Preparing to Retire with John Bell


Nobody wants to retire broke.

So we crunch numbers, watch our investments like a hawk, and stress over every detail of our finances to make sure we retire securely.

There’s no denying how important your finances are when it comes to retirement.

But why stress about finances, when you can open your heart to God instead?

Today’s guest John Bell is preparing for retirement in an unusual way. But not in the way you might expect.

In this episode, you’ll discover how your relationship with God helps you retire peacefully (even if you don’t have a clear plan).

Listen now.

Show Highlights Include:

  • The 13-to-87 rule for building wealth for retirement ([4:00])
  • One “useless” degree that gives you a head-start in almost any area of your career ([4:23])
  • The “God Heuristic” for confidently choosing the next step in your career path (even if you have no idea what you should be doing) ([6:23])
  • Why wealth doesn’t affect your happiness (but the direction of your wealth does) ([12:10])
  • The surprising reason faith in God may prevent “retiree’s heart” ([18:29])




Do you want a wealthy retirement without worrying about money? Welcome to “Retire in Texas”, where you will discover how to enjoy your faith, your family, and your freedom in the State of Texas—and, now, here’s your host financial advisor, author, and all-around good Texan, Darryl Lyons.


Darryl: Hey, this is Darryl Lyons, CEO and co-founder of PAX Financial Group. I appreciate you tuning into Retire in Texas.

I have to give you the disclosure today as usual. This information is general in nature only. It’s not intended to provide specific tax, investment or legal advice. Please visit PAXFinancialGroup.com for more information. Certainly, thank you for PAX for sponsoring this program. If you need to speak to one of our advisors, text “Texas” to 74868. That’s “Texas” to 74868. [01:01].8]

I’m happy to have John Bell here with me today. Now, he is not officially retired, but he’s creeping up on that, so I really wanted and I was looking forward to this conversation since I heard you agreed, because you come from a perspective of somebody who’s preparing for the transition. We’re going to get to that in just a second. We work with a lot of people from USAA, so I think it’ll be interesting for people to capture some of your notes.

But before we go into what you’re doing today in your transition, tell me, are you originally from San Antonio?

John: No, no. My wife and I discovered San Antonio after we’d gotten married, been married about a year or so and I went into the military, and the military introduced me to San Antonio.

Darryl: What branch?

John: Air force.

Darryl: Okay, thank you for serving. Were you stationed at Randolph or Lackland?

John: Yeah, I went through officer training school at Lackland Air Force Base, the Medina Annex, and then went over for my first assignment at Randolph.

Darryl: Okay.

John: Left San Antonio, came back for another assignment at Lackland, and left again and came back for the third assignment at Lackland, so we’ve been in and out of San Antonio since the early 1980s. [02:11].6]

Darryl: Lackland, for those that aren’t from San Antonio, would be found on the west side of San Antonio.

John: That’s correct.

Darryl: Did you live out in that area at the time?

John: Yes.

Darryl: Castroville?

John: No, actually we lived on base for one of the tours and lived up on the north side of town for the other and I just commuted in.

Darryl: Yeah, okay. Boy, have you seen it develop over the years, right?

John: Yeah, there has been incredible development, especially that stretch between the north west side, all through the northwest side, down to 151 and even the Highway 90 corridor.

Darryl: Unbelievable.

John: It has been.

Darryl: Was it over 20 years that you were in active duty?

John: I was, 24.

Darryl: Twenty-four. Thank you again for serving.

John: You’re welcome.

Darryl: Were you stationed overseas, and what was your role?

John: My overseas assignment was in Ottawa, Canada, and it counts as overseas because it was out of the country and I could always rationalize it was over the river. [03:02].3]

Darryl: Yeah.

John: So, that was my one outside, official tour outside. I was in a very small career field, a very limited career field. It was behavioral science, so we did research, we did teaching. I did a lot of movement from San Antonio where we have done a lot of that research, the Washington, D.C. area, and Colorado Springs at the Air Force Academy.

Darryl: I always think of that type of research at Brooks City-Base.

John: That’s correct. That’s where half of our career field was at the time I came in, you’re exactly right, before they moved up to Wright-Patterson up in Ohio.

Darryl: That’s right, yeah.

John: But I was on the other part of it that did– the best way to describe it to a civilian who says, “What in the world is a behavioral science officer?” it’s industrial organizational psychology, and maybe that’s not a good descriptor, but it’s dealing with people, organizations, the effectiveness of how effective people are in their roles. It’s a lot of social psychology, in an applied sense. [04:01].0]

Darryl: I find that fascinating. In our field, I’ve really rooted my last 10 years of education in the area of behavioral finance and understanding human behavior relative to money, and what we’ve identified is that when it comes to money results, it’s about 13% math and about 87% behavior.

