How to finance your PCS
Permanent Change of Station (PCS) orders arrive and the flurry of moving begins. It’s a time of excitement, anticipation and preparations. One of the best investments you can make is to plan ahead of time for the costs associated with a move. In fact, make sure that “Go over PCS Budget” is at the top of your checklist. With so much to think about during a move, financial health can be a tool that eases stress.
Several years ago, we experienced a PCS that classified as an epic success. We didn’t have debt. We had several months’ worth of income set aside in addition to our retirement accounts and investments. In an almost seamless transition, we moved to Europe, settled into our house, and set to globetrotting every opportunity. Over the next five years, our family of six explored Europe, traveled to Africa and journeyed to the foothills of the Himalayas in Nepal.
We traveled to our hearts’ content with nary a thought for the day when it would be time to close the chapter on that season only to open a new chapter in a new location. Without the foresight and planning for the move back stateside, we set ourselves up for what can only be described as an epic financial fail.
Upon landing, the money obligations came in large increments. We soon had a running joke about the $500 bill because it seemed that we paid for relocation expenses in $500 increments, give or take. At first we took it in stride, shrugging our shoulders and chocking it up to part of relocating. However, you know how it is; at some point, you reach your threshold. And as we dug ourselves deeper and deeper into debt, that threshold got closer.
So, it was no wonder my eyes brimmed with tears one day as I sat surrounded by my husband and four children in the middle of a furniture store. There on the loveseat of a coveted living room set, I sobbed. In total meltdown mode, I wondered, “How did we get here?” Perhaps you can relate.
Planning – or lack thereof – made all the difference between those two moves … literally a world of difference for our family. In a transient lifestyle in which a major move typically comes every two to four years, the brilliance in planning cannot be overstated. Having experienced both financial success and catastrophe, I’ve learned a few tips to help others (and ourselves) get organized and shave time, energy, stress and worry from their PCS move.
1. Organization is the key.
Put your plan in writing, and put those well-laid plans in one place, like a three-ring binder. My husband assembled our three-ring binder with important documents like:
- Leave and Earnings Statement (LES): Print out the last six months of your End of Month LESs. The LES breaks down all of your entitlements. Make sure what is being listed on your LES is current and accurate before leaving. If not, contact your base finance office.
- Debts: Student loan, car note, mortgage, credit card(s) or department store card(s). Know monthly payment amounts, due dates, how much is currently owed on the balances and the interest rates charged.
- Reoccurring monthly bills: These bills will continue regardless of where you are located. Examples of these are subscriptions and online subscriptions. Know the amounts and dates due.
- Assets: Print out a copy of your bank and investment statements.
- Contacts: You need a ready list in your binder of important contacts, but it’s also important to contact the financial institutions where you owe money to update your billing address.
- Budget: Maintain an ongoing relocation fund similar to an emergency fund.
2. Next, do your research.
Consider both your current stage of life as well as the place where you are moving. Whether you’re accustomed to frequent moves or a novice, it’s a good idea to re-evaluate your stage of life on an annual basis. Then update your dreams and goals – and make your checklist based on the big picture. Here are some expenses to consider prior to your next adventure:
- Child care
- Costs of cleaning for housing and vehicle inspections
- Possible higher cost of living at destination
- Purchase of home furnishings such as blinds, curtains, washer, dryer and kitchen appliances if not provided in home or by military allowance
- Costs associated with transporting a pet
- Utility set-up fees in new location, including change of phone number (especially if moving internationally) Also, research entitlements, financial compensation, and the Cost of Living Allowance (COLA) related to your move. According to Ethan Ewing of www.military.com, he “…estimates that during a Permanent Change of Station … service members spend an average of $1,725 in non-reimbursable costs.” Find out which expenses are reimbursable and which aren’t.
3. Get help.
In her book “Heroes At Home,” author and speaker Ellie Kay writes, “It is an absolute travesty to have the wonderful (not to mention free) resources we have in our military agencies and not use them!” Visit your local Airman and Family Readiness Center (AFRC), Army Community Services (ACS) facility, and Fleet and Family Support Center (FFSC), which can provide relocation-related information and checklists. You may even encounter someone in the office who has “been there, done that” who can share invaluable tips that you won’t find in any brochure.
Be sure to access resources such as www.militaryinstallations.dod.mil to research information about your new assignment. This will help you prepare – which will lend to a more peaceful state of mind.
You don’t want to find yourself sobbing on a loveseat in the middle of a furniture store, experiencing a meltdown. Prepare your relocation fund now and be a role model for comrades during PCS season. Better yet, inspire others to have a more enjoyable PCS move.
Base pay, Basic Allowance for Subsistence (BAS) – food allowance & Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH). And for those living overseas, you may be entitled to Cost of Living Allowance (COLA) & Overseas Housing Allowance (OHA) which include a utility allowance. Find your base pay entitlement at www.dfas.mil.
For the website listing all other entitlements such as BAH, BAS, BAH, COLA, OHA and other potential entitlements, go to: www.defensetravel.dod.mil.
Cost of living
militaryinstallations.dod.mil: Information on every military installation in the world regardless of service branch.
bestplaces.net: Gives you an idea of what it might cost to live there.
uschamber.com: Gives you an idea of what it might cost to live there.
Stripes.com: News and information for the military community.