After 20 years of being told where you are going to live, retirement can be a shock. Suddenly, you can live anywhere. Let that sink in for a minute - anywhere.
Any house, any city, any state, for any reason. And no one can tell you no.
Now, pair that with the sudden reality that you also won't have a guaranteed job when you move. Or possibly access to a commissary, or nearby military medical facilities or the officer/NCO club, or the other very long list of benefits that come with living on or near base.
Suddenly, choosing a place to call your own when you take off that uniform can be very difficult.
If you Google the term, "Best Cities to Retire," you will find a lot of lists created with a lot of different standards.
My search brought up this sampling on U.S. News and World Report :http://money.usnews.com/money/retirement/best-places-to-retire
- Best place to retire for under $40,000 a year
- The 10 sunniest places to retire
- The 10 fast-growing retirement spots
- 10 places with the oldest population
- 10 places to retire on social security alone
- 10 best places for the wealthiest retirees
You get the picture. There is no one perfect place to retire. And these lists are tailored to large populations, not you and your particular situation.
So how do you choose?
After biting our nails through this decision and watching several friends do the same, here is our collective advice.
1) Assess your needs. What do military retirees often have that other retirees don't? Youth. If a soldier joins at 18 and leaves at year 20, that makes him a retiree at 38-years-old. Shuffle board and assisted living are not on his list of needs. However, good schools and active communities probably are. Take a hard look at what assets you are looking for in a community and if they are a good fit for your family as it grows and ages.
2) Look at the military connection. Some communities have better links to our old military lives than others. Is it important for you to be near a commissary, military exchange and on-base activities? That will shorten your list of places very quickly. If it doesn't matter, return to question 1.
3) Is your veteran injured? Veterans who retire because of medical reasons are going to need to be near a VA health care facility. It's that simple. Not necessarily in the same town, but if you know your service member is looking at numerous surgeries and lengthy hospital stays, you may want to make your proximity to these places a priority.
4) Family. Are there family members you want to live near or be far from? Now is the time to set those distances.
5) Employment. Will you work after your time in the service? For many families this may rank first on the list, to go where the job is. Remember, you have the ability to apply to many companies now and choose from the jobs you are offered. This isn't the military, you don't have to say yes.
6) Lifestyle. Do you scuba? Run? Hike? The military lifestyle often lets families live in some of the most interesting places on the planet and gives us the opportunity to develop great hobbies. If you have location-based hobbies you want to continue into retirement, this may play heavily in your decision.
The main point to remember is that finding your home after retirement is about finding a place that fits your own family needs, not that fits snuggly onto a top ten list somewhere. Those lists may give you an idea of places to search but ultimately finding the place where you belong can only be decided by you.
Our family's search led us to a small town, far from any place we knew, in a state where we had never lived. And it is perfect.