John: Yeah, behavior and social science is so underrated I think. Many people ask the question, “What do you do with a social science degree?” and I say, “Whatever you do in life, you’re going to be dealing with people in a social-science, social-psychology environment, so it can only be good for you.”

Darryl: It’s obviously ever-evolving, the understanding of the social sciences, because humans are so irrational, and so we try to understand it. You can certainly correct me if I’m wrong, but we try to improve the odds of organization results by understanding general human behavior.

John: Right.

Darryl: And so, I find that to be fascinating, both from a behavioral finance perspective of helping people accomplish their financial goals, but what you’re talking about is from an organization perspective. [05:06].8]

John: Right.

Darryl: How with this group of people, we can help them to maximize their efficiencies.

John: Right.

Darryl: When you retired after 24 years, did you know you were going to go to USAA?

John: No, not exactly. When it was time to retire, and that’s interesting in itself, I didn’t have to retire from the military when I did, but we were at such a good place in San Antonio and in our lives. I had another assignment coming up, which was a very good assignment, but it was going to be out of state in an area we didn’t necessarily want to go for the consideration of our family, where our kids were in school. We were connected with a church. We liked our community.

We liked San Antonio and that’s the reason we kept coming back here for three tours of duty. It grew on us and we thought this was a good place, and we knew that we would get back to San Antonio for retirement, so why not do it on our time, as opposed to when the government tells me that it’s time to retire? [06:04].3]

Darryl: That makes sense, and at 24 years, you had earned a pension, a retired pay along with TRICARE for life, and so you were in a wonderful position to just be patient, identify an organization that could benefit from your skill sets, and so USAA. That makes sense. How did you decide that USAA was the employer of choice? And also, how did they match your skill sets?

John: I like to take credit for that, but a theme that goes back in my life that I honestly believe is I’m not the smartest person on making those life decisions. I really have taken seriously what I’ve learned from my youth, which was to pray that God is going to guide me to the right place to be at the right time.

And I say that seriously, but kind of tongue in cheek also. I don’t know if I would’ve been smart enough to direct my career path the way that it has. Somebody says, “How did you do that?” I say I simply looked for the doors that God was opening and not being stubborn on the ones that He was closing. [07:09].5]

So, when it came up to retirement, I had a sense of peace about retiring, which is uncommon for me. I like to plan. I like to know what the next step is. Where am I going? What’s ahead of me? But there was just a peace about the retirement at that time, even though we were entering into the unknown. We knew we wanted San Antonio. We knew there were a lot of great places around here to work, H-E-B, government, civilian government, USAA, UTSA, there were a number of places, and every place that I applied or looked at, I threw myself into and thought, this is where God wants me to be.

Finally, there were certain doors that were closed, even ones at USAA that were closed, and then one that was open, and I just look back now and I think that was God’s doing that there was an open door there, and I’ve enjoyed it. I think they’ve used me well. [08:02].3]

Darryl: I love that and you’ve just reminded me that I didn’t really digest your background that well. You’re originally from where?

John: Kind of all over. My dad was military.

Darryl: I was wondering about that, yeah. Air force?

John: No, he was Navy and I learned the lessons from the Navy that I went Air Force.

D” Okay, yeah.

John: And that is that there is just so much family separation. He was separated when he was on ship. He was separated when he was with the Marines. He was a chaplain, so he went wherever the troops were and there was a lot of family separation. I remember him saying, he said if he had it to do over, he says he loved his career, but he said he would’ve preferred a service where there was less family separation, because he was very much of a family man.

Darryl: Now, I can imagine and I could be way off base here, did he get a chance to hang out with Bob Hope?

John: We saw Bob Hope a couple times when we were overseas in Guam and Bob Hope was coming through to do his Christmas tours. That was a highlight.

Darryl: I can imagine.

John: He was just an incredible guy and to be able to… It wasn’t actually a hangout. We were hanging out with probably thousands of other people there. [09:10].0]

Darryl: I’m going to call it a hangout.

John: But it was cool. It was really neat.

Darryl: I think that over the years I’ve learned to almost get teary-eyed thinking about … we think about the troops that go overseas and the sacrifices they make, but I think I’ve underestimated the family dynamic of being separated for an extended period of time and the toll that takes on families and the kids and the sacrifice.

