One of the things I wanted to do with this blog is to chronicle the transition from my military career to my new civilian career as a fee-only financial planner in the Tampa Bay area. One of my 2016 New Year resolutions is to start documenting this journey while I’m at the 18 month mark (my planned retirement date is September 2017, with my terminal leave starting May 1). I’ll plan to continue this journal until either: a) I can officially declare success with my financial planning career or b) I end up having to throw in the towel and joining the workforce.
With that said, this journal entry will be devoted to all the things that I’ve done so far. I started thinking about the possibility of retirement at approximately the 14 year mark, or 3-4 years ago. For a much longer time, though, I knew two truths:
1) My post-navy career would not ever involve working as a GS employee or as a government contractor. With that said, I have worked with many retired military personnel who made a complete transition to the GS or contractor world, and have much respect for many of them. Just not my cup of tea.
2) I wanted to own my own business. One of the reasons I didn’t want to be a contractor or civil servant was because that meant that I couldn’t own my own business. I’ve met people who have done it on the side, but I knew that wasn’t really me.
Along the way, I found myself in billets where I was helping Sailors with personal problems affecting their work. Many times, those personal problems were financial in nature, and there were a couple of times where it was just me and the Sailor sitting down to work through that issue so that he could go to work. At some point, I realized that being a financial planner was what I wanted to do after retirement.
Five years out, I started the coursework to become a certified financial planner (CFP), which normally takes 12-18 months. I figured that if I could get the education & exam behind me, then that would be one less thing to worry about. I also started drawing out a timeline of all the things that I needed to do, both personally & professionally, so that we could prepare for retirement.
Professionally, I started mapping out the education, certification, and other industry-related requirements. My goal was to have all of the education completed two years out so that I could focus on building the bones of my financial planning firm, networking, and marketing so that people would know that I exist. Financial planning is not a business where ‘if you build it, they will come.’ It requires a lot of time invested in relationship-building, networking, and establishing credibility so that when people have a problem, they think of you as a person who can help them. I wanted to have my last two years dedicated solely to this.
Personally, my wife and I had treated every permanent change of station (PCS) as if it may possibly be the place we retire to. However, we had decided upon Florida due to the weather, as well as the proximity to my mother. Timing-wise, my PRD matched up almost perfectly with the end of our three-year tour in Tampa. However, having this conversation periodically over the past 5 years gave me a better feel for when my family felt like settling down. If nothing else, you should take this away: When it comes to planning your military transition, your family’s preparedness is just as important as your professional preparedness, if not more so.
At the 3 year mark, we actually PCS’d to Tampa. In 2015, I completed the CFP exam and completed the enrolled agent curriculum. Enrolled Agents are federally licensed to practice before the IRS and have unlimited authority to represent a taxpayer before the IRS. The EA designation was particularly important to me because I believe that tax competence is something that can separate financial planners who want to create true value for their clients from all of the salesmen, reps, and ‘advisors’ who generally want to collect client assets under management, then collect a fee without actually earning it.
Also in 2015, I started my firm, Westchase Financial Planning. Westchase Financial Planning is a fee-only financial planning firm, registered in the state of Florida, and owned by my wife, Tania & myself. We have no broker-dealer affiliation, nor do we have any allegiance to any of the major advisory firms out there. It took about 2 months to register & incorporate the business, and another 3 months of working with the State of Florida’s Office of Financial Regulation to register as an advisory firm. There was approximately another 3-4 months of other stuff (establishing a business checking account, website development, printing business cards, etc.). Fortunately, I joined the Alliance of Comprehensive Planners, a network of like-minded fee-only financial planners, which provided me a business checklist to start with & work through. Second lesson learned: Knowing what to do and being able to go through an organized checklist is crucial to having an organized transition. In October 2015, my ADV (regulatory filing) was approved by the State of Florida, and I became a fee-only financial planner.
On the military side, I’ve told my mentors that I’m retiring, so there is no mixed message. If you’ve established a successful career, and you’ve still got promotion potential, it is important that you understand this–Until you are 100% committed to getting out, you need to keep any contrary thoughts to yourself. However, once you and your family make the decision, you need to tell your mentors as soon as possible so you can reach out for support during your transition.
The other military preparatory steps that I’ve taken are:
-Addressing my chronic medical issues. I’ve got allergies, so I’ve started an allergy shot regimen. I’m a year into a 3-5 year program. If you’ve got chronic medical issues that you’ve blown off, your last duty station is the place to catch up.
-Pre-TAP. I took pre-TAP so that I know what’s ahead of me when I go through TAP class. One thing that I learned in pre-TAP is that in addition to TAP, there are a couple of other beneficial classes that you can take. You can choose to attend seminars designed to help you go back to school, get federal employment, or in my case, establishing your own small business. Everyone advises taking TAP approximately a year out, so you should probably plan to take pre-TAP about 18 years out.
Now we’re caught up on what I’ve done to date. Future retirement journal entries will hopefully not be as long as this, but focused on my actions for that particular time. With that said, I don’t expect a regular post just to fill in space on my calendar, but an events-driven post that is updated based upon a particular milestone, or my thoughts on a transition-related issue. Even so, I expect to update this retirement journal at least once per month.
As a recap:
-Talk with your family long before you actually plan to transition. Talk often.
-Know what to do & follow a checklist. Or make your own.
-Once you decide, tell your mentors. They’ll support your decision, which will make you sleep better.
Until next time, think of the things you need to do, and try to get organized. Financially speaking, if you have a question, reach out and ask me.
Take charge of your life!