How to Use Military Discounts with Your PCS

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Joanna Guldin-Noll on PCS with Military.com

Theoretically, the U.S. military covers the cost of each Permanent Change of Station (PCS) move. But any service member or military family member will tell you that’s not entirely true. Fortunately, military discounts offered by businesses nationwide can make the financial pinch a little easier.

In this episode, Military.com social media manager and military lifestyle blogger Joanna Guldin-Noll shares her best tips and tricks for finding and using military discounts during and around your military move.

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The following is an edited transcript of this episode of PCS with Military.com.

Amy Bushatz 0:00

Moving is expensive. The military orders you to move and they give you reimbursements and payments to make it happen. And yet we all know that all of that cash help feels like it doesn't even scratch the surface on what it costs to relocate. In a separate episode, we talk about the entitlements and finances of military moves. That's not what we're doing here today. In this episode, we're talking about the hacks and tips for making the most of your military move from a discount or savvy military life tips perspective. And for that we have former Navy spouse genius behind the military spouse lifestyle site, JoMyGosh, and Military.com social media guru Joanna Guldin-Noll to give us her very best advice from her travels around the military world. Jo, welcome to PCS with Military.com

Joanna Noll 0:49

Thanks for having me. I'm really excited to talk with you.

Amy Bushatz 0:52

Yeah, anytime we get to chat, I feel lucky. We work together and we don't get to talk very often. So this is fun for me. All right. So how many times did you move with or without the military? Talk to us about your experience.

Joanna Noll 1:08

So I counted up and over my lifetime, I think I've moved 12 to 13 times, like if you count, you know, childhood college, the whole gamut.

Amy Bushatz 1:19

Oh, I do do.

Joanna Noll 1:22

And I kind of had three, I'm gonna say three moves with the military, which doesn't sound like a lot at all. But one of them was moving down to Virginia Beach, to where my fiance was. Um, so it was a move to be in the military community, but it wasn't like a sanctioned military move. And then, kind of a fun, my husband and I have only ever done DITY moves within the military. We had a situation where John was just stationed within Virginia. So we did he moved twice. And then when he transitioned out, then we moved home.

Amy Bushatz 2:12

Yeah, yeah, but okay. So I mean, you're just critiquing yourself with your, "lack" of military moves. But I think they all count and I don't think you have to have a bajillion of them to know what you're talking about, and to have experienced the challenges.

Joanna Noll 2:31

You know, it's funny, because when, when people ask me how many moves and I say, you know, we had these like, three moves, and other people are like, oh I had like 10, or 12, you get like these, these very high numbers. And then I say, we only DITY moved, then everybody's jaw hits the floor. So I think, you know, it's just, everybody has different experiences, and they're all valid, and they're all unique to the family.

Amy Bushatz 2:59

Absolutely. And they all help you learn things that you can pass on, which is why we're so glad to have you here today. So today, you're coming to us from Pennsylvania, where you and your Navy veteran spouse, John, you mentioned, own two amazing coffee houses. I'm basing this description by the way off the fabulous coffee kits I've bought from you, not actually visiting your coffee stores. But I think that people have picked up what I'm laying down, which is I like coffee. I'm pretty sure I've mentioned this before. So there you go. Okay. I want to talk about discounts generally first. Okay, so talk to us about the nuts and bolts of military discounts. Who qualifies for one? And just like lay it out?

Joanna Noll 3:46

Sure. So, um, military discounts. I think for me, they're really fun to find out. Like, even if I'm not going to shop at that particular store, or if even if it's, you know, in a totally different state that I'm in, I always love seeing what businesses and organizations offer military families. And so, you know, the idea of a military discount is twofold, really, when we get down to it, one is to express thanks and gratitude for what military families deal with what they go through. I think everybody post-9/11 really understands the strain that military families are under. The other is, you know, it is a marketing tool. We know that military families are brand loyal to to companies that understand and talk about military aspects, you know, and they they understand the service, they understand that lifestyle. So it's really it's really a two-fold tool. That said, the way that companies administer military discounts just runs the gamut, you know, it could be a percentage off, it could be, you know, if it's through a website, where you have to verify your military service through something like ID.me or another third-party system, it might be for anybody in a military family, for a veteran, it really depends on the organization, that that is offering that discount.

