This week’s Ten Questions interview is with Doug Nordman, author of The Military Guide to Financial Independence and Retirement, which you can find on Amazon. He also created the website: The Military Guide, which is now administered by Curtez Riggs. Back when he was on active duty, Doug was a nuclear engineer on submarines for 20 years before he retired in 2002. Since his military retirement, he has spent his free time (virtually all of it is free, since he never took on a post-military career) trying to help military families discover financial independence. Let’s hear what Doug has to say.
- What’s your military background? Career, family, etc.
I served 20 years in the U.S. Navy’s submarine force and retired from active duty in 2002. My spouse was on active duty in the Navy’s Meteorology and Oceanography community and then finished her 25 years in the Reserves. She retired in 2008 and her Reserve pension starts in 2022.
Our daughter was commissioned into the Navy’s surface warfare community in 2014 and just finished her tour aboard a destroyer in Rota, Spain. She’s starting Nuclear Power School next month and will serve another tour on an aircraft carrier. Her spouse is also a surface warrior, so they’re working on collocation.
- What is it that you wanted to do after you left active duty?
When I was getting ready to retire, I worked through all the discovery and self-assessment materials at our Transition Assistance Program. They concluded that I’d make an excellent nuclear engineer or program manager. I’d had enough of that! My spouse and I had always tried to maintain a high savings rate (at least one of our paychecks), so we refocused on reaching our financial independence. After a good hard scrub of our expenses and our investments, we decided that we were close enough. The last 14 years (including two recessions) have worked out better than we ever expected.
- What is it about your service experience do you think has best prepared you for your transition?
The military has equipped us with the discipline and persistence to reach our goals. I’ve also learned a lot about coping with adversity and how to overcome failure. Submariners get plenty of practice at handling casualties, deadlines, and other stress. All of this adds up to the ability to make a plan and the confidence to carry it out.
- Think of the most challenging part of your life to this point. What is it that you’ve done that helped you through it?
In the first half of my career, my biggest challenges were getting qualified. I failed almost every major exam or board before succeeding on the second attempt. In the second half of my career, though, our biggest challenge was raising our daughter and reaching a work/life balance. She completely realigned our priorities and helped us figure out what was really important to us.
- On a scale of 1 to 10, how confident are you (or were you) in your financial situation as you transitioned?
Like the Marshall amplifiers in the Spinal Tap movie, today our confidence is up to 11! In the 1980s we used workbooks and primitive spreadsheets, but by the 1990s we were working with retirement calculators and Monte Carlo financial projections. We were a little conservative during the first few years of retirement, but today (after two recessions) our projections have worked out and our net worth is higher than ever.
- What’s (or was) your biggest fear about your transition?
Once we had a handle on our retirement expenses and our investments, our next question was “What would we DO all day?!?” This turned out to be the easiest fear to deal with because we were very busy with parenting and volunteering. On the day I retired we took family surfing lessons, and I was hooked.
After a couple years I started reading Internet forums about financial independence and early retirement. One of the forums inspired Bob Clyatt to write “Work Less, Live More”, and I joked that we should write one for the military. With the crowdsourced help of over 50 other servicemembers, veterans, and families, I drafted “The Military Guide To Financial Independence And Retirement”. I started the blog in late 2010 to market the book, and I’ve been helping people ever since.
- If Doug Nordman had one question that someone could (or could have) answer for you (not doing something for you, but a question that they could answer), what would it be?
Back in 2002 the question was “What are we overlooking in our plan?” (Answer: Nothing!) The next question was “What safe withdrawal rate should we use?” (Answer: 4%.) This was back before the Trinity Study or the 4% Safe Withdrawal Rate concepts were part of mainstream media.
- What would you like to see “out there” that doesn’t exist, but if it did, it would solve a big problem for you, and other people like you?
My second book, of course. It’s tentatively titled “The Military Guide To Making Good Insurance Decisions”, and I’m seeking more personal stories and advice from my readers.
But seriously, I think the biggest help to military families would be mandatory enrollment in the Thrift Savings Plan. (This has worked well for federal civil service employees since 2010.) Fewer than half of today’s military even has a TSP account, let alone contributes regularly to it. Mandatory enrollment will force servicemembers to think about their transition and actually do more to reach their own financial independence. Below is a link to an article that discusses the benefits to using a Roth TSP to build your retirement savings.
- What person has helped you through your military career and/or transition the most?
My spouse, of course! Marge and I pulled in dual-military harness to reach our goals. She taught me a lot about investing, and then I learned even more about the latest research and techniques. Starting a family forced us to grow up and get serious about financial independence. I built a lot of spreadsheets and ran a lot of simulations, and she was always able to ask those thoughtful questions about our financial planning.
- Do you want to be contacted by people who think you might be able to help them? If so, how do people get in touch with you?
- Facebook: Military in Transition,
- You can also post to the book’s Facebook page!
- Website: The-Military-Guide.com
- E-mail me at: [email protected]
- Twitter: You can follow me at: @TheMilitaryGuid
I hope you enjoyed this week’s interview with Doug Nordman. Doug’s a great guy, and brings a wealth of knowledge into every conversation. It’s been great to talk with Doug on various financial topics, and he spends a lot of time online helping people answer questions.
If you’d like for me to interview you for an article, please leave a comment or send me an email. As always, if you liked this article, please feel free to subscribe to this blog, where you can automatically receive articles as they’re published. Until next time, take charge of your life!