Financial Planning for a PCS

By Carol Church

When Permanent Change of Station (PCS) orders come in, military families may experience mixed feelings such as excitement, fear, or anticipation. While it may be a way of life, it isn’t always an easy one.

Close up of military service member holding a miniature house in their hands.
Learn more about the PCS Series of webinars focused on issues military families face during transitions: https://militaryfamilieslearningnetwork.org/personal-finance/pcs/

One aspect of a PCS that can be challenging and stressful is the financial preparations. It’s true that the military makes many efforts to reimburse families, but there are still many potential pitfalls along the way. How can military families avoid getting burned by the many expenses of moving households? Experienced families have mentioned these hidden costs to keep in mind:

  • When selling a home: staging, cleaning, home improvements and advertising the home sale.  Also consider possible fees when selecting a real estate agent and the possible need to continue paying the mortgage and other housing bills.
  • If using a rental house and leaving long-term take into consideration any repair costs to avoid losing the deposit.
  • The costs for veterinary care before departure and the high cost to fly a pet to a distant location (overseas is especially expensive).
  • New clothes or other new necessities for a different climate and lifestyle.
  • Building up a new pantry and purchasing new household items and cleaning products.
  • Costs associated with selling one’s car and purchasing a new one if needed, or for storing a car.
  • Deposits for housing and utilities.
  • Startup costs for other services such as cable and internet.
  • Fast food and convenience food during the chaos before and after the move.
  • Cost of enrolling children in a new daycare, after school care program, and activities.
  • Short-term lodging costs: this is sometimes a factor, even though the military will cover this to a point.

Taken all together, this can really add up! So, how can families best handle this hit to the budget? Here are a few ideas:

  • Sell excess household goods on Craigslist or eBay, or hold a yard sale (families will need to purge anyway)
  • Consider selling a car even if this was not the original plan, especially if PCSing overseas
  • Try a DITY move: Families can earn quite a bit of extra cash by “DIY”ing at least some of their move, either by packing it all up themselves and driving a rented moving van, or by independently hiring a moving company to pack and ship their stuff. It’s often a better deal to hire the company (and easier, too!). Check the Personally Procured Move Estimator.
  • Insure belongings:  It’s important to take documentary photos of valuable items and write down the serial numbers before packing.
  • Research benefits ahead of time, and don’t forget to save receipts! The military provides an almost dizzying array of benefits to families who are PCSing, including money for mileage put on cars, money for meals and lodging, temporary lodging expenses, and more. They’re also eligible for advances in pay. Families shouldn’t pay a penny more than they have to.
  • Make a budget and save in advance. Well before the change, families should do their best to figure out how much they’ll need to save and start putting money into a “PCS fund” to make up for any shortfall and to cover up-front costs. (An emergency fund is certainly a backup, but not the best way to handle this.) When there’s a plan in place, the costs are far less likely to take a family by surprise.

For more on PCSing and PCS budgeting and benefits, visit the links below.

PCS Overview

Figuring Your PCS/OCONUS Travel Expenses

PCS FAQs

PCS Toolkit

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