“How am I going to get through this?" is the question that pops up when you get new PCS orders.
The details and to do list can be overwhelming. Along with the mental preparation needed to get through a PCS smoothly, it takes a lot of financial planning.
The military does reimburse the money you paid for your PCS -- to an extent. Your entitlements are calculated based on how far you’re going and the number of people participating in your journey. Also, if you’re taking your own vehicles, you get reimbursed for the mileage it takes you to go from point A (losing installation) to point B (gaining installation).
There are certain tasks, not included in DoD’s PCS entitlements that are easily left out of your moving budget like maintenance and repairs on your car before the drive. Perhaps you need extra cleaning supplies to get your home ready for inspection, or even something as simple as restocking your home with kitchen and household items once you've arrived are all factors that families don’t think about off the bat.
That’s why it’s so important to start saving up as early as possible and maybe even as soon as you arrive at an installation, especially because the likelihood of PCSing is practically in the horizon for all military families. For our last PCS, we knew it was coming because my husband was doing a yearlong hardship tour. So, that gave us a whole year to prepare and save up. We set aside a couple hundred dollars a month between the both of us.
Although we didn’t know where we’d go, we knew we’d be going somewhere. Sometimes, your spouse might get an inkling on where they’re going or it is still up in the air till last minute.
Let’s say, if you just arrived at an installation and are expected to stay there for 36 months -- setting aside just $50 dollars a month would give you $1,800 to work with by the time you PCS to your next duty station. It does come with our lifestyle that a PCS might take you by surprise, just like when my husband’s orders to Korea initially came down. In any event, that’s why it doesn’t hurt to start a “PCS fund” now.
Here are some easy PCS savings tips that can help you gear up for a PCS no matter when, where or why orders get cut.
1. Set-up a special savings account. My husband and I each have our own savings account as well as a joint. Our joint account helps us with any extenuating circumstances that may come our way, which included our last PCS.
2. Tuck away money as much as you can. Now that you have that special savings account, start setting aside money that can act like your emergency fund (aka unexpected PCS fund, when needed). I get that it can be hard to really save money, so be sure you budget with your other living expenses. Maybe setting up a list or prioritizing your needs and wants.
3. Utilize financial resources available to you. Visit your installation’s financial readiness office and meet with an expert. Military OneSource has money management resources online, if you can’t meet with someone locally. You can speak to a representative on the phone, if that’s better for you too. There are other resources out there that are helpful to military members like Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace Military.
4. Ramp up your savings when you sense anything coming. I quickly learned that anything goes in the military. It’s difficult to plan when things can change at a moment’s notice. For instance, Fort Hood, Texas was tentatively listed as our follow-on assignment in my husband’s initial orders to Korea; then, just months before he was due out of the country, it changed. We were told we could go to Camp Parks, Calif. but we finally got Fort Belvoir, Va. Talk about getting jerked around! Despite the emotional roller coaster that came with "where are we going?!" our savings meant that we were able to financially weather any PCS change.
5. Once you get orders, calculate. Or at least, estimate. In addition to the checklists with moving logistics, utilize calculation sheets too -- to help you get financially situated and avoid any money scrambling. The Automated Housing Referral Network (AHRN.com) put together a comprehensive PCS Toolkit that includes worksheets to help you outline your costs. Need to educate yourself on PCS entitlements and costs? Hop on the DoD’s FAQ page to learn more. And, if it’s still confusing you, don’t be afraid to ask around.
6. Aim to save more than you expect. This is the most difficult aspect. Between lost receipts and moving confusion, you don’t always get reimbursed the actual amount you spend. The closer you are to breaking even with your own funds the better. The good thing about saving more is that you can have wiggle room to plan other fun activities! Maybe put together a quick vacation once you feel settled in? Or splurging a bit on a piece of furniture that you’ve been wanting for a while?
If you keep these savings skills in mind before orders are in hand, your family is on the right track to financial readiness!
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Rachel Tringali Marston is an Army wife and the Public Relations and Communications Manager for the Automated Housing Referral Network (AHRN.com), a housing resource that helps military families find homes around the world. She is a Texas expat that is currently stationed with her husband in the Metro D.C. area at Fort Belvoir. Rachel enjoys learning and exploring the area around her husband’s duty station and is embracing life in the military. She also loves to share with others, so you’ve probably seen her writing around the Internet.