Wait, what? Why are we talking about the holidays in the summer? I’ll explain…
When I worked at the Airman & Family Readiness Center at Spangdahlem, AB Germany, a mentor and civilian colleague of mine used to say, “On December 26, we know the holidays are coming!”
He always thought it was interesting how the holidays created so much budgetary stress when theoretically we could be planning all year long for the inevitable. He was a retired Army Sergeant Major. And now, he’s retired from the Civil Service. So maybe saving is a little easier for him than the average person, but he did have a point. In many cases, we could apply the same logic to the largely inescapable reality of military life – PCSing.
Yes, there are short notice PCS orders. We’ve probably all heard horror stories from friends who have experienced this or maybe experienced it ourselves. But oftentimes, upon arrival at a duty station, we can estimate roughly how long we will have before we are called to a new city/state, maybe even new country. So, it behooves us to plan accordingly.
And the stakes are high. On June 1, 2022, MFAN released our reports on the Causal Factors of Military and Veteran Family Food Insecurity from Texas and the Tidewater region of Virginia. Over the course of 18 months, MFAN researchers conducted 312 interviews with military families in these areas to learn about their experiences with food insecurity. Through these conversations, MFAN discovered that a recent PCS was one of the primary contributing factors to families experiencing hunger and food insecurity.
Thousands of military families are preparing to move this summer, mine included. As we check off to-do lists and plug reminders into our calendars, what can we do to ensure we don’t find ourselves sliding down the slippery slope into a financial frenzy?
Plan for the Unexpected
When our family PCSed from Germany back to the U.S. in 2012, the officials at Frankfurt International Airport would not permit us to send our dog back to the states in the carrier we had, claiming it was too small. With no time to leave the airport to procure a carrier from a pet store, we were forced to purchase one at the airport for a major markup. If memory serves me well, it was around $300. Convenient? Yes. Affordable? Not so much.
This is an example of a PCS-related expense we could not have seen coming. During a military move, these situations are bound to occur. In recent years, the military aid societies have responded to this unique challenge and now offer pet transportation assistance. Visit Army Emergency Relief, Air Force Aid Society, Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, and Coast Guard Mutual Assistance to learn about loan and grant options that help you get your furry family members from point A to point B, wherever that might be!
Start Saving Soon
Financial counselors foot stomp the importance of an emergency fund whenever we get the chance because they are such an essential part of a solid financial plan. Without one, we risk racking up credit card debt, seeking loans that we otherwise wouldn’t need, and putting ourselves in vulnerable positions that impact financial readiness and, in some cases, military careers.
According to the data from MFAN’s 2019 Military Family Support Programming Survey, the average unreimbursed out-of-pocket expense during a move was $1,913. With inflation and high gas prices, it will be interesting to learn how this number may have changed when we publish the results of our 2021 Military Family Support Programming Survey on July 14, 2022.
If you’re about to PCS and you don’t have an emergency fund, you’re more than likely not going to be able to stow away almost $2,000 in a short period of time, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be proactive.
My recommendation: Look at the past three months of your expenses (sift through your credit card bills and bank statements) and categorize your spending into the following:
- Essential Needs (rent/mortgage, bills, food, gas, etc.)
- Non-Essential Wants (entertainment, luxuries (think mani/pedis), gourmet coffee, etc.)
Then, sum your non-essential spending. You may be surprised how quickly those non-essentials add up! Try eliminating non-essential spending before your PCS, even if only for a few weeks. This could give you a cushion for those unforeseen new dog carriers or other surprises your PCS throws your way.
Leverage Your Resources
While there will be expenses that will come out-of-pocket, Dislocation Allowance (DLA) can help offset some of the costs we incur as we set up our new households.
Military families often joke about needing new window treatments with each PCS as Kellie Artis, MFAN advisory board alum and COO of MILLIE, discussed in a PCS Expenses podcast earlier this year. And we know all too well how expensive it can be to restock the pantry, purchase cleaning supplies, set up utilities, and pay new childcare registration fees.
How much DLA you are eligible to receive depends on your rank and dependent status. Click here to learn more and see the 2022 rates. Just remember, when you receive it, be sure to allocate the funds responsibly (e.g. don’t buy that new TV you’ve been coveting)!
Another allowance you should know about is TLE, or Temporary Lodging Expense. It is designed to offset the costs of lodging and food in association with a PCS. It’s only authorized in the vicinity of the new/old duty station, so it’s ideal for when you’re still in town after you move out of your home or when you’ve arrived at your new duty station and your household goods haven’t arrived. Learn more about TLE here.
When I was setting up our renter’s insurance after a PCS to Georgia years ago, I remember telling the agent that we had a four-bedroom house, but that two of the bedrooms were unfurnished. She told me, “They will be!” And you know what, she was right. Eventually, we turned one into an office and another into a guest room.
A few years later, we moved from Georgia to Monterey, California. The challenge of going from a four-bedroom house to a two-bedroom loft apartment (with no garage or outdoor space) was tough. I quickly had to sell many of our possessions. While it’s a bit of a hassle, it can help bolster your savings account. Plus, decluttering can save you a bit of sanity when you’ve arrived at your new duty station. Thankfully there are plenty of online sites where you can post your items for sale, often to other military families in need of reasonable prices for gently used items!
Don’t be shy
My husband is always shy about asking for military discounts. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a restaurant, hotel, department store, you name it – he just feels funny about asking.
There are several populations that are often afforded special rates or tax breaks — students, teachers, first responders, seniors, and nonprofit organizations — to name a few. The discounts are there for a reason, so why not enjoy them? And even if the savings seem small for each transaction, they add up in the end.
A current example: We are staying in a hotel for our last few days here in Las Vegas, Nevada that offers a 15% discount for military. All I had to do was ask. So, check out this list of businesses that offer military discounts and if you see an organization you love that isn’t listed, please share in the comments!
Give Yourself a Gift this PCS Season
PCSing, though not as predictable as the holidays, is something that most military families experience every 2-3 years. But like the holidays, it’s an expensive (and often stressful!) season in our lives. Give yourself the gift of readiness this year as you prepare to move – plan for the unexpected, start saving soon, leverage your resources, purge some belongings, and don’t be shy about taking advantage of discounts that are there to make your life a little easier. ‘Tis the season, so happy PCSing!