John: It does, and that’s why the divorce rate and the marital-difficulty rate in the military is higher than it is in the population as a whole, because of some of those, the family separations and the stress, and even when the family members are together, you are on call 24/7 in some jobs more than others and you’re out in the field and they say, “I’m with my family. I’m stationed with my family.” But the family is not seeing you very much, so it takes a toll on some people more than others.

Darryl: Your father was a chaplain. Did your mother work? [10:02].0]

John: She did and most of the time not. She did during one of our tours when she taught school and this was overseas, and she was working outside the home as a teacher in the school, but most of the time, she was a stay-at-home mom.

Darryl: With an active-duty chaplain father, Navy, and a mother who periodically worked, this is a middle-class family.

John: Very much middle class, yeah. We always knew that there were people who were better off than we, but we also knew that there were people who had a lot less than what we did, and my mom and dad, but my mom, in particular, would always let us know that to be grateful, be thankful for what you’re given and to give back.

Darryl: I’m going to loop back around to those thoughts because you hit a few good points in that commentary. But I did want to know, you’re married?

John: Yes.

Darryl: Kids?

John: Three kids. They’re all grown, all married, and one grandchild and one grandchild on the way.

Darryl: Congratulations.

John: So, we’re living the good life. [11:02].2]

Darryl: Did any of them go on active duty?

John: No, I never could instill that in them. They were always happy just being military brats. They were proud of my service. They were proud of their upbringing in the military, which isn’t always a given.

You ask a military brat, a kid, a child of a military family, “Was that a good experience or bad?” and half of them will say, “It was great. I got to see the world. I was making friends all over. I learned flexibility and all of those good things that you can imagine.” The other half looked at it from the glass half full, glass half empty. They would say, “I was having to move around all the time. It was terrible. I changed schools so many times. I lost friends. There was no stability in my life.”

So, there’s a very interesting behavioral dynamic, too. How is it that the same experiences can affect one person very positively and the person in the same family very differently? It’s incredible to me, those differences, and sometimes you just attribute it to the parents. How did they handle it? But then sometimes it’s a dynamic that goes beyond what the parents did. Fascinating. [12:10].6]

Darryl: I’m going to double click on that and you and I can behavioral-science some stuff, nerd out, I’m sure, on some exit ramps.

John: Yeah.

Darryl: But it reminds me of a part of behavioral finance study. If a man, and I’m going to use a man and woman interchangeably, it doesn’t really matter, if a man had $9 million yesterday and today he has $5 million, and a woman had $2 million yesterday and now has $5 million, regardless of their gender, they both have $5 million today. Which one is happier?

Let’s say it’s $2 million, it doesn’t matter, but one had $9 million yesterday. Now he has $5 million. The second one had $2 million. Now, I’ll say, he has $5 million. They both have the same amount of money, so economics says, an economist says they’re equally happy. They both have $5 million. But the result is one came down from $9 million and the other one came up from $2 million, and it sounds very logical to us, but the challenge in behavioral finances is hearing the story behind the story to really understand what’s going on. [13:03].8]

To your point, say all that to your point, it’s that many people might say it’s a great experience, but it’s really contextual relative to how the whole family dynamic was, the parents, how they interacted and how they portrayed things. If the dad was disconnected while he was TDY, if the mom was engaged. You’re saying, from your experience, maybe half of them, just generally speaking, I mean, I know this is just off the cuff, but –

John: Right, generally speaking.

Darryl: – half of them were maybe frustrated with their experience and the other half– But your kids, on the other hand, were indifferent. They probably appreciated it. They just decided not to go active duty.

John: Oh yeah, yeah. I think they liked their military experience from their perspective, but they all realized it just wasn’t for them and I can appreciate that.

Darryl: And some of that has to do with the economic environment when there’s a lot of jobs available. I know that. How old are your kids, by the way?

John: My oldest is 37, 32, and 30. That’s a tricky question. [14:03].3]

Darryl: That was pretty good, yeah.

John: Yeah, I know—37, 32 and 30 are their ages.

Darryl: They generally came out at a good economic time in the marketplace.

John: [Yeah.]

Darryl: Okay, so now you’re at USAA, and you’ve been at USAA for how long?

John: Fifteen years.

Darryl: Fifteen years.

John: Almost 16, yeah.

Darryl: And so, you’ve retired once, which was a totally different dynamic and now you’re kind of looking on the horizon saying, “There’s another chapter that God has in store for me and I’m going to…” I mean, we may not retire, but we might pivot and do something differently.

John: Yeah.

Darryl: How do you prepare for that? What are you thinking about right now?