Amy Bushatz 5:31

And you say this, I mean, you we mentioned just a moment ago that you are a business owner. So you talk about this from a business owner perspective as well.

Joanna Noll 5:40

Yeah, and actually, it's funny you say that any one of the first things when John and I were planning out our coffee shop, one of the things that we wanted to do, we live in a very heavily military, National Guard and Reserve area as well as a very heavily veteran, populated area. And we wanted to make sure that that we were able to say, you know, we understand it, we get it, this is our life, too. And come on in, have a cup of coffee, and have this discount as part of our thanks. You know, and that also brings up kind of another point. Sometimes it's not a discount. So we do offer a discount at our shop. But we also do a free coffee giveaway on Veterans Day. And so a lot of times, you know, a military discount or deal might come up around a certain holiday as well, usually Memorial Day, Fourth of July, maybe Labor Day, and definitely Veterans Day, and it might look like something completely free. Right.

AB 6:49

So who typically qualifies? Are we talking veterans? Are we talking active duty? Are we talking spouses? Who qualifies?

Joanna Noll 6:59

Well, that that, you know, that depends all on the organization. So for example, Lowe's, which I love using Lowe's military discount for our family, you have to qualify through a third party system, I think it's ID.me to get a 10% off your purchase. And so when you go to the store, that the person who qualifies needs to use that discount. And it you know, you go you give your phone number, so that they can verify that it's already in the system, and then you you get that discount, it's not just show up and say hey, I'm you know, I'm a member of the military or military spouse, for smaller businesses, like small businesses. Or, you know, for for Swatara Coffee Company, which is our shop. Just come in and say, you know, you're in the military, we have actually, or you're a veteran, we've actually had the situation quite a lot where people come in, in uniform, because they're either coming home from work or going to work. And we're just like, Hey, we can tell you're, you know, you're serving for your discount.

AB 8:13

And and if you're not, and you went to this trouble, then you know what? Other problems? Okay, so how do you find military discounts? And is how do you find them for national stores different from how you find them for local chains or local stores? Kind of like your coffee shop?

Joanna Noll 8:34

Yeah, absolutely. So I think the first so I have a process. The first thing is go to Military.com. We have a gigantic repository of military discounts that are constantly being updated. And so I think that that's the number one place to go especially if you're looking for national or regional discounts. You know, we have them by organized by the brand itself. We also have a lot of articles that have been lovingly created to you know, curate, all this information, so articles about you know, Here are seven great skiing discounts, here are crafting discounts, you know, all of those kinds of topical or holiday related discounts you can find on Military.com. And we also have a newsletter that shares once a week, some of those best discounts that are very important at that time.

Amy Bushatz 9:40

Yeah, yeah. So you could go you could pop on there, sign up for that newsletter right now and still have still received in the next couple months, um, newsletters that highlight specifically moving discounts and that kind of thing, so it's really a great time to great time to do that. And Heather, our discount compiler is very exacting in the process. Yeah, this is when, you know, lovingly curated is, is maybe not even strong enough of a description because of the way she obsessively puts this together. She does a really good job of it. And she does that for Veterans Day too. So I mean, while we're on the subject, like you want all the discounts in the land for Veterans Day, this chick's putting together like 500 plus of these every year for for Veterans Day. It's It's really incredible amount of work and then dedication to get that done. So So you find them on Military.com. Awesome. Do you like just go to the store and ask?

