It’s an old saying (and very cis-gendered), but it really rings true – “Your partner is not the holder of your financial security”.
When talking to my ideal clients, female military spouses, this can be a difficult concept to get them to take hold of. They are usually living their lives as the less-important income earner, following their military partners around Australia. They are used to putting their career aspirations on hold while they raise young children without the support of family close-by, using their time and energy settling children into new schools, friendship groups, extra-curricular activities, finding new medical professionals, hairdressers, supportive adult friends. They know all about re-starting jobs again and again, not having as much of an opportunity to rise up the ranks of a company before they move on again. Add that to the notion the serving member, their partner, has a steady career and gets great superannuation (retirement) benefits. A $300,000 retirement balance in your mid 30’s? That’s a whole lot more than the ‘average’ superannuation balance for mid-30’s men of $64,000.
As I said, when I talk to female military spouses about making sure they build up their own assets, it can all seem too much and not important enough.
So how to tackle this challenging and very important conversation? I can’t exactly start the chat with ‘well what if you two don’t stay together forever?’ or ‘what if your partner gets PTSD from their service, becomes physically and financially abusive to you and your children and you choose to leave without a claim on any of the joint assets in order to protect both you and your children’ (can you tell I’ve encountered this specific situation before?).
I find it’s best to come at this conversation with stories, and a whole lot of empathy. I use the specific example of the PTSD partner and ask them how they’d react if they were in that situation. I use the example of a friend, whose partner was medically discharged and they were thrust, as a couple with young children, from a stable income with good benefits, to both being unemployed in a new location with no family or friend support. I ask how they would support themselves if that were to happen.
I ask these questions not to remind them to look after themselves in case they split from their partner and have to go it alone financially, but to remind them to ask hard questions of some ‘what ifs’ in life. Usually there’s a catalyst that makes people change – you get sick, have an injury, a friend your age passes away, you have a near miss – but it’s a much safer option to make changes before there’s ever a catalyst, so you can adapt easier.
Living the military lifestyle presents some certainties – regular income, good retirement benefits, free healthcare for the military member, subsidised housing – but it also presents some serious unknowns. Higher risk of suicide, higher risk of life altering mental or physical injuries, higher rates of divorce. By helping military spouses figure out how to take control of their financial future, I’m bringing one more certain thing into their lives. Less stress, more options. That is a big part of why I’m a financial planner.