The Real Cost of Moving

June 17, 2020

Photo by Stephenie Wade, U.S. Transportation Command


Every move can set a military family back about $5,000. That’s money they’ll never be reimbursed for and will never recover. And military families move, on average, every two to three years. MFAN has collected data from military families over the past four years that shows that financial stress is a primary burden during the permanent change of station (PCS) process.  


Families have to pay for some of their own moving expenses, absorb the costs of loss and damage to belongings, and struggle with finding spouse employment to replace lost incomes. This PCS season, with the still-unknown effects of the confusion created by the PCS halt and existing financial strife due to COVID-19, promises to be even worse. 


“We had to borrow money just to get by and now we’re paying them back for a year. We’re in more debt than ever before but this move was from stateside to overseas, and we were told it would be more expensive,” said the spouse of a Navy active duty member living OCONUS. 


Data Shows the Financial Impact of Moving 


MFAN released data today that uncovers more about the impact frequent moving has on military families. Eighty-four percent of active duty family members who responded to our 2019 Military Family Support Programming Survey said that they had moved within the past two years. Thirty-six percent of respondents said they had moved within the past 12 months.  


Respondents reported that, on average, their unreimbursed, out-of-pocket expenses during a move were almost $2,000 and that their average financial loss over and above claims for lost and damaged items during the move was almost $3,000. And, 68% of respondents said that their possessions—furniture, keepsakes, and other items—were damaged during the move, and some of those items could not be replaced.  


“Movers lost one leg of a table and reimbursement tried to just pay us the value of that leg, which is silly. It rendered the table unusable,” said the spouse of an Army active duty member in Washington.


Photo by Stephenie Wade, U.S. Transportation Command


Military Families Can’t Get Ahead 


Moving creates hardships for military families. Lives are uprooted. Jobs are left. Friends are left behind. Some of this is an unavoidable aspect of military life. But there’s a financial hit that accompanies moving, too, and it creates a situation that makes it hard for military families to save money and prepare for their futures. That’s a problem that has solutions 


MFAN suggests that military families be provided with more information about the actual costs of moving and the steps families can take to prepare for a PCS. Additionally, efforts should be made to improve the reimbursement process so that families are fairly compensated for lost and damaged items and so that reimbursement payments are made in a timely fashion and with less paperwork. Finally, as the PCS process shifts to one centralized moving company, oversight, transparency, and performance metrics that recognize families’ experiences during their moves should be incorporated. 


Seeing more of the country and the world can be a tremendously positive experience for many military families, but the financial costs associated with moving every few years can prevent military families from saving money and making smart financial decisions. 


“It is a substantial setback. It usually takes us three to four months to ‘reset’ after moving due to security deposits, cleaning the old house, pet deposits at the new place, setting up electric, buying pantry supplies, etc.,” said the spouse of a National Guard / Reserve member in Minnesota.