They say that there are only two certainties in life: death and taxes.
But for military families, you can add a third certainty — moving.
Frequent moves are an inherent part of military life. In fact, the average military family moves every two to three years, according to data compiled by the USO. It is not uncommon for military children to have moved up to 10 times by the time they turn 12 years old. Additionally, the average military child changes schools between 6 to 9 times before they graduate high school.
That’s a lot of moving!
While moving does provide incredible opportunities for professional development and personal growth, the costs can add up quickly. The average cost of a local household move comes in at $1,250. For long-distance moves, the cost averages out at $4,890.
Since moving can be both chaotic and stressful, many military families end up spending more than they need to.
Fortunately, creating a budget for your PCS (Permanent Change of Station) can help keep the costs of your military move in check.
What Exactly is a PCS and How Does it Work?
A PCS is simply military jargon for “moving.”
Since you are moving from one duty station to another, you and your family are authorized different entitlements (“services”) and allowances to make the move easier.
Exactly how much are you entitled to? The help you receive from the military depends largely on where your next duty station is.
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For families relocating for a CONUS move (contiguous United States — also known as the “lower 48”), there are essentially three options:
- A military do-it-yourself (DITY) move is also known as a personally procured move. In these situations, the military will reimburse you for the cost of hiring a carrier, using rental equipment, etc. Families can receive reimbursement up to 100% of the Government Constructive Cost (GCC), which is determined through a complex calculation. If you move the property on your own, you can be reimbursed up to 95% of the GCC.
- Military families also have the option to allow the military to orchestrate and conduct the move. This means they’ll help with the actual packing and will move you out with teams of packers and movers.
- Families can also opt to do a combination of the above, which is known as a partial DITY. There is partial reimbursement for moving some of your own items. Your family will decide what personal belongings you will be responsible for moving while military-hired movers take care of the rest.
Each member of the military has an authorized weight limit of household goods (HHG). The HHG weight limit allowance goes off of your rank in the military. In general, the higher the rank, the higher the weight limit allowance.
The military will move anything within your weight limit allowance for free. Any costs that exceed the allowance are your responsibility.
For families who choose to utilize the available military resources, it’s important to be cognizant of your weight allowance. Unless you’re willing to cover the cost of any excess material weight, this is the perfect opportunity to downsize. Many families turn to Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, eBay, or good ol’ fashioned garage sales to rid themselves of items that might not fit in their new home.
What Should I Include in a PCS Budget?
When military families budget ahead for their next PCS, it’s tempting to put most of the focus on the actual move itself. In other words, it’s easy to assume that the cost of the move will be determined by your HHG weight limit allowance.
While staying within your weight limit allowance will certainly lower the overall cost of the military move, it is not the only cost category to consider.
Other categories that military families should consider including in their PCS budget include, but are not limited to:
- Do you have one vehicle? Two? The rising cost of fuel is certainly something to consider and plan for in your budget. Fortunately, there are many tools available online to help you calculate the cost of gas. Many people recommend using GasBuddy.com. Not only does GasBuddy calculate the estimated cost based on your departing and destination cities, it also helps you find the cheapest gas stations on your route. It’s not uncommon for people to save $200+ per vehicle, depending on the distance traveled.
Lodging and kennel fees
- The average interstate move is 1,225 miles in distance, according to the American Moving and Storage Association. This means that most people will need to book a hotel, motel, or similar type of accommodation for the multi-day move. If you have pets, it’s important to remember that not all hotels are pet-friendly, and if they are, it typically comes at an extra cost. With that said, you may need to budget for additional kennel and vet fees for the move.
- At some point, you’ll need to pack up the kitchen in your current home. Until you've moved in and have access to the kitchen in your new home, you’ll likely be eating out for every meal. These costs can add up quickly. To help keep your food budget reasonable, consider packing nonperishable food for your move. Some families even recommend looking for hotels that offer free breakfast, as this will take care of the cost of at least one meal.
Pