20 Years Of Financial Independence & Military Retirement 

After 20 years of military retirement, life is better than ever!  We’ve made the shift from accumulating assets (and our former insecure attitude of scarcity) to philanthropy & gifting (from a mindset of abundance).  

Spoiler:  the 4% Safe Withdrawal Rate works.

Thanks to the reader who provided the inspiration for this post:

“I would be interested in hearing more about your FI lifestyle and wisdom you have gained after being financially independent for 20+ years.”

No, you’re not going to read clichés about “20 Lessons From 20 Years.”  This post answers over 20 questions from the audience and from the members of the Millionaire Money Mentors forum.

I’m not going to call out the millionaire questions, but here’s a hint:  millionaires asked far more questions about lifestyle, relationships, and regrets than about the money.

Image of Doug Nordman surfing Haleiwa Ali’i Beach Park | MilitaryFinancialIndependence.com

“So far so good!”

This is one of my longer posts, at over 6300 words.  (I’m not going to break it into a series.)  Feel free to skim.  I’ve highlighted the questions and bulleted them in bold text, along with portions of the answers.

But first, a recap.

My spouse and I reached our threshold of financial independence in late 1999 after 17 years of saving & investing.  (Back then the Internet bull market had peaked and everyone was financially independent… for 15 minutes.)  Back then we were also ignorant about FI (let alone the 4% SWR) and I stayed on active duty until I retired on 1 June 2002.

Even worse, by October 2002 (at what we know today was the depth of the Internet Recession), we were full of uncertainty and a little more fear.  

We were in our early 40s.  Our net worth had dropped from its lofty 1999 heights, but we were still FI by spending all of my military pension plus another 4% of our investments.  The good news was that my pension had an inflation-fighting cost-of-living adjustment and we had cheap healthcare.  The bad news was that the markets continued to drop, and our 4% SWR looked like it’d actually be 8% by 2003.

Other uncertainties back then:

  • My spouse was in the Navy Reserves (no pay, only drill points) but she didn’t know whether she’d earn her own pension (at age 60).    
  • Our rental property had negative cashflow for over eight years of the Hawaii 1990s real estate recession.  It was heavily mortgaged and worth less than we’d paid for it in 1989.
  • Our new home (bought in 2000) was a neglected, filthy money pit— and also mortgaged.  We had years of sweat-equity DIY home improvement ahead of us.
  • Our actively-managed mutual funds had expense ratios of 0.8%-1.4%, and the active management was *not* beating the markets.

Mathematically & logically, the 4% Safe Withdrawal Rate was too new to be trusted.  Bill Bengen had written about his SAFEMAX study in 1994, and research professors had published their Trinity Study in 1998, but everyone was focused on the failure modes.  

From the emotions of behavioral financial psychology, we got a lot of pushback about retirement.  We were “too young”, we’d be “bored & unfulfilled”, we’d “lose our contact network”, our “skills would go stale”, and “we’d never be able to get another job.”  Ha!

The pushback was so forceful (and annoying) that I claimed I’d “take a few months off to spend time with family & friends.”  In reality I was burned out to crispy critterness.  

We decided that “I could always get a real job after retiring from the military”, but first I wanted to try out the financial independence tactics we’d read about in “Your Money Or Your Life” and “The Millionaire Next Door.”  

The good news:  our daughter was nearly 10 years old and our family had just learned to surf!

Cut to the bottom line, Nords.

Today we’re not worrying about the failure rates of the 4% SWR.  We’ve won the game.

My spouse started her Reserve pension a few months ago.  

Today our core expenses are less than half of our gross income.

We’re solidly in the 22% income-tax bracket (before itemizing our philanthropy deductions).  We saw this tax issue coming:  we spent 16 years converting our traditional TSPs & IRAs to Roth IRAs (in lower income-tax brackets) in case our income went higher in our later years.  Now it’s happened.

Image of sunrise at White Plains Beach Oahu | MilitaryFinancialIndependence.com

Sunrises are better than ever.

Our pensions are indexed to inflation (the same CPI used by Social Security and the VA) and our expenses are rising slower than the CPI.  Our pensions also mean that we can invest our other assets in a total stock market index fund.  Over the long term (>10 years) our investments are growing faster than inflation.  Despite three recessions during the last two decades, our net worth has grown a lot faster than inflation.

After many painful money-losing years with our rental property, we’ve finally achieved good cash flow.  (By Oahu standards, that’s a capitalization rate of 3%.)  We’re still trying to figure out whether to keep landlording, or to sell it, or to give it to our daughter and her spouse.

I can start my Social Security deposits in just a few months when I turn 62 years old.  (That happened a lot faster than I expected!)  Our analysis (with the Open Social Security calculator) suggests that we both wait until age 70, because we already know that taking SS sooner will boost our Medicare premiums (IRMAA).

We won’t buy yachts or private planes, although we could certainly spend the rest of our lives on cruises or in first-class seats.  However we don’t care about cruises anymore, and we’d rather fly military Space A.  

We’ve reached “enough” and we’ve gone on to “more than enough.”

Our mindset has made the difficult shift from scarcity to abundance.  

There’s nothing more that we want to own… not even another longboard.  We’ll keep traveling (while we still can!) and we’ll ramp up our philanthropy & gifting.

Let’s go to the questions.

  • “What was your net worth when you started? How did your asset allocation evolve over time, if at all?”

Instead of a 20-year-old number, this chart indexes our financial independence (starting at 100) and shows the growth over the years.

Our asset allocation was 100% equities when we started our military careers.  When we retired, we set aside two years’ expenses in cash to help shield us from the worst failure mode of the 4% SWR against sequence of returns risk.  For the next decade our asset allocation stayed >90% equities with up to 8% cash.

After 10 years we checked our numbers again.  Our net worth had grown faster than inflation and our spending had barely grown with inflation.  Our latest withdrawal rate had dropped below 4%, which meant that our investments would last much longer than 30 years.

Let me repeat that:  after only 10 years of FI we already knew that we’d have enough for the rest of our lives.

During the next two years we spent down the cash stash.  Today we’re back to >95% equities, with only enough cash on hand to pay the monthly bills.  

  • “What were your assumptions when you started? Did they play out the way you thought?”

We hesitantly assumed that the 4% SWR would work.  (If it didn’t, we’d have to cut spending or get part-time jobs.)  More importantly, we were hyper-aware of the failure modes and we expected to see problems coming from years away.

The 4% SWR worked out, as we now know that it does more than 95% of the time.  More importantly, our aggressive asset allocation has grown our investments faster than inflation while my military pension has kept up with inflation.

  • “Many of us just starting the FI journey have angst over the sequence of returns risk. Details on alleviating the SORR fears would certainly be welcome!”

Back in the 1990s we read that most bear markets and recessions are shorter than two years.  It might take longer for our investment balances to recover their previous high values, but they’d still be able to sustain the 4% SWR.

We decided to keep two years’ expenses in cash to ride out the adverse effects on our equities.  Each year when the markets were up, we’d sell some of our equity shares to replenish the cash stash.  If the markets were down, we’d continue spending the second year of the cash stash.

We started with our cash in a money-market account, but after a few years we decided to chase yield with 3-year CDs.  

At the time CD rates were much higher than money markets, and 3-year CDs only had a six-month early-redemption penalty.  We were willing to take that redemption risk during down markets in order to have a little more interest during up markets.

This two-bucket strategy (for the first decade) allowed us to invest more aggressively in equities.  My military pension was already the equivalent of the income from I bonds or TIPS, and we did not need to include bonds in our asset allocation.  Yes, our investments were very volatile, but my pension had zero volatility— and that helped us sleep more comfortably at night.

Our tactic worked well during the 2000-2002 recession.  It worked exceptionally well (both financially and emotionally) during the Great Recession.  We used up our cash stash in 2010 and had to start selling shares of our equities, but we had enough unrealized capital gains to avoid selling at a loss.  In 2012 we replenished the cash stash for the last time, and after that we spent it down for good.

During the 2020 pandemic recession we simply sold shares (capital gains) to pay our expenses.  The lockdown lifestyle was unfortunately very cheap.

  • “Having retired early in the midst of a “lost decade” in the stock market, what specific advice would you give early retirees to plan for emerging through similar market conditions successfully?”

Pick an asset allocation that lets you sleep comfortably at night, and stick with it.  Stay the course and rebalance when your tripwires are triggered.  Don’t even think about trying to time the markets.

Keep tracking your spending.  Don’t deprive yourself— keep spending your plan— but know where the money is going in case the markets expose you to sequence of returns risk.