Joanna Noll 10:42

I think so. So my first go to is Military.com then my second go to is, if I know a particular like, I want to go to this particular store, I'll probably Google it, especially if, if it's a local store, or a regional store that I wasn't able to find on Military.com. I'll just Google you know, whatever the name of that store is like, you know, like divine swine, which is a barbecue place around here. I would Google that and military discount and see if anything pops up. So if it does pop up, then I can read what their stipulations are, if we qualify, you know, like now, if it's a veteran's discount, if it's just active duty, whatever it is. If I can't find anything online, or if it's, you know, I'm just out and about, I would absolutely ask, as I'm checking out just to see if they do offer a military discount. I find a lot of times, you know, if you're, if you're standing there and you're checking out and you're expecting them to ask you, you know, are you a member of the military? Or are you part of a military family? Chances are, that's not going to happen, you know, the clerk or the barista, or whoever, you know, has a lot going on. And so now is not the time to be bashful. If you're interested in their military discount, then you want to say, hey, do you have something? Yeah. And, you know, I think it's really important to say to a lot of times in businesses, if a particular discount isn't being used over a long period of time, they might do away with it. So I don't think it's, it's not rude or anything like that. Just ask and inquire. And if they don't have it, or if you don't qualify, if it's, you know, if you're a military spouse, and it's only for active duty, or you know, you're a veteran, and it's only for active duty, or whatever it is. And they say, yeah, and you don't qualify, that's okay. Um, I, you know, say thanks, and continue on.

Amy Bushatz 12:50

Yeah, I mean, it does feel a little weird to ask about it. But I remind myself, you know, they have this military discount for a reason, right? They, they want it to be used. What's weird is then being upset about it. So don't be that person. But definitely, you know, if they say, yes, but only on Tuesdays, right? Oh, great. You know, I'll keep that in mind, the end. Conversation is now over and and I just always encourage people to definitely use, ask and then use about military discount. This is just habit for a reason. It's not weird or entitled for you to inquire about using it. It's weird or entitled for you to then be upset when you can't.

Joanna Noll 13:30

Yeah, actually, when, when John and I were dating, and we were, you know, paying off student loan debts, and we were much younger in our careers just starting out. At first, he was really, really reluctant to ask about any any military discount at all. And we were long distance dating. So I would sometimes visit him in Virginia Beach, he would sometimes visit me in Baltimore, and obviously, in Virginia Beach, there's a lot more opportunity for military discounts. And I would always be the initiator to be like, hey, do you happen to have something because really, at that point, you know, every single dollar counted to us? Sure. And it, you know, he got into the habit and got over that awkwardness of asking, but, you know, I don't I think it's something that a lot of people feel weird about. But you know, as a small business owner, myself, we really want that discount to be used. And we've had conversations before where if a couple weeks go by, and nobody has used it, we're like, oh, you know, should we post about it again, should we, you know, make sure that people are finding out about it, because we really, we love, the kind of community it creates. And we really want to say thank you because we know how hard military life can sometimes be and we just want to extend that little bit of thanks.

AB 15:00

So moving with the military is, like I said earlier, really expensive. And it's not because the military doesn't pay for things like hotels, but it's just it just adds up. I mean, you know, so what are some of the hidden costs of military moves that you hear or have experienced yourself?

Joanna Noll 15:18

So, for me, I think the hidden costs of military moves because we DITYed looked like extra takeout buying boxes, when we couldn't find, you know, boxes from stores that fit the things we needed to fit. I'm buying wardrobe boxes to move clothing. When we accidentally didn't secure something inside the moving fan, and we ended up busting a whole bunch of light bulbs. Oh, yeah, that kind of thing.

AB 16:00

Which is now on you, not the movers you didn't have.

