipate paying SO much and still having to pay so much money out of our own pocket even after having insurance. Basically the system is kinda broken and for two healthy adults to get insurance it's costing us over $600 a month but we still have deductibles, co-pays and the rest of our bills to pay. That's a lot of money and can quickly put you in the hole if you have any health issues o need medical care often. Luckily we had Tricare for another two months after leaving the area, we are healthy and haven't needed any insurance yet, but if that's a big issue with you, be prepared to pay hefty fees.
COST OF LIVING CAN BREAK YOUR FINANCES
Maybe you knew that, and if you're like us, you've crunched the numbers and you know what you can and can't afford, but then even the best planners encounter unexpected kinks. Ours was basically the salary; we had to base everything off of the one paycheck we knew we would be making, and that was lower than what we thought by quite a bit. We paid off debt before leaving and have no children or education costs to pay, and even without all of those, everything is more expensive than it was in small-town Georgia. Cost of living here is higher by about 30%, and we budgeted for that, but in reality it didn't work out. Don't forget to plan for every deposit, utilities and higher gas prices just to name a few (and healthcare!) while still planning for retirement.
Another thing that caught us by surprise was the real estate market. Columbia is extremely competitive for rentals and it took us a whole month to find a home. Some agencies required a minimum (hefty) salary range before they would even consider renting to you, a lot of homes had multiple applications on it already, some even had applications for 2-year leases and our best bet was to apply for a house that wasn't going to be available for another 3 weeks, eeek. That worked out finally, but we were lucky we had a place to stay that wasn't costing us hundreds of dollars.
SOME COMPANIES WON'T LET YOU CONTRIBUTE TO A 401K UNTIL AFTER 1 YEAR
If you are worried about your retirement and want to keep contributing to it seamlessly out of the military, know that even though your new job comes with a 401K and matching contributions, that doesn't mean that you can start contributing right away. Both of our jobs require us to stay for a year before we can contribute, so make a note to set the money aside every month and pay a lump sum at the end of the year, or open an Ira or Roth Ira and start contributing towards your retirement. If you had a 401K from a previous job you will need to open a roll over IRA first.
These are just a few of the things we thought we knew about and were prepared for, but still got us scratching our heads. It's been three months and we still haven't caught up with everything that needs to be done legally, it's been hectic, busy and full of surprises, but we haven't regretted it for one second! The military life had its perks and we have made wonderful friends along the way, but we are thoroughly enjoying a different kind of freedom!
I hope this has been helpful and if you're leaving the military, you can do this!