PCS Q&A: Making Your PCS Money Work for You
by Lizann Lightfoot - September 27th, 2021
This webinar and blog were originally published in 2020. Click here for the most updated PCS information for 2022.
Our guest is Rebecca Alwine, military spouse and Family Editor of Military.com. “I’m a military spouse for almost 14 years, and PCSed 6 times, including OCONUS. I have never done a DITY move, but have lived on and off post, I have three kids and a dog, and have done all the things that make PCSing interesting.”
DoD updates: Marine Corps put out new guidance, MARADMIN 373-20 expands the use of the Government Travel Card. You can now use it for PPM, temporary lodging, and additional moving costs.
Air Mobility Command has additional guidance for their terminals and aircraft: you must wear a mask. The Patriot Express is limiting their number of passengers to improve spacing, so double-check and confirm your reservations.
Passports can now be expedited for military personnel, so go ahead and apply for passports for OCONUS moves.
If you are moving outdoor equipment like swing sets or trampolines, then it is your responsibility to have it disassembled before your moving crew arrives.
When should people start to prepare for a move?
As soon as you are within the PCS window, start preparing. Even if you don’t know when and where, you probably know the current orders will be up at a certain time, so begin preparing about 6 months ahead.
How do you prepare financially for a PCS?
First, stop spending the money on extra things. Start cleaning out the fridge and pantry, so you are more aware of what you have, and you aren’t buying extra things that won’t be needed between now and when you move.
There are several monetary entitlements military families get during a PCS. Are these sufficient?
We have PCSed newly married, with kids, with and without pets, etc. I think overall the entitlements are enough, but that’s because my family can fit into one hotel room. In that case, it isn’t always enough. We use our DLA in the way it is intended to set up house at the next place. Our per diem is enough to cover basic meals–but my kids are younger and don’t eat as much as someone with teenagers. Temporary lodging expense (TLE) sometimes covers the time in a hotel, and sometimes the per diem can stretch to cover it, but it also depends on how many days you need the lodging. It’s going to be different every time. Once kids hit age 12, they receive 75% of the per diem rate, because they eat like an adult, but they don’t get to stay in an additional hotel room.
How do you stretch to avoid PCS debt?
I look at hotels that include a free breakfast and no pet fee. If it is just for one night, we can stay for under $100. I try to stock up the mini fridge with yogurt, milk, and snacks, so we aren’t buying more. We try to avoid sitting in a restaurant with children, so we do take out or delivery and eat in the hotel room. I also travel with my Instant Pot so I can cook in the room. That saves us money on meals or dining out. It is healthier and lets you bring some pantry items with you.
What is the dislocation allowance? How do you use it?
DLA is meant to offset the expenses of setting up a new home. You have flexibility in how you use it. We typically use it for a deposit or pet payment on a rental. If we lived on base, there were no advance deposits or down payments. But we might use it for furniture, to set up cable and internet, etc. When we rented off the installation, it went towards first and last month’s rent, security deposit, etc. It is an entitlement you receive whether you live on base or off. Use the PCS expenses from that first.
For a long time, the Government Travel Card meant the military did away with DLA payments. They didn’t realize families needed it for deposits when they didn’t have savings. In October 2019, they reinstated DLA payments for the Army, whether you use the government Travel Card or not. Marine Corps gives families a flat DLA after the fact, without requiring receipts or reimbursements. So if you get the money after the move, always check that LES against other pay stubs to make sure the amounts are correct and the military won’t take any back!
What PCS expenses do you normally encounter, and are there any you weren't prepared for?
We haven’t really been shocked by expenses: gas, food, and tolls, paying for hotel parking, are all standard travel expenses. I also pay for childcare and pet boarding on pack-out days. If you plan to feed or tip your movers, plan for that price. Plan for emergencies like replacing a flat tire, shipping a car, or needing to fly someone at the last minute. Prepare to spend extra time in a hotel while you look for a rental or in case your housing options fall through. Know who you will call or how you will react to certain challenges.
What is your biggest PCS money lesson?
Don’t overspend! That really fixes all the problems, but it’s easier said than done. We didn’t know our PCS reimbursement was coming, and we didn’t know our per diem or our weight allowance for our first move, so we were so cheap and thrifty, but received a whopping allowance afterwards. Now you can use Military OneSource to check all your allowances and entitlements online before you move, so you can advocate for yourself and plan for what you will spend and receive. Once you know what you will rate, you can plan better, so educate yourself on your entitlements. If you aren’t a prepared and organized person, reach out to your community and ask for ways that others prepare for a PCS because they will help you.
How do you plan for PCS meals?
If they snack in the car, they may not be hungry enough to need lunch, and that’s ok for a short trip–it’s just less money you have to spend on lunch. The more snacks they eat now, the less they will need later, so aim for two meals a day with lots of snacks.
PCS money-saving tips:
If you have children five and under, bring a potty chair in the car so you can stop anywhere on the side of the road. I save so much time and money with my Instant Pot: I put a few collapsible cooking tools and knife in it so they all travel together. I have made a lot of meals and snacks in that. Use what you have when you PCS so you aren’t buying more. Use your network–stay with other people so you don’t have to stay in hotels. You probably know somebody who knows somebody where you are going. You don’t need to pack every baby thing if you have somebody waiting for you with a pack and play or a high chair.