John: That is great and I do think about that all the time. In fact, my whole life has been “What next? What next? What next?” enjoying what I’m doing, appreciating where I am in the moment, but always looking at what is going to be next. “What does God have in store for me?” The reason I think that way is I need to be preparing. I need to be doing, setting myself up so that I can move into that opportunity, if and when it happens, and if it doesn’t happen, guess what? I still think I’m better for it. [15:03].5]

Right now, I’ve always had a passion to teach. In fact, my original career plan was to be at a college or university. Those doors just didn’t open. Others opened, and, ironically, it opened so that I didn’t go into a college or university. I went into the military, and guess where I ended up? I ended up at a language school. I ended up at the Air Force Academy. I ended up at the medical school.

All of it was education-related and I’m thinking, now, there again you could look at it “God, I didn’t get my way” and God could be saying, “What are you talking about? I put you in educational institutions and even now working with academic things.” I teach on the side also at Wayland Baptist.

Darryl: Oh, wonderful.

John: If you were to say, “So, what do you want to do in the future, John?” I can see that if and when my current employment ends, I would just teach full time, either connected with a church or connected over at Wayland. I just love doing that. [16:01].4]

Darryl: What’s neat about that opportunity, although I’m sure you would much prefer kneecap to kneecap in an audience in front of you, but today you could teach at any university –

John: I know.

Darryl: – through remote learning.

John: We have learned that very, very quickly at USAA. We were very traditional with our way of training. It was face-to-face in-person training we’d call it, and the pandemic hit where we had to pivot, and I’ve got to say, we did an incredible job of picking up that technology and using it the best that we could. We’re not perfect with it and we started out slow, but we did it and it’s been an eye-opener for all of us to say, “You know what? You can do this. You can make it work.” It’s a little bit different.

Darryl: That’s right.

John: You’re going to use some muscles that you haven’t used before, but it can be done if you hang in there and you get smart about it, and you learn from pros who do it all the time.

Darryl: Have you considered any university? I’m kind of putting you on the spot here, but I love the idea of the academic side. [17:07].8]

John: <crosstalk>

Darryl: Yeah, it’s just fascinating to me. You go to a university campus. I was at Harvard two weeks ago, and you just go there and it’s just different.

John: There’s something different about being there.

Darryl: Just something different there.

John: Yeah.

Darryl: By the way, you should see all the references to our Christian faith at Harvard. It blows me away, but that’s another topic.

John: They need to read those sometime, right?

Darryl: I’m with you. I love the university and I’ve always been connected to the university and academic environments, so I get where you’re coming from. Can you find yourself, would you be able to find yourself doing it virtually and still get that same appeal or do you feel that that’s lost?

John: I could. I mean, I could do the mechanics of it. Yeah, I’m not sure how it would affect me long term. I really don’t know because I love that face-to-face where I can see them right up close. I can see what they’re thinking. They can see how I’m thinking and where we’re going with this, and I love that. Now, can it be done?

Darryl: Sure.

John: It can be done.

Darryl: Here’s what I like and I’m going to get into another commentary relative to financials. But I love that you have– it’s an opaque, to a certain degree, vision of what the next chapter looks like, with a lot of flexibility for God to do the work, based on your track record of God doing a lot of the work in the past, right? [18:13].8]

John: Yeah, true.

Darryl: You’re like, Okay, I know I’ve got something on my heart and I know it’s there, but I’m going to let the Lord do it, because over the track record of my life, that’s kind of how He works.

John: He’s kind of proven that He knows what he’s doing, so why should I try to move into the driver’s seat at this point?

Darryl: That’s actually very profound. I hope other people are picking that up, because we hold these next chapters in our life with very tight fists and it creates so much anxiety and worry, and you’ve just looked back and reflected enough to say, “You know what? I’m humble enough to know that the Lord has opened those doors and he will do that again.”

But here’s why I say that’s important, because research shows that there’s a 40% increase in heart attacks when people retire and it’s a direct result of people’s identity being rooted in their vocation, and when that transition happens, they just lose purpose and they don’t know who they are. [19:04].0]

But if you’ve created this idea, which is rooted in your experience in your creator over the last 30, 40 years of life, and you lean into that with a lot of trust and hope and optimism, but you have loosely held ideas of what you want to do, you’re going to be just fine.

John: I believe so.

Darryl: Now, financially, let’s shift gears here.

John: Sure.

