DITY Move Tips for Military Families, from Moving Expert DITY Mama
by Lizann Lightfoot - December 8th, 2022
How did you get started with PPM and DITY moves?
I knew nothing about military life. We got married the week after college, and then went to our first duty station. I didn’t know much, so we just loaded up what we had and drove to New Jersey. As we continued to do it, it became easier and a second-hand nature. Of course the profit was great too, because we didn’t have kids, so it was nice to make money off the moves. As we added kids, we found that we liked it more because of the shorter transition times. We have done 11 PCS moves, and lived in 13 homes in 13 years!
Has there ever been a time you didn’t want to do a DITY move?
There was one time I wanted to let the government contractors move us. We only had 4-week notice, we had just had our 2nd baby, and he had just returned from being TDY. I didn’t think I could do it, so we reached out for government movers, but they told us they didn’t have any availability. We had 7 days to pack before we left! So we made that happen, kept our streak going, and built our confidence in our DITY moves. That was our 7th PCS.
I’ve always been motivated to stay with them! If anyone, it’s my husband who questions the process and asks if I want to do it each time. But he isn’t always here for the moves, so it’s always my choice.
In the pre-move phase, what are your strategies and priorities?
It’s important to talk with your spouse and evaluate if a DITY move is right for you. Typically, these moves are door-to-door, so check if that would work for you.
Next is budgeting, evaluating your weight, deciding if this is financially doable for you. You don’t need orders to make reservations and start outsourcing help and supplies. There are lots of things you can pack in advance so you’re ready when the actual orders come.
Do you have a preference for moving trucks?
We have a preference, but it always depends on the budget and the distance. With DITY moves, you qualify for a lump sum based on rank and distance, so you have to look at the weight and the allowance and stay below that budget. We like UPack, but there are options like U-Haul trucks, PODS storage containers, etc. They are all convenient, but aren’t always a good fit financially.
What is the DITY move budget, and how do you plan?
One of the difficult things is that you’re paying for everything up front, out of your savings. Then when you get your paperwork turned in after the move, you get the government reimbursement afterwards. That can take at least 30 days to hit your accounts, so be prepared to make minimum payments on your credit cards while waiting for the reimbursement.
What is your strategy for getting moving boxes and supplies?
I get some from neighbors, find some used, and purchase some new. It’s an all-of-the-above approach! If it’s your first move, you’ll get a sense of what you’ll need. Get as many second-hand items as you can from recycling centers or go to big stores like Walmart. You don’t want to do this the week you’re moving, so do it in advance! Save boxes of anything nice or breakable that you have. Or save Amazon boxes. It’s worth it to buy new boxes for things like your dishes, because you want those boxes to be sturdy, and cardboard does become weaker after multiple uses.
You don’t really know what you need at first, but you’ll get the feel for that as you go. The Amazon bundles are nice, but you’re stuck with what you order, but U-Haul is nice because you can bring back any boxes that you don’t use, and you’ll get a refund.
How does your family approach moving day on a DITY move?
A lot of the strategy comes before moving day. It’s about staging your home as you pack. Everything you want in the back of the truck is loaded first, and that has to be accessible first near the front door or garage door. If you hire people, you’re paying for their time, so staging will save you time and money and keep things organized. We usually help load and stay involved either way. Sometimes our kids are with us, but usually not.
You can also group your fragile boxes or heavy boxes, because you know that will go into certain areas of the truck--on the top, the bottom, etc.
We usually load our trailer in about 3 hours! It’s all about having a system.
What is your strategy for unloading in the new home?
Usually the things you pack last are the ones you open first. You can move them in and pull them off the truck first. You still have what you need to live for the next 24 hours. My favorite thing to do first is the kitchen, because I’m tired of being in hotels and dining out, so I want to cook some kind of meal that night.
We tackle living spaces next, because our family spends a lot of time there. Then we do kids’ rooms quickly also, because it’s important to give them some familiarity and see their familiar things set up in their space.
To make our unpacking smoother, we make our rooms first-night ready. We pack our first-night essentials into our dressers, so sheets, pillows, and clothes are in their drawers. Then once the movers place that furniture in the rooms, so we can sleep better. I will thumbtack curtains onto the walls at first so the kids can get some sleep.
How does the PPM reimbursement process work?
This is more my husband’s role, he handles the paperwork and receipts. You don’t get a dollar-for-dollar reimbursement. You get a lump sum from DPS based on our weight. Your goal is to stay under that. You save receipts from any moving supplies, any reservations or equipment you rent.
This is all separate from your travel, hotels, your TLE. That’s a separate claim.
A partial DITY move is when you weigh your vehicle and get a reimbursement based on whatever you move with in your vehicle.
Remember that your PPM reimbursement will be taxed as income tax.
How do you estimate your household weight?
We look at previous moves, then estimate if we have added more or gotten rid of things. Look at what furniture you have changed since the last move. We were usually around 12,000 pounds, but then this past move was a big surprise because we were at 14,000 pounds!
With a DITY move, having extra weight isn’t a bad thing the way it is for a government move. You are reimbursed based on your total weight, so you want to maximize your weight as close to the allowance as possible. And there is no penalty for going over the weight limit, the way you are charged extra on a government move.
