RT Cunningham


My Retirement Story, United States and Philippines

retirement I’m a retired American veteran who lives in two countries, the United States and the Philippines, depending on circumstances. My retirement story isn’t over and it can’t be while I’m still alive.

My story began in high school even though I didn’t realize it at the time. Things happen for a reason and that’s about all I can say about that.

High School and Retirement Not Even a Thought

Josie, my wife, and I are today living on an island next to the island where I spent three years attending high school in the 1970s. We’re living with our younger son (Jon) and his wife (Cathy) on the island of Oahu in Hawaii in Army base housing. It’s temporary, of course, because my permanent retirement home is in Olongapo, Philippines.

My first high school was on the island of Kauai, except for everything after the first two months of my senior year. I was continuously intrigued by the Marine Corps recruiters who would visit the school, which seemed to be weekly. I asked a lot of questions even when I wasn’t a target. They were interested in seniors, 12th grade students.

The rest of my senior year was in the podunk town of Coolidge, Arizona, named after one of the United States presidents. I signed up for service with the Marine Corps in January 1978, for delayed entry until after high school graduation.

The Marines Corps

I thought of nothing but getting through each day during the first few years in the Marines Corps. It wasn’t until I met Josie in the Philippines, after more than four years of service, that I started thinking anything at all about a future retirement. She already had a son, Joseph, who I subsequently adopted a few years after we married.

Even after we had a son together, I expressed my desire to get out of the service near the end of every enlistment. My field wasn’t promoting quickly and I saw military retirement as an end I couldn’t reach. Josie convinced me to reenlist each time because she knew that life outside the military was much harder than inside. She’d had an uncle in the Philippine Constabulary (which no longer exists).

My only retirement goal was to make it to 20 years, so I could retire. I reached that goal and retired from active duty in September 1998, itself more 20 years ago (meaning more than 40 years have passed). I was 37 years old (less than two months from 38) at the time, a much younger military retiree than most Americans.

After the Military

I participated in the 401(k) retirement plan with my first permanent, full-time employer after the military. When I quit that job and needed the money from it, it was like a dentist pulling a wisdom tooth. I vowed to never to let an employer control my money again.

My family was living in Phoenix, Arizona, from the day I was stationed there in 1992 until the day I sold our house in 2006. Neither of our children lived with us at the time.

I watched the housing bubble form and sold the house before it peaked. With a profit of around $100,000, Josie and I moved to the Philippines, built our house there and bought a new car. I’ve spent more time in the Philippines than Josie has since we moved there. She kept returning to the United States to her old job, living with one relative or another, until she finally quit at the end of 2014.

A New Retirement Life

Both of our children are married with wives in the United States. Joseph is a military dependent of an Air Force wife and has two children. Jonathan is in the Army with a military dependent wife and no children so far. Joe’s family is at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. We lived with them for several months before deciding to live with Jon and his wife at the Helemano Military Reservation in Hawaii.

Josie and I will be returning to the Philippines sometime in October or November 2020. If things work out for them, our children and their families will join us for a couple of weeks. It’s a plan without any guarantee of success. Plane tickets are expensive and military supervisors don’t always approve leave requests for the time periods needed.

Regardless, Josie and I only intend to remain in the Philippines until sometime in March of the following year. We want to be in the Philippines during the milder months of the year. March through June is just too hot for us now and the rainy (and typhoon) season starts right after that in Olongapo.

We hope to continue like this for as long as possible, splitting our time between the Philippines and the United States every year. Where we end up in the United States depends entirely on where our children are stationed. Both families will be transferred to new duty stations before we return, so round-trip tickets won’t work for us, costing us more than it should.

My Next Retirement Goal

My next retirement goal is to retire on a social security pension, a second retirement. I’ll reach that goal in a few years, with Josie several months behind me. I intend to draw that pension as soon as I can. With one deceased older brother, one deceased older sister and seriously ill older siblings under the age of 70, I’m not taking any chances. Why should I wait for the largest amount date and then only enjoy it for a few short years?

I didn’t start thinking seriously about the social security pension until recently. I’ll be 60 next year. and she’ll be 60 the following year. Josie and I survive quite nicely on my military pension and only because neither of us have any serious health issues. That could change and our social security pensions could help fill in some gaps.

We’re both covered by TRICARE, and we’ll both be covered by TRICARE For Life eventually. Luckily two hospitals near us in the Philippines, one in Olongapo and one at the Subic Bay Freeport Zone, accept TRICARE without any issues at all.

Other Notes

Josie is a dual citizen. She’s a United States citizen through naturalization and a Philippine citizen by reacquisition.

I obtained a permanent resident visa (in card form) shortly after moving to the Philippines in 2006. Although the visa never expires, I have to renew the card every five years, which means I shouldn’t leave the Philippines when it’s close to expiration. If I do, and it expires, I’ll probably have issues.

If I should have issues, I can still get a balikbayan visa as long as I travel with Josie, but it will only be good for a year. I don’t plan to spend a year in the Philippines the next time or the time after that. Of course, my travel plans depend on how much money I save for traveling.

Edited and updated. Originally published in May 2019.

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By RT Cunningham
December 9, 2019

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