5 Steps to a Smooth PCS


The full swing of PCS season is only a short way off, but there's still time to lay the foundation for a smooth -- financially speaking -- permanent change of station.

I can still remember the mix of excitement and trepidation each move brought to our family, and we'll never forget the debacle we refer to as the "birth certificate incident." But more on that in a moment.

Here are five areas of focus as you prepare to pack those boxes and relocate:

1. Rent vs. Buy. We never bought while we were on active duty, and I'm happy for that. I've spoken with countless military families stuck with a home they couldn't sell. I think most families should strongly consider renting or living in installation housing rather than buying a house. But not everyone shares my opinion, so if you decide to buy, be prepared for the worst-case scenario.

2. Cash stash. If you've been here and done this already, consider how much out-of-pocket expense typically comes with each PCS. If this PCS will be your first, ask your friends to estimate their costs. Whether you're paying housing and utility deposits, trying to make your new place feel like home or just getting the kids set up in new activities, moving can be costly. Start socking some away today so you're prepared. Try to accumulate $1,000 to $3,000 before your move, and don't forget to keep receipts. You might be able to deduct unreimbursed moving expenses on your taxes.

3. Budget refresh. If you want to ensure a smooth move, map out a cash flow for your new locale before you even start packing. The budget will give you some nice guardrails as you make important decisions, such as where you're going to live. Cost-of-living calculators can give you a sense of how costs for everything from gas to groceries might change with the move.

4. Hit reset. My wife grew up an Army brat, and she always liked the fresh start that each move brought. This is also something you can leverage from a financial perspective. Think about it: You can adjust your lifestyle, build savings and investments, or use the opportunity to sit down and map out your goals. For my family, each move created an opportunity to ditch a lot of junk around the house. Use your next PCS as a way to do the same with your finances: Clean house.

5. Keep them close. One more thought: Carry all your important documents with you to avoid major headaches when you get to your new duty station. Yes, that's the birth certificate incident I mentioned earlier. It took months for us to negotiate the bureaucracy required to replace my daughter's lost birth certificate after one of our moves.

When things get hectic and exciting, making thoughtful decisions can be difficult. A little preparation and planning can go a long way toward a PCS move that goes smoothly.

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