There are estimator tools on the Military OneSource moving site. You can go room by room and add your furniture into the tools. There are similar tools on 3rd-party companies like U-Haul or PODS. But those estimators won’t be an exact measurement of your weight or the length needed for the truck.
What are the pros and cons of a PPM or DITY move?
The pros are definitely the control over the process. You can interview different places, choose your own movers, know where your truck and your things are at all times. With government moves, sometimes things take months to be delivered. You get more of a say in hiring someone else if a company isn’t doing what you want.
It’s great to be able to plan and prep and make progress in advance. You don’t have to wait to get orders.
With a DITY move, there’s a lower risk of your household goods getting damaged. You are going to take better care of your things than some movers. And your things are less likely to get lost. Usually you know where your things are, and fewer people are touching your stuff.
The shorter transition time is a huge benefit. You can start setting up right away, camp out in your home, and get out of a hotel and get settled quicker.
Organization might not be important to everyone, but I love that part of my moves, because I touch everything I own and have a place for everything. You know what you have and where it is in the new house or in the boxes.
There are some cons of DITY moves too. You don’t always know your weight, there can be surprises, and you may end up paying out of pocket. You pay up front, and then hope for the correct reimbursement later. You don’t know the final weight reimbursement until after you’ve done all the work, loaded the truck, and turned in those weight tickets.
You might have to do a lot of things on your own if you don’t have the funds to hire help. Storage times can be limited for a DITY move (about 30 days), and you sometimes pay extra for the loading and unloading.
What are your favorite resources when preparing for a PCS move?
For packing and general tips, I encourage people to look at it not as “I have to pack my entire house” because that is way too intimidating. I prefer to break it into smaller pieces or individual areas. I do have a free resource for that. Instead of packing the whole living room, just pack the lamps!
Stage your home by having your packing supplies tucked away in a specific area of your home. Then if you have a few minutes, you’re ready to grab a box and pack it. Then you can go section by section, little by little
For organizing, I love color-coded labels for each room. There are military spouse companies like Team BoxOps. They have labels I have used the past two moves, with matching door tag hangers to make it easier for movers to identity which boxes go to which room.
The Stress-less PCS Kit is also another great milspouse company that is solving the organization problems of PCS moves.
For packing lists, I have my own checklist that I give out for free to my community. I have a version for 4-weeks notice and 8 weeks notice, because you never know how much time you will have.
List and File is also another great alternative because she provides lists that really keep you organized and on time, so it makes everything feel more manageable.
It’s important to think about your packing timeline. There are some things you can pack in advance, like holiday decor, your china or other breakable decor, and the framed art on the walls. Do these tasks first, when you are still fresh, so you can take your time with bubble wrap and the packing process.
PCSgrades has a resource called Lost During my PCS.
This is mainly for families doing the military move, when you receive boxes that don’t belong to you, or you are missing items from your move. This group has thousands of members who have lost or been reconnected with their items. It also has really great general moving tips, so you can get advice for how to pack unique items.
Rapid Fire Round: DITY Move Questions
What do you wish more families knew about DITY moves?
That it is possible and that they are doable! A PCS move is hard either way, even if you choose the government movers. A DITY move has different steps, but it’s always doable with kids and if it’s the right thing for your family.
What was your farthest move to date?
We went from Fort Benning Georgia to JBLM in Washington State. That’s was a quick one where we only had 4 weeks notice. And then less than a year later, we were back in Alabama.
How do you prepare your kids for a move?
I’m really passionate about helping our kids move well, and I even have a downloadable resource to help include your kids. I give them a packet with a calendar, and a packing checklist if they're old enough. It always depends on their age. It’s important to help them give closure, and ask which friends they want to say goodbye to. I let them choose some realistic things to do in the area before we move.
You may think PCS DITY moves are difficult for kids but my kids seem to have more time to process when we are slowly packing up their boxes, so that brings them a little more calm. It gives us time to have those conversations as a family.
Tips for a DITY move with pets?
Our dog will be 11 this year, and she has lived in 10 homes in 9 states. When we start getting our boxes out, she gets stressed. So we create a safe space near her bed where her area won’t be disturbed, and nobody goes into her area. You also want to make sure your pets are up-to-date on vaccinations, paperwork, etc., that is something you can do in advance to be prepared.
What’s your favorite lodging to stay in during your move?
It’s different every time. We get points through one chain, so we always look for that one. Whatever has a pool and is pet-friendly is good. We usually don’t explore much, and just stay right off the highway so that we can get there as quickly as possible.
About the DITY Mama, Mallory Pevoto
I’m an active duty Army spouse of 14 years. We’re high school sweethearts! I’m a stay-at-home mom to 3 kids, ages 8, 6, and 4. We have PCSed 11 times and lived in 13 homes in 13 years, and those were all full DITY moves! We’re originally from Texas, but currently living in Colorado for the 2nd time. Follow Mallory on Instagram @mamas_onthe_move or on my website www.DITYmama.com, where I have frequently asked questions and a how-to-pack series.