After our first decade of FI (and despite that lost decade), our net worth had grown faster than inflation.  Our actual withdrawal rate in 2012 had dropped below 4%.  By the end of the second decade of FI our core spending was hovering around 2%.  Even Big ERN (Dr. Doom) of EarlyRetirementNow agrees that a 3% withdrawal rate is sustainable for at least 50 years.  

Note that the “lost decade” of 2000-10 shared a benefit with the lost decade of the 1970s:  dividends.  Between 2003-17 we invested a quarter of our equity portfolio in a dividend fund (the iShares Select Dividend ETF, DVY) that grew its dividends faster than inflation.  I wouldn’t invest in it today— its expense ratio is relatively high compared to other dividend funds— but it maintained most of its payout even during the Great Recession.

  • “How have you fostered the importance of financial independence to your children? Any plans on how to impart similar lessons and inspiration to your grandchildren?”

Kids watch what you do and absorb your values.  Our daughter knew in kindergarten that financial literacy (and financial independence) are important to us.  As she grew up we kept sharing teachable moments in an age-appropriate manner.  

Today that might look smart, but we started as chronically-fatigued parents of an always-on toddler.  We talked about money with her simply to keep her brain occupied on our tasks so that we could all get through the day.

Image of Doug Nordman with toddler granddaughter Arya at the San Diego Zoo | MilitaryFinancialIndependence.com

On deck: #GranddaughterFI

She started managing her money as a preschooler by handling the coins of her small allowance and learning to make spending choices.  As she grew older we added financial incentives:  she could earn more with jobs around the house to save faster for big spending goals.  If she saved money by using coupons or making a home lunch instead of buying school lunch, we’d share the savings with her.  We scaled up as she got older, and she got more comfortable at managing ever-larger sums of money over longer periods of time.

Today she and her spouse are on the cusp of their own financial independence, and they did it a lot faster than her parents.  Our family tactics were so successful— and we got so many more questions on the details— that we shared our tactics in our book.

  • “What impact has your financial independence had on your family relationships?  Not just immediate, but siblings & cousins?”

Summary:  “Money makes you more of what you already are.”  

My father reached FI in his early 50s.  One day in 1993 when I groused about my transition out of the military, he pointed out that if we’d saved & invested then we might not have to find jobs after the military.  His observation sparked our interest in FI and grew it into a bonfire.  

My brother carved his own path to LeanFI.  He sold his business but he continues to do the things he enjoys for some side-hustle income.

My parents-in-law have been less supportive.  I think my father-in-law has worried for the last two decades that my chronic unemployment is going to leave his only daughter penniless.  And her daughter.  And her daughter too.  I don’t know how he feels today:  my last conversation with him was nearly 15 years ago.

My brother-in-law is a retired tax CPA, and his spouse retired from programming at a utility company.  They reached their FI years ago, but he has no reason to stop doing accounting.  He was going into a friend’s tax office one day a week, but he’s retired from the 100-hour weeks during tax season.

My cousins and their adult children are a mixed crowd.  Some are working because they want to while others might still have to.  We stay in touch but I only discuss money with a couple of them.

My cousin Ross and his spouse are both military vets who keenly appreciate FI.  

They’ve reached their threshold on the 4% Safe Withdrawal Rate but they’re still working for their challenge & fulfillment.  (She graduated from medical school straight into the pandemic.)  He might ease up on his hours someday, but remote work keeps him happy with his work/life balance.  His kids are about the same age as our granddaughter, so we have plenty to discuss.

In general, I’ve learned (the hard way) not to bring up our finances with family unless someone asks the question or wants my help.

Looking back… 

  • “What would you tell your younger self about any worries you had about retiring early?”

First, I stayed on active duty for longer than necessary.  Instead of gutting it out to 20 I should have gone to the Reserves or Guard at about 12 years.  Our money would have worked out about the same— FI in 2002 or 2003– and I would have had a much higher quality of life with better work/life balance.  

I never made the time to learn about alternatives to an active-duty pension.  I was ignorant, overworked, chronically fatigued, and overwhelmed.  I stayed on active duty out of fear, and I paid the price in chronic stress.

Now I’m paying it forward so that people can learn from my mistakes.

Second, we made a ton of classic investing errors in the 1980s and 1990s.  No new lessons were learned from these incidents, and today I’d simply invest in passively-managed index funds with low expense ratios.  Fortunately, a high savings rate makes up for a lot of investing ignorance.

  • “What advice would you give a 20 year old today about preparing for early retirement (which may differ from what you actually did)? What are the things to consider, watch out for, and plan for that no one tells you about?”

Well, first I’d suggest that alcohol is overrated.  By age 20 I’d already been drinking for seven years, and I majored in it at college.  (I minored in chemistry.)  Back then it never even occurred to me that beer & wine were wasted spending, and I’m amazed that I survived my alcohol-inspired dumb ideas.

Second, the FIRE acronym has aged badly.  In the 1980s-90s it was popular to claim that we hated our jobs and wanted to FIRE as early as possible.  Today I’d advise reaching FI with a combination of a high savings rate and a sustainable quality of life.  Cut out the waste in your life, and spend where you find value.  You’ll know where the value happens because you’ll be willing to work the extra years to pay for it.

Finally, if you hate your job then start networking for a better job.  (If you’re on military active duty, then learn about the Reserves and National Guard!)  

You don’t need to be miserable in a high-paying job just to reach FI faster.  Even if a more fulfilling and lower-stress job pays less, you’ll be happier on your slightly-slower FI journey.

  • “Obviously your experience comes with having a military pension and healthcare for life. From what you’ve seen/lived/dealt with in the past 20 years, what should someone who doesn’t have those things plan for?”
  • “Military retirees are in an enviable position that I would guess the majority of civilians can not attain. Finding and paying for health insurance and generating a secure and predictable recurring income stream are two key areas most FI candidates have had to deal with in one way or another.  What would you recommend?”

My first part of the answer:  don’t join the military to get rich.  Join to learn skills, to be a part of something bigger than yourself, and to achieve more than you ever thought possible.  

Second, don’t stay in the military for the pension.  Whether you’re a veteran or a total civilian you can create your own pension and income streams with an annuity, or dividend index funds, or investment real estate.

Finally, don’t even stay in the military for the cheap healthcare.  Admittedly it greatly simplifies the math of calculating your financial independence, but it won’t necessarily improve your quality of life.  You can pay your own way through a combination of a health-insurance broker, the ACA exchanges, a high-deductible policy, medical tourism, and eventually… Medicare.

You don’t have to take it from me:  ask any military vet who’s receiving disability compensation (and their family).  We’d all prefer to pay more for our health insurance if we didn’t have to pay the price for combat.

  • “I would like to know how would your 41 year old self envisioned your life would be at age 61 and how does the reality of today compare to that?  What would you tell your 41-year-old self about any regrets you’ve had during early retirement?”

Here’s the short version.

  • Age 41:  Cautiously optimistic but concerned & uncertain.  Age 61 was even farther away than age 41 seemed to be when I started my career at age 21.
  • Age 51:  This seems easier than it should be.  (Or like the notorious attitude of the Navy’s Surface Warfare Officers:  “This has *got* to be harder!”)  Life is good.  I wish I’d been a little more relaxed about our spending when we started our FI.
  • Age 61:  We have more than we need!  Let’s ramp up the philanthropy and the legacy.  

The long version:

Financially, humans suck at estimating the growth of exponential compounding.  When we’re saving and investing, it looks linear for many years.  As FI approaches, the slope of the compounding curve is starting to rise— especially if your earned income is rising at the same time— but it’s still hard to see the acceleration.

When you reach FI with assets of 25x your annual spending, the exponential growth is kicking in and turning the corner to go parabolic.  Even if you’re spending like a 4% SWR robot, you’re still highly likely to have more money than you need for the rest of your life.

Also:  wear your hearing protection and your sunscreen.  Writing that makes me feel like I’m channeling my parents, and now I understand.

  • “What did you get wrong about planning for early retirement? What did you get mostly right?”

We made a lot of mistakes with our assets, but a high savings rate also saved our asse(t)s.

I graduated from college in 1982 and got serious about saving & investing $50/month.  I boosted the savings with every annual pay raise and longevity raise, and whenever I could find a cheap rental apartment.  That math was pretty straightforward, and a few years (plus two promotions) later it turned into a 40% savings rate 

Hawaii real estate values have zoomed up during the pandemic (not that we’re ready to sell just yet), and it’s more than offset the volatility of our total stock market index fund.  Today our net worth is three times as much as we’d need to support the 4% Safe Withdrawal Rate.  

  • “How have you progressed through the stages of shifting from scarcity to abundance, or from frugality to feeling more comfortable with spending?”

