Money story: I achieved financial independence in the U.S. Navy

This guest post from Doug Nordman is part of the “money stories” feature at Get Rich Slowly. Some stories contain general advice; others are examples of how a GRS reader achieved financial success — or failure. These stories feature folks from all stages of financial maturity. Doug is the , author of The Military Guide to Financial Independence and Retirement and founder of

My name is Doug, and I’m a retired U.S. Navy submariner. I’m also financially independent.

I graduated from college in 1982 and spent most of the next five years in training or underwater. Like most military servicemembers, I had a steady income but very little free time. I knew how to save but I was very slow to learn how to invest.

My first ten years of active duty were challenging, fulfilling, and fun — but then my spouse and I started our family. When our daughter was born, my priorities changed and I wanted to have more family time. I was very surprised to learn that the work challenges were no longer as important to me, and the 60-hour workweeks (plus months at sea) were definitely ruining our quality of life.

Your Money or Your Life

In 1992, Joe Dominguez published Your Money Or Your Life. (It’s still at your local public library.) After reading it, my spouse and I realized that we could reach financial independence earlier than the traditional retirement age. We learned more about saving and investing and began fixing all the financial mistakes we’d made over the years. In 1996, when Tom Stanley started writing his Millionaire Next Door books, we added his advice to our toolbox.

My second “blinding flash of the oblivious” happened when I was nearing military retirement. I tried to figure out my next career by working through the typical self-assessment and interest-discovery tools. The discouraging results predicted that I’d make an excellent mid-level manager or nuclear engineer — pretty much how I’d spent the last 20 years.

I wasn’t interested in those careers (or, as it turned out, any employment at all). So, I reviewed our finances to see how much longer I needed to work. Unexpectedly, we found we were already financially independent and didn’t have to pursue bridge careers.

I retired in 2002 at the age of 41, when our daughter was nearly ten years old. On my first official day of retirement we gave ourselves the gift we’d been joking about for a few months: family surfing lessons. Much to my surprise, we were hooked. It’s a great way to spend time with your kids, and it’s an entire lifestyle! Today I surf at least twice a week and our daughter has been riding waves for over half her life. I plan to paddle out for the rest of my life.

Doug Nordman, surfing
Doug Nordman,…
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