Joanna Noll 16:03

Yeah there's no claims when you're kind of you were just a dummy yourself. Or, you know, things shifting, we had a drawer that fell out of a set of drawers that like literally shattered into sawdust, and it wasn't a great piece of furniture, but still your your heart sinks a little bit. Yeah. I think also, when you are actually physically in your space, you always realize, Oh, you know, this window is a weird size. And now we need to get different shades, or we need to get different curtains. Maybe you want to repaint the walls, because they're really gross color, you know, yellow, or whatever it is, I'm making you're making your space into a home, I think also create some extra costs, even things like buying extra three m strips, tank pictures, or whatever that is. It's something that you oftentimes, or at least for me, some, you know, somebody who might not may not be as adept at as moving as somebody who has moved 30 times might not add up.

Amy Bushatz 17:12

Yeah, but I think there's always like, there's always surprises, oh, you know, and it's funny that you mentioned that you can't blame the movers. And, you know, you realize I have this, we moved across town a couple of times. So it's I guess it's technically a DITY move, right, although it was, you know, DITYing into my trunk 17 times. And then one day with a U-Haul, right. But, you know, when we did that, I remember thinking, gosh, I do not appreciate these movers enough, you know, like, it is hard not to scratch and break yourself. And I get they that's their profession, and they should know how to not scratch and break my stuff. But I definitely scratched and broke my stuff between, you know, with the like, I don't know, eight mile move.

Joanna Noll 18:00

Yeah, I mean, things things happen, and even the best laid plans can fall apart very quickly.

Amy Bushatz 18:08

Yeah. Okay. So what, when we think about these PCS costs, I mean, I tend to think about things like hotels or filling my gas tanks or curtains like you just like you just mentioned. So what are some PCS related costs that might be outside what people think about but have useful discounts available, like let's bring these two subjects together?

Joanna Noll 18:30

Sure, I think the first place my brain automatically goes to is places like Lowe's or Home Depot where you know, you can buy a lot you can buy cleaning supplies at Home Depot or Lowe's you know, you want to be able to be smart about it and check and make sure that you're getting the best price. First of all, but you know, they do have military discounts and so you might be able to find some of those supplies that you need either to clean up and move out or to make your your house clean up and move into your home. And, you know, buy those gallons of paint or or or what have you. I would also say if you're if you've moved somewhere where you've never been before, and you're looking to you know, learn more about the community, check out independent hardware stores. They might have military discounts. A lot of hardware stores in this area do have military discounts, or they have military days or they have you know, a Memorial Day Sale or Veterans Day Sale that is particular to the military community. And I think that's always really nice to to support independent small business and to make your dollars go a little bit further than they might at a big box store.

Amy Bushatz 19:58

This is such a good way to get to know your new community. You know, it's just, I, I like shopping small, because I just I like to know where I live, I like to know the people who live there and meet them and, and shopping at their stores is kind of the first step to doing that in a lot of ways.

Joanna Noll 20:15

Absolutely. And especially now, with the pandemic, I think it is really hard to get out and to meet people. So if you're already running your errands, you know, checking out a local business is a really good way to do that.

Amy Bushatz 20:33

We've talked a lot about in person discounts. We haven't really talked about online discounts. You mentioned ID.me in passing, which is a service that actually partners with the VA, where you enter your, for lack of a better description, military service credentials, and then have a log in there. And so then every time you log into ID.me you are automatically certified because you've already gone through the process. And of course, it's entirely possible to put in your spouse's your service member spouse's information in there and just use his or her login going forward, which I have no problem doing. because inevitably, I mean, how often I’m buying family stuff, you know, like, we're not not rolling in, they're buying things that don't impact the whole family. So I don't have a problem leveraging that sort of work around when he's not around. Um, but, you know, a lot of online retailers offer military discounts as well, that could be pertinent to moving I'm thinking like Bed Bath and Beyond and that kind of place?

Joanna Noll 21:43

Oh, yeah, absolutely. Um, and again, with a pandemic, a lot of times, it's just easier to, you know, if you can make that purchase online and get the military discount, have it shipped directly to you, so you don't have to go and pick it up or, you know, haul it back. That's really wonderful as well.