It took us years to shift from the scarcity mindset to abundance.  (This seems to be typical of people who’ve been FI for at least 20 years.) In our case it was a series of small steps before our epiphany.  Here’s a bunch of examples, each an individual event with a cumulative effect.

Image of Doug Nordman at White Plains Beach cabin sipping coffee while checking the dawn patrol surf forecast. | MilitaryFinancialIndependence.com

“Life is really good.”

We first felt it a few years after retirement when Hawaii’s real estate market recovered and our next set of tenants paid a (much higher) market rent.  That income stream was especially reassuring during the Great Recession.

We enjoyed it again in 2011 with a long-planned home renovation.  Our daughter was away at college and we gutted our familyroom.  The five-figure rehab edged into six figures as we encountered old termite damage, new hurricane codes, and a few thousand dollars of the expensive“Might as well…” change orders.  After months of living in a construction zone it was wonderful to move back into the new room.  Over a decade later I still look around it and smile.

In 2011 my father’s Alzheimer’s finally meant that he could no longer live independently.  I’m very glad that I had the mental bandwidth (and the time, and the assets) to help care for him.  It made both of us happy, and it made me appreciate the abundance mindset which gave me the freedom to spend the time to take care of him.  Dad spent over six years in a care facility before passing away.  Today I’m keenly aware of my family history of dementia and the importance of disability planning, and I’m determined to do the best I can to have my lifestyle compensate for my genome.  

Our abundance really kicked in around 2015 when we started a slow-travel itinerary through Spain.  We visited our daughter in Rota, where she was serving on her destroyer and where my spouse had been stationed in the 1980s.  We noticed the parallels every day between the years at our first duty stations and then returning over 30 years later— only this time with unlimited liberty and more money.

Later in 2015 I dealt with appendicitis, where it was less than 24 hours from “Ouch!” to the operation.  The biopsy was “carcinoid”, which is right up there with colon polyps for an exciting few decades of cancer monitoring.  As you might imagine, I appreciate the abundance of a healthier diet with all the exercise I can handle.

The good news on the morning after the surgery: our daughter got engaged!  In 2022 they celebrated their sixth anniversary.

In early 2020 they started their family with Arya, who’s the daughter that we’ve warned our daughter about.  Today Arya’s a full-throttle toddler with a very busy brain and a rapidly expanding vocabulary.  Last month we finished a three-week grandparenting visit that left us exhausted (in a good way) and we’re eagerly anticipating their (someday) return to Oahu.

In 2020 I also turned age 59.5 and could tap my Roth IRA penalty-free whenever I wanted.  It turned out that we have more than enough money in our taxable account, and from now on we can withdraw from either our Roth IRAs or our taxable account to optimize our taxable income.

The last 20 years have seen three different double-digit recessions, each nasty in its own speed and duration.  Despite the uncertainty, our investments not only thrived with the 4% SWR but grew far faster than inflation.

Our abundance mindset helped us ramp up our gifting goals by giving our daughter her share of the profits from her college fund.  (She was a good steward of it during her high-school and college years, and she also scored a Navy ROTC scholarship.)  We’ve continued that gifting with grandparent contributions to our granddaughter’s 529.  We have no idea what college will cost in 2038 (if Arya even goes to college) but she’s well on her way.

We’ve also ramped up our philanthropy.  I’ve donated my writing & speaking revenue to military charities since 2011, and we plan to give away the rest of our taxable account during the next few years.  We have more than enough from our pensions, our rental income, our Roth IRAs, and (someday) Social Security.

  • “How has your identity shifted over the past 20 years?” 

All military vets experience this change when they put away their uniforms.  You don’t have to give up your identity but you certainly have to evolve.

I’ll always be a submariner, but I’m also a spouse and a parent.  Those never go away.  I’ve also added “grandparent” and “surfer!”  

Keep adding new aspects to your identity.  Forget about who you were, push out of your comfort zone (when it makes sense), and experiment with who you want to be.  This month my spouse and I are trying our very first housesit (an eight-week gig in Santa Barbara).  We’re constantly discussing the lifestyle and our preferences.  I’m not sure it’ll be a new part of our lives, but we’ll value the experience.

  • “I’d enjoy learning about some of the things you realized were awesome about the retirement life you never would have expected before you retired.”

Before retirement, everyone worries about what they’ll do all day.  A few months after retirement, everyone wonders why they worried about it.  

