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6 Unexpected Costs of a PCS for Military Families

by Julie Provost - August 17th, 2022

6 Unexpected Costs of a PCS for Military Families

For any PCS, there will be unexpected costs. Even the best planner, with a detailed PCS budget, will have purchases they didn't anticipate. Life happens, things go wrong, furniture gets damaged, and pantries need to be restocked. A PCS can bring unforeseen expenses that military families might not have planned for.

Here's just one example: I am not sure how it happened, but when we PCSed from Germany to Fort Campbell, we lost one of our car seats. We had to check our second car seat, and it did not make the last leg of our trip. We had to buy another one as soon as we got to Fort Campbell-- definitely an unexpected PCS expense! 

You may not need an extra car seat, but you will probably be hit with one of these top unexpected costs of a PCS move. None of these items are reimbursed by the government, so you'll have to pay out of pocket. That's why it's important to start saving money for your next PCS move several months in advance. Some military families start saving before they even receive their next PC orders! Because the one thing you can expect during any PCS move is that something will go wrong. So prepare for surprises, and pad your budget for these common PCS expenses.

What are common out-of-pocket costs for PCS moves?

1. House cleaners

When you move, whether you are renting or selling your home, you will be expected to leave it in a clean condition. Many people do their final cleaning of their home themselves. It's cheaper and can be done in just a day in most cases. But sometimes life gets in the way, or your PCS timeline doesn't have room for a cleaning day. You might decide to pay for a company to do the cleaning for you. Or if you live in base housing, you may be charged a cleaning fee if you don't pass the "white glove" inspection.

2. Extra days in a hotel

Ideally, you can move into base housing a rental, or your new home within a week or two of arriving at your new duty station. The family is usually allotted 10 days of TLE (Temporary Lodging Expense) for a domestic move, or 30 days of TLA (Temporary Lodging Assistance) for an overseas move. But that might not cover everything. Sometimes you have to wait a bit longer for housing wait lists or closing paperwork.

If you need extra days, you can sometimes apply for an extension, but often you will end up spending more money than originally planned. Staying in a hotel also means more days not being in a house with a full kitchen, and those expenses of dining out during a PCS can add up quickly.

Read more about TLE and how it affects your PCS budget here.

3. Dining out

Speaking of restaurant meals... We all know that we will have to eat out more during a PCS, but sometimes we don’t think about how much that will cost. The price of meals varies in different parts of the country, so some days of your PCS road trip may be more expensive than others.

The good news is that families do receive a "per diem" for approved travel days during a PCS. This is designed to cover your hotel, gas, and meals while on the road. But pay attention, because the approved travel dates are based on the distance between your old and new duty stations. It does not necessarily cover every day of your family's trip--especially if you go out of your way to visit family or make your PCS into a vacation.

Here are our suggestions for saving money on meals when you PCS!

4. Cleaning supplies

First, you need to replace all the liquids and chemicals that the movers won't pack when you PCS. Then, you never really know what cleaning supplies you will need until you move into your new home. If you are coming from overseas, you will have to start over and buy everything all at once. Usually, we buy liquids, cleaning products, and household items a little at a time. Putting them all in the shopping cart in one trip will mean a huge bill.

What household items will you need to replace when you PCS? We have a list here!

5. Replacing broken items after a PCS

Hopefully, nothing gets broken when you are PCSing, but sometimes things do. Even if you file a claim and will get reimbursed for the items later, you will probably want to replace some of what has broken right away. Whether you are replacing large essentials like a damaged mattress, or small items that you didn't bother claiming, you might not have time to shop around. Making everything fit and work properly in the new home sometimes means unexpected costs in your PCS budget.

6. Utility bills for a PCS move

When setting up utilities off base, you will probably have set-up fees. If you lived off-base at your previous assignment, you may also be charged fees for closing your accounts. These add up as you set up your electric, water, internet, cable, trash, and possibly gas. Don't expect the costs to be the same as they were at your previous location. Do research ahead of time for your new area, so you aren't surprised by high utility bills the month after you PCS.

The best thing to do when preparing for your PCS is to set aside extra money. Build up your savings account before you move. Figure out how much you think you would need and double that. Having extra money set aside will help you with unexpected expenses. If you end up not needing to use the money, having that extra stash in savings will be a good thing. Because if you're a military family, you'll probably do another PCS move in a few years!

Julie Provost

Julie Provost is the freelance blogger behind Soldier’s Wife, Crazy Life. She enjoys life in Tennessee with her husband, a National Guard soldier, and their three boys. Julie enjoys blogging, reading, photography and a good cup of coffee. You can follow her on Twitter @SoldiersWifeCL.