Amy Bushatz 22:07

So okay, we've talked about in person, like moving into your house costs are talking about finding them, what are some, like other ways, other types of costs that you might have in the process of moving? I'm thinking about, like, getting from point A to B,

Joanna Noll 22:23

Like road tripping? Yeah, so I personally, I love road tripping. As a kid, we did tons of road trips over the summer across the country. And when john got out of the military, we used some of his terminal leave to do a huge trip around the United States,

Amy Bushatz 22:43

Of which I was very jealous. I remember this.

Joanna Noll 22:46

It was I'm so glad we did it. And we actually use this process where we we would chart out, you know, our our days plans the night before, or like two nights before. And then we would go through and we would check for military discounts along the way to see you know, what places that we were already going to might have something so for instance, the national parks have a completely free pass that gets you into like all federally managed lands with the exception of some parking fees, which we found out when we went to Mount Rushmore so we got into Mount Rushmore for free but you cannot park there for free. America the Beautiful card.

Amy Bushatz 23:36

I'll tell you that Mount Rushmore kind of nickels and dimes you -- we drove there. I think it's a very popular cross country PCS destination because it really is in the middle of nowhere and you've experienced not a lot until you get to that point. And you might as well go to Mount Rushmore if you're driving by anyway, I had the same experience. You know, you get in there and you're like, what, parking?

Joanna Noll 24:00

Yeah, so and I think that's something that you're not used to because most National Parks don't charge for parking. But apparently there are a couple that do. But throughout our road trip I knew we added up and this is this is a couple years ago now but we save literally hundreds of dollars on park fees by picking up the America the Beautiful card and you can either you can call in for it and get it sent to you. Or like we did when you show up to you know, to the kiosk there. As you're going to go into the National Park, you can sign up for it. They're like on the spot. And so all you need is your military ID to do so and it's good for a year. It's it's hands down like my favorite travel, military discount of all time. We just we loved it and used it over and over and over again. And it makes you feel not guilty. See if you if you know you're driving through and you can only spend one day at Yosemite or one day at Yellowstone, which, you know, is such a short time, but you haven't spent, you know, the entire park fee on it so you can see what you're able to see and keep going and not feel like I do that that guilt of like, Oh, we didn't spend enough time and we spent so much money on this.

Amy Bushatz 25:26

No, that's totally a thing, right? Like, I can tell, I can't even tell you how many times I've used a military discount, and then didn't spend the full amount of time there because it didn't cost me the full amount of money.

Joanna Noll 25:41

And, you know, when you're crunched for time, that's if you just need a place to like, get out and stretch your legs take a couple hours and like, look at something amazing. You know, and there are tons it's not just big, like national parks like that. It also works for smaller national parks or historic sites, even national forests, you know, places that you might not otherwise think about visiting something else, you might want to think about. If your PCS thing during the summer or traveling during the summer, Blue Star Families has Blue Star Museums. And now I'm not sure what they are. I don't think they've announced what they're going to do this year because of the pandemic. But normally, it's a huge network of hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of museums all over the country. And usually they are based in military heavy areas, but not always, you know, there are a lot that are just spread out all over the place. But that you can go for free. And John and i have used that at places like Woodrow Wilson's birthplace, in Staunton, Virginia, where I think it saved us, like maybe admission of $20 or something like that. They have tons of children's museums, and zoos and family friendly places that are available as well. So as you're planning out your PCS, your know your route, you might want to hop on and check out and see if there are any Blue Star Family, museums or sites close by. And even if you don't know, if they are, you can always ask john and i actually fell into that at the effort of cloister which is literally 15 miles away from where we live now. And we had no idea they were a Blue Star Families museum and just went into check it out and be you know, staycationers and I just happened to ask if they were part of it. And they were.

Amy Bushatz 27:53

Oh, that's so great. Yeah. And, like you said, asking never hurts. And a little note about the pandemic. Yeah, I mean, who knows what's going to be open this summer. So we are just rolling, assuming that you anyone listening that to this should just assume they need to ask and double check on on everything that's going on. Because that's that sweet pandemic life, you know, don't take our word for it, and show up, just make sure that you call ahead or check out the website. And that goes for the National Parks too. By the way, I am super obsessive about national parks, as Jo knows. And we recently went to on vacation in Hawaii and visited one of the National Parks there where they had said on the website that the visitor center had, I mean, basically, the websites had sporadic hours between 10 and noon, you know, and I assumed that meant they were there from 10 to noon. And that is not what it meant. It meant they were there, sometimes between 10 to noon, so so you got to just sort of be flexible and enroll with it. Another side note about the National Park pass. While this is a podcast for people who are PCS, and not people who are out of the military, they did extend that to veterans as well. So if you are no longer a military family member at some point after listening to this, know that your park you can also get a park pass as a veteran, which is pretty exciting. It opens it up to a whole lot of people. Alright, sort of circling back. We've talked about Blue Star families. We talked about looking on Military.com We've talked about online retailers, is there any specific best way to find military move related discounts?

Joanna Noll 29:40

I would say two things again, go to Military.com and check out all those deals and discounts. And then I would make a list of things that you that you want that you need, you know that are going to come up and then seek those out specifically if you can't find them. I think Google is a great tool for this, you know, whatever that whatever that thing is that item is or, you know, if it's if you know, it's a particular brand of something that you need. I would Google that plus military discount. Yes, you are able to, you know, or give them a call if you know it's a business. I do think that when it comes to local or regional discounts the best way because a lot of small businesses, even regional businesses may not advertise it online, give them a call or walk in and ask, I did that for this sounds a little crazy. But I did that for planning our wedding and for the venue and asked if they had a military discount, and we ended up getting 10% off our venue fee. And that was something completely on advertised something, you know, that had I not brought up that John was currently deployed. And, you know, we're trying to figure out how to make this happen, it wouldn't have come up.

Amy Bushatz 31:05

Yeah, yeah. And on the subject of organizing, while there is no right or wrong order to listen to PCS with Military.com podcast episodes, if you have listened to the episode on your PCS binder, this would be a great thing to have as a tab in there, you know, you've got your moving plan, you've got your road trip plan, why not make a list of you know, upcoming expenses, as you probably are anyway, and then dovetail that with possible discounts or, you know, places to look into maybe even put it checkbox next to any given thing with the note on which store offers a discount, save yourself a little bit of cash in the process, because that stuff adds up like we've been talking about.

Joanna Noll 31:49

Oh, yeah. And and I think to one of those things you might want to think about is once you get to your destination, how are you going to explore the community, you know, how are you going to integrate yourself into it? One of those ways, you know, really is seeking out some fun activities or entertainment and see if they have a military discount. A really cool one. If you're in the Virginia Beach or the Hampton Roads area, Busch Gardens offers what they call Waves of Honor. Where once a year if you're active duty, you can you can get a free pass to Busch Gardens, and up to three other pet free passes for your dependence. So yeah, that's amazing way to like learn about your new area or to blow off some steam after a PCS then to go spend essentially a free day at an amusement park.

Amy Bushatz 32:53

Absolutely. If they're open. Yeah.

Joanna Noll 32:57

I think too, if you're not if you're PCSing to an area that's not particularly you know, military heavy, like Hampton Roads is obviously very, very military heavy. But we've experienced military discounts at you know, amusement parks and places of entertainment in places like Pittsburgh, Kennywood there offers a really great military discount, you just need to ask about it. And we were floored. We actually went with John's sister and she did the asking. It was like, hey, do you happen to have like a military discount for this guy? And it ended up being a very sizable discount. That was really exciting. You know, I think the best way is just to ask and see what happens.

Amy Bushatz 33:44

So true. Jo, thanks so much for joining us on PCS with Military.com. I really appreciate your expertise.

Joanna Noll 33:51

Thanks for having me, Amy. This was a lot of fun.

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