The real danger is leaping into a new lifestyle and trying everything at once before you’ve had time to recover from your working life.  I never would have expected that I’d have to deliberately give my calendar a blank space every other day for recovery, relaxation, and reflection.

The most awesome part is getting to redesign your life whenever it makes sense.  I wish the book “Designing Your Life” had come out 25 years ago!

  • “Additionally, what were some of the mistakes you made when determining whether or not you were ready to retire? Did you underestimate or overestimate anything?”

The Navy gave me almost four years’ advance notice that I’d retire at 20 years.  (I had failed to select for promotion.)  That was about three years more notice than I needed.

My biggest mistake was figuring out when I should have left active duty.  I completely missed how much it would have improved our quality of life, and I was clueless at how the value of a Reserve pension keeps up with inflation until you start receiving the deposits at age 60.  

Today I advise military families to take their career one obligation at a time.  Stay on active duty as long as it’s challenging & fulfilling, but when the fun stops then it’s time to go to the Reserves or Guard and consider a civilian career.  

Saving and investing for financial independence gives you the resilience to make these career decisions out of strength and confidence, not fear.

  • “How did you win the battle against ‘one more yearism’?”

We used the 4% Safe Withdrawal Rate as our tripwire for “enough” (assets of at least 25x our annual spending), and we knew that we’d be able to avoid its failures! 

Just One More Year syndrome is based on the scarcity mindset of running out of money.  We are humans, not coldly logical Star Trek Vulcans.  Even when the 4% SWR and retirement calculators project a success rate of over 90%, people worry about the chance (of less than 10%) that they’ll be poor.

The 4% SWR simulations never included Social Security, Medicare, variable spending, or the possibility of earning another dollar during financial independence.  Financial independence gives us the flexibility to use all of those tactics.  Retirement calculators can help nail down exactly how much you’ll need for your lifespan or when to change your spending.  

  • “How did you and your significant other decide on spending money in retirement to make sure you didn’t run out of money?”

By the time I retired, my spouse and I had been budgeting for over 20 years.  We made a new budget every year, and we did the same analysis for the 15 years of retirement.

Our projections turned out to be more conservative than necessary.  After we retired we experimented with doing more of our own home maintenance, cooking more meals, and being more active.  We deliberately budgeted more for travel yet we were still within the 4% SWR!   

We also renegotiated our adult allowances.  Each of us was free to spend our personal allowance on anything, with no questions or judgement.  We could spend it all on the first day of the month or save it for a bigger expense.  The budget category was simply “allowance” with no other documentation required.

Image of Kazuma stand-up paddleboard at White Plains Beach Oahu | MilitaryFinancialIndependence.com

There goes my allowance…

Of course if one of us made a mistake around the house, the other one was allowed to say “That’s coming out of your allowance!”

We stopped budgeting about five years ago.  Today we discuss big expenses (over $1000) but we’ve dialed in our lifestyle and we’re rarely surprised.

  • “I have just one question: Why was it worth it?  Was it fun, rewarding, all you thought it would be?”

One answer:  freedom!

… And looking ahead:

  • “How have you aged during this process? How did it impact life and family events? I think these add the richness to story we crave and help us contextualize your decisions in a way that makes this a story of your journey. In the end, that’s a life — the greatest story we can tell.”

Physically:  Retiring from active duty helped me drop my resting pulse rate by 10 beats per minute, my blood pressure by 25 points, and my weight by 20 pounds of excess fat.  

Almost every year since I’ve retired, I’ve been in the best shape of my life.  

Since roughly 2020, I’ve struggled to hold on to those gains.  My top concerns are tinnitus, impending hearing aids, knee damage, and a family history of dementia.  

If I had told my younger self to take care of my hearing and my joints, my younger me would have smirked and insisted that I was already doing that.  Yet the hearing protection wasn’t enough, and excessive stretching can loosen ligaments too much.  I certainly wasn’t willing to cut back on the beer, despite the evidence linking excessive alcohol consumption to declining cognition.

I wish I’d started martial arts younger than my 40s.  (My daughter showed me the way with her friends who train taekwondo.)  It taught me about kinesthetics, flexibility, and the incremental gains of regular training.  I’d already learned how to get up off the mat after being knocked down.  

As much as I wish I’d grown up surfing, the lifestyle would have impeded my ability to make the gritty choices that got me into college and the submarine force.  I don’t know that life would have been worse, but it certainly would have been different.  

