The summer permanent change of station (PCS) season is coming up, and families all around the world are receiving orders to pack up and ship out. Not surprising, is it? I don't think so. Moving is a defining characteristic of military life. Most families move somewhere between every two or three years. Some move more often - I have friends who are on their seventh PCS move in eight years, and the service member is well beyond initial training when such crazy is the norm. Some people get to remain in the same place for consecutive tours, but that is not at all usual. Heck, I don't even think my family moves exceptionally often, and this summer will be five moves in eight years.
The certainly of military moving is one of the reasons why I am so surprised when I hear people expressing frustration or complaint about moving, or a particular aspect of it. If you spend time on the internet, this is a common theme. Just today, I read Facebook posts from an irate military spouse who insists that it is* baloney* that it physically takes a car a long time to be shipped to another continent, and demanding that somehow that situation be fixed. I also heard from a family wondering how they will manage to pay the first month's rent and security deposit at their new location. And, I followed a long chat room conversation from a family who is trying to move their pet overseas and can't figure out how to pay for it.
These three things have a single common: a failure to plan. Now, before you get all upset with me, let me state that I understand that sometimes you get PCS orders when you are definitely NOT expecting them. (Someday, let me tell you the story of my Aunt Dot, who discovered that her husband had orders when the moving van came down the street. It was the 50s. Things were different.) I also understand that when you are new to the military, you might not really get that you need to have money put aside for the costs that come with moves, or how much money might be enough. Lastly, I definitely understand that some expenses, such as moving a big dog to England, are way more than most people would anticipate.
These three factors are the reason that I'm writing this post. I'm all about education, and military families need to know that these things are important. Really important.
Surprise PCSesWhile most military folks move every two to three years, and every set of orders comes with some type of estimated end, changes can and do happen all the time. If you're smart, you'll be financially prepared to move well before you expect it to happen. Heck, I'll go out on a limb and say that you should roll the money you've spent (and mostly been reimbursed for) on the last PCS move right into your savings account for your next PCS move. That way, you're good even if those surprise orders turn up before you've even finished unpacking.
Yes, You Need To SaveIf you've not PCSed before, you might not understand that while the military pays for (nearly) everything, much of is handled on a pay-and-get-reimbursed basis. This is true for travel costs (if you are driving), temporary lodging, and even miscellaneous expenses (in the form of Dislocation Allowance, DLA). You can request advance travel pay, advance DLA, and even advance regular pay if you have to, but you shouldn't rely on that process to work every single time.
You also need to remember that some costs are not covered by the military, such as moving a pet, temporary transportation if you are authorized to ship a vehicle, or the security deposits necessary for rental properties or utilities.
Sometimes, It's A Lot of MoneyThere are some situations in which certain PCS costs might be much higher than you'd guess. For example, in some locations, a security deposit might be two or three times the monthly rent. Certain countries, particularly the United Kingdom, are very expensive to import a pet. (Think $1200 for a cat, up to $3000 for a dog, depending on size.) If you're shipping a vehicle overseas, you might be without a car for a couple of months.
When planning your PCS money needs, you need to look at your life. Do you have pets? You are going to need more savings. Would you ship your car if you were sent overseas (and if you had the option)? You're going to need more savings. Does the thought of camping out in an empty house make you insane? You're going to need more savings.
If someone in your family is in the military, then statistic say that you're likely to move. It might be just to the next state, or it might be across the globe. Regardless, the process will be a lot less stressful if you are not freaking out about your finances. Build up a savings account specifically for PCS expenses, and one PCS worry will be eliminated.