Darryl: What I love about USAA, and I’ve loved them over the years, respected them, a lot of what we’ve modeled here at PAX is a direct result of my inspiration of USAA. I’ve seen them work, the way they’ve treated their members over the years, so they’re going to treat you well when you transition. There’s nice benefit packages. How do you, financially, personally, just without getting into some of the details, your family, how do you prepare for this transition? Is there anything that y’all need to do differently, like spend different or think about money different? What are you thinking about there? [19:50].5]

John: We’ve always been cautious. I was brought up that way. I mean, I remember from when my brother and I were young, our parents would always talk to us not excessively about money, but when we would get our allowance, which would be a big deal, we were always taught 10% off the top goes to your tithe. That goes to church. That goes to God. That’s his. I mean, He’s given you everything. Give 10% back. Then take some of it, too, and save it. Put it away because you don’t know what’s going to come later, and we always would do that, both my brother and me, and it’s served us well.

We’ve continued that. We appreciate everything that we have. We’re not frivolous with it, but we’re not overly tight with it also. But you take some for savings, you take tithe, the 10% for church, and other whatever else that is important to you out there, and then you spend the rest of it with joy, with thanksgiving.

Darryl: Yeah, yeah.

John: And as we look at retirement, we’ve kind of mapped out, how much will I get from my military pension? How much will I get from– I’m not on a pension at USAA because they did away with that – 

Darryl: They changed that. [21:01].6]

John: – right after I got there. But with my 401(k) –

Darryl: Nice matching program.

John: – with a nice matching program, and all very grateful for that. With those and with social security, if and when it comes, and I know that there’s uncertainty about that, but I think that we’re okay with that. We look at the package and we think we’re going to be able to do well. We’re not going to go out and spend extravagantly, but we’ll be able to live comfortably and to be able to do some of the other things we want to do as well.

Darryl: To your point, I’ve done some statistical analysis on social security and it’s all information that people can find online, but the probabilities of your age group are very high that you’ll get most of it. As you move down to forties, thirties, the probabilities go down, so I feel very comfortable saying you’re going to get social security.

John: Yeah.

Darryl: Then the question is, when do you take it, of course, and at what age? Then what’s nice is having that social security both for you and your wife, along with retired pay. That’s really just kind of a nice stable income, and then you supplement that with distributions from your 401(k). [22:03].6]

If you’ve gone into retirement without much debt, that doesn’t get much better. I mean, that’s amazing. In fact, if you take the present value of all your retired paychecks, I mean, it’s got to be worth $1.5 million to $2 million, and I don’t even know what yours is, but I’ve done it enough. Think about that. That’s unbelievable. So, really excited for you as being good stewards over the years.

That philosophy of 10% and then saving, I usually say give 10% and save 15%, and I’m sure you had some variation of that over the years.

John: Yeah, because as things come and go, when the kids go through college, it’s a little bit less.

Darryl: Oh gosh, yeah. Yeah, exactly.

John: And then, other times, when you get a bonus, you can make up for it, so we’re flexible in that. We’ve been flexible in that respect.

Darryl: Was it hard to teach your kids that or how is that transitioning?

John: Again, we’re very blessed that our kids have done well. My wife and I, hopefully, have taught them some good things going along, but they’ve always been surrounded by other good Christian people in church <crosstalk>.

Darryl: That’s amazing. [23:03].4]

John: It’s not just Mom or Dad saying these things, but I’m hearing it from other people, too, and they’re doing very well. They’re very thoughtful in their approach to money.

Darryl: I’m going to start to wrap this up.

John: Sure.

Darryl: Because I know we’re way over.

John: Oh, okay.

Darryl: This is on me, because I’ve enjoyed the conversation. Your next chapter, if you pivot, God’s got a plan. Ideally, you’re teaching and you’re spoiling grandchildren. Did I get that right?

John: That sounds good to me.

Darryl: Okay, we’re good. One last question before I let you go. I need to know this. What is your favorite salsa?

John: Our favorite salsa? We discovered Pace Picante Sauce –

Darryl: Pace.

John: – when we moved to San Antonio in the early-80s, and our tolerance for hot things has probably gone down some, but I remember we used to almost drink that stuff in the hot version. We loved it. We’ve experimented with others and all the variety of different flavors and everything. We still keep coming back to Pace original.

Darryl: Good ol’ Pace.

John: Good ol’ Pace.

Darryl: Good ol’ San Antonio.

John: San Antonio company. [24:01].6]

Darryl: I love it. This has been a joy for me. I really appreciate you being here and sharing your life. I took a lot of exit ramps that I wanted to go further, but I think I got a general idea and I’m really looking forward to watching this next chapter in your life.

John: Good. I am, too. Thanks. Loved the conversation.

Darryl: Thank you.

John: Thank you.

Darryl: And thanks again for listening to Retire in Texas. I appreciate you staying to the end. And one last thing before you leave today, I always want you to remember, you think different when you think long term. Have a great day.


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