If I’d been surfing in my 20s then I would have struggled to show up for work.  It’s probably for the best that I never learned until I retired.

Image of Doug Nordman doing a Cheater Five on a longboard at White Plains Beach Oahu | MilitaryPersonalFinance.com

Physical therapy. And emotional.

Mentally:  I’m much happier!  I’ve overcome my hypercritical self-talk and made peace with most of my life mistakes.  I’m more challenged & fulfilled by tackling projects at my own pace.  I’ve adopted a much longer-term perspective and I’m comfortable about facing whatever the rest of my life brings.

I’ve also learned that the older I get, the less I know.  Life was certainly a lot easier when I was in my 20s and knew everything.

Emotionally:  My family agrees that I’m much easier to get along with and more fun to be around.  These days I’m rarely hijacked by my amygdala.  I can only imagine how much more I would have accomplished in my 20s with the serenity that I’m gaining in my 60s.  

I might be biased, but I think the most important impact on my family is that I’ll be less of a burden.  My spouse and I have done extensive disability and estate planning (because now we can afford to do it the way we want) so that she and our daughter won’t have to care for me the way that I had to care for my father.  

This makes me feel a lot better, too— I may be a nice spouse and a great parent, but it’s all about making sure that I take care of myself and my watchstation so that I can give a good turnover to my relief.

  • “How do you see your identity changing over the next 20 years?”

In the short term, I’m ready to shed the “landlord” identity.  My spouse and I have discussed this for over five years, and she’s already taken over 95% of the tasks.  (I’m still on call for yardwork, plumbing, and sewage.)  We’ll eventually outsource the rest, either to our daughter & son-in-law (thanks, guys!) or to contractors.  I’m willing to hang around for a couple more years to help with that turnover.

In the longer term (and more importantly), I’m going to level up from “military guide” to “living your financial independence.”  This post is one example of writing more about life after FI than about achieving FI, and for a bigger audience.  In addition to updating my first book, I have at least two more books in me.  I’ll be writing about something until I can no longer create a coherent sentence.  

We already have more money than we need for our lifestyle so we’re spending more on philanthropy and gifting.  We want to reduce our net worth until we need our cash flow for long-term care.  Frankly, we might not need it for long-term care if cardiac or cancer issues hit first.

Demographically, I probably have less than 20 years of slow travel left.  I doubt we’ll have Star Trek transporters by then, so I’m going to have to count on virtual reality.  

I’m still surfing as much as I can handle, currently 2-3 times per week.  I’ve finally started catching waves on a stand-up paddleboard (in addition to my longboards), and that’s an outstanding core workout.  When I coordinate surfing with yardwork and walking, that’s enough exercise to stabilize my joint muscles and preserve my mobility (despite my arthritic knees and hands).  Judging from the surfing crowd at White Plains Beach, I’ll keep paddling something out onto the ocean as long as I can.  I’m talking about people like Rabbit Kekai, Doc Ball, and Woody Browne.

My spouse and I have a few more long-term goals:

  • Be retired longer than we were in uniform.  (We both joined the Navy through the U.S. Naval Academy, and she stayed in the Reserves until she had 25 good years.  That means hanging on to the year 2026 for me and 2038 for her.)
  • Collect more pension deposits than paychecks.  (Bonus:  adjust the numbers for inflation.)
  • Join the roster on our alma mater’s ten oldest alumni.
  • Join the Navy’s listing of centenarian sailors.
  • I want to write at least one more 20-year update, too!


I started gathering the questions for this post in November 2021.  At the time I expected to publish on 1 June 2022.  I usually format a blog post on Oahu, at home in my familyroom desk on my usual chair with my high-end desktop PC.

When I finally finished formatting this post and put it on the editorial calendar, we were in the second week of our two-month housesitting gig in Santa Barbara.  I wrote the majority of the post on my 11-inch iPad Pro sitting at the diningroom table with a view of the town all the way out to the Channel Islands.  

If I couldn’t see the next six months coming for this post, then I can’t wait to see what the next two decades bring for my second 20-year update!

What other questions do you have? 

About Doug Nordman

Author of "The Military Guide to Financial Independence and Retirement" and co-author of "Raising Your Money-Savvy Family For Next Generation Financial Independence."
This entry was posted in Financial Independence, Military Life & Family, Military Retirement, Money Management & Personal Finance, What Do You DO All Day?!?. Bookmark the permalink.

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