… our lives were changed forever. No, no one has died. This is good life-changing news.
Did you expect something different with that title? Well, I’ve never been a fan of Sex and the City.
The big news is that my wife is changing jobs. That doesn’t seem big on the surface. She’ll still be in the Uniformed Services earning the same officer pay she has for about 9 years now (though it has been adjusted for inflation). One difference is that she knows she’s going to like this job a lot. How does she know? She did it for a few months in an emergency capacity to help with the COVID response. She’d end the work-day saying, “I like this (virtual) deployment better than my regular job.”
It seems that the feeling was mutual because they created a full-time position, called up my wife, and said, “We want you doing this full-time.” She got the paperwork in and it was finalized a few days ago.
This is a good time to catch you up on where she was with her career. She’s been passed over for military promotion eight times now. They keep asking her to do new things such as adding an MBA to her Pharm. D. It took years, but she did it. She became the president of a six-thousand-officer group and was invited to the White House this year (which is typical with that job duty). I go into a lot more detail about how we were hoping to receive the million dollar email. That’s roughly how much the promotion would be worth to us when you factor in current earnings and the future pension increase.
Since she has the pension and we’re in a good financial place she doesn’t need to work. With the combination of a job she didn’t enjoy, the rat race requiring her to do more and more unpaid work, and the annual promotion rejection, why should she stay? That’s why, back in January, we started to plan the exit: Can My Wife Retire? We’ve been saving cash to have as big of a cushion as possible.
As recently as late September, I wrote Where Do We Go From Here detailing how she’s in “for one more year” until her presidency term is up. That happens just around the time that the 2022 promotion list comes out in June. The conclusion is that we had another eight months or so to save cash and finally get out if she wasn’t promoted.
Big Changes All Around
Obviously, working at a job you like with you people you like will change your career outlook. She’s also getting out of all the extra committees and organizations that they recommended she have to get promoted. She’s done them all and it’s time to do less and give other people a chance to hold those positions. Those two big changes will do a lot to improve her work/life balance. That means that the push to retire isn’t as strong.
There’s one more thing though.
Military jobs have a thing called a billet associated with them*. The billet can be translated to General Schedule (GS) levels of government work. Roughly, it equates to the importance of the position. Work at a higher GS level and you’ll get paid more. However, with the military, you are paid based on your rank, not the billet level of work that you do. Theoretically, you could be an O-7 (a top officer) in an O-3 billet and you’d get O-7 pay. You could be an O-3 (a lower-ranking officer) in an O-7 billet and you’d get O-3 pay.
My wife is an O-5 officer, but she’s been in an O-5 billet this entire century. When we moved to California in 2006 it was because we were both in bad work environments, but also because her job offer was an O-6 billet. When we got there they readjusted the billets across the board and it was reclassified as an O-5 billet. When we moved back to Boston in 2013 it was to get closer to our families with our first kid was an infant. But also, the job was an O-6 billet. They reclassified it as an O-5 billet again.
The elephant in the room about the promotion rejection has always been the billet. I’m convinced the promotion board looked at that and said, “This officer hasn’t progressed in 20 years. Why promote her?” The promotion board gives recommendations on how to improve (get an MBA for example) and that’s always been on there.
There’s never been a good solution to the billet problem. I have no confidence in the system – moving for a higher billet seems useless. Since my wife can choose where she works (a very unique position for officers), why uproot the family for a gamble that never seems to pay off? There have been very few local O-6 billets available. The ones that have come up are management positions in Boston – a two-hour, each-way commute from where we live in Newport, RI. My wife technically works out of Boston but has had a generous work-from-home policy (even before COVID) which made living here possible. Managers don’t get work-from-home, so it would be another 20 hours in a car.
The last four paragraphs were a long way of explaining, that this job is an O-6 billet. Officially. She’s accepted the job and is starting early next year.
Last year, they promoted 5% of the officers at her rank. From what we can gather about the scoring system, she would have had it if they promoted 5.2%. They used to promote around 20-25%, but the percentage has been shrinking every year. With the billet problem solved, it feels like this could be the year.
My wife surprised me with something else though.
Pensions are based on the average of the highest 36 months of your salary. If she got promoted she has always said that she’d stay the 3 years to maximize the pension. Now she’s saying that she’ll work another 7 years. We’ll see how that goes, but I wasn’t expecting that to be on the table. Running the numbers, the difference in lifetime earnings (salary plus pension) of retiring now and retiring with the promotion in 7 years is $2 million.
There are a lot of “ifs” and projections in this article. Maybe she won’t like the new job. Maybe they’ll somehow take the billet down again. Maybe she won’t get promoted. It’s impossible to know. However, it does appear to be life-changing right now.
* For any military people reading this, I’m a civilian and I’m going to make mistakes with the terminology, but this is an explainer of how I have understood it to work.