How A Mini Early Retirement Helped This Veteran Find Her Voice

Ashleigh Evans thought she had her post-military life planned out. In mid-August of last year, she would step away from her six years of service in the Navy to enter Yale Nursing School, culminating a year’s worth of planning. But first, she had to finish delivering a ship she helped to build.

As that ship sailed to Florida for the commission, it grazed another vessel. Despite no major injuries, her superior officer was immediately replaced, and another Captain took the helm. He didn’t want her to leave as soon as she had planned, delaying her departure. Instead of weeks to figure out her living situation for school, take a breath from military life and see people that she hadn’t seen in months-to-years, she was expected to condense that into a weekend.

She had no choice but to remain on ship. Instead of trying to rush into nursing, however, she decided to use funds that she had earned through a sale of an income property to take what’s referred to as a mini retirement in the financial independence, retire early (FIRE) movement. In the gap year, she would travel to a dozen countries in an effort to make up for lost time. But instead, she found herself lost. Evans credits the FIRE movement – both with instilling a mindset of saving as well as providing a community – in giving her the strength to open up about issues she faced as a Black female in the military, while also improving her position, so when she starts school in August, she’ll be ready.

Recommended For You

While many people view the super-saving, side-hustle approach to reaching a level of savings that allows one to step away from the day-job as the end-all, be-all goal of FIRE, it’s often not what many take away from the freedom the money provides. For others, the goal to reach a specific benchmark isn’t the ultimate purpose. Instead, it’s the independence that striving to that end goal offers along the way.

This independence provides some security from macroeconomic issues, like a recession or COVID-19, as well freedom in personal interactions, planning and standing up for what one believes in. For Evans, it not only allowed her time to determine what she needed in life, to ensure her happiness, but also provided her the freedom to speak out against things she disagreed with.

The Decision To Delay Nursing School

A few years prior to leaving the Navy, Evans had bought a house via a tax lien. After a year waiting for the house to transition to her, she then updated it and rented it out to others. It was her first foray into real estate investing, and her first step into taking ownership of her own career and finances.

Prior to that, she had spent her entire adult life in the Navy. Her paycheck was secure. But it came with plenty of concessions on her time and needs.

As she began to consider leaving, after failing out of nuclear power school, she thought about nursing school. She applied to Yale and was accepted. Her mind was made up: She decided to step away. But she had the freedom to do so because of the $90,000 she made when she sold the first house she owned. Also, she spent her last year in the Navy reducing all her debts and getting her retirement planning in place. Plus, she had another house she rented out and planned to buy a new home in Connecticut, while in school.

But after the falling out with the new Captain, she didn’t receive any honors one typically receives when stepping away from a commissioned ship she had a hand in building. This stuck with her. And with just a weekend to turn her mindset to nursing, she realized, “I don’t have to start school like this.”

Because she had the $90,000 and few debts, she had enough to afford a mini retirement to make sure she would be prepared for nursing school in 2020. The school understood her delay.

Her Time Away

After Evans decided to wait on nursing school for a year, she immediately booked a trip to Africa. In the months that followed, she would travel all over the continent and parts of Europe, with stops in South Africa, Qatar, Zambia and Morocco, among others. It’s a trip many dream of taking. But while staying in Marrakesh, she suddenly found herself unable to leave her room.

She had also decided to join the reserves. After Marrakesh and a brief stint state-side, she had to report to Italy for training. This decision brought back many of the unaddressed issues she felt about her Navy career. Evans wouldn’t leave her room until night, and only to quickly grab dinner before returning to her Airbnb. She couldn’t stop replaying the end of her time in the military.

“I think the biggest reason,” Evans said, was that “I always tried to do the right thing. When I didn’t report some of the things I experienced in my career, I really struggled.”

By the time she returned to the states, she had also spoken to many of her mentors in the FIRE community. She realized that one thing financial independence offered was the freedom from fear of reprisal. If she didn’t have a financial concern, it wouldn’t hold her back from doing what was right. “I almost see financial independence as life insurance,” Evans said.

She realized she no longer needed to fear such a financial pushback.

Addressing Her Time In the Navy

As a military officer of color, she experienced racial “micro-aggressions,” Evans said.

These moments, like a subordinate telling her without repercussion that she, a Black officer, wasn’t respected, initially led her to rethink her service. She felt the only way she could escape this day-to-day threat was to ensure she had the option not to work. That, along with an urge to become a millionaire, is when the idea of buying homes, renovating them and renting them out began to appeal to her.

She now owns two places, one that she also lives in and will rent out. But her moves towards financial freedom didn’t protect her from her thoughts about the Navy. Instead, she realized she had to speak up for herself, even if it didn’t result in change. She filed a complaint with the Navy, related to her departure, as well as a sexual harassment incident. While the Navy ruled against her claims, “I made the report, which was my part,” Evans said. “Whatever happened afterward I didn’t particularly care.”

She also credits the Black Lives Matter protests that have rung across the country since May, after the killing of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis, Minn., for giving her the courage to speak out. 

“The freedom to be an activist is one I don’t really take lightly anymore,” Evans said. “If you’re not afraid to lose your job because you’re FI, I think you should speak up for what’s right. Because those who aren’t FI, won’t.” 

Her efforts have allowed her the freedom to address her mental anguish, buy her houses, join nursing school and, next time she’s in Italy, eat pizza, morning, noon and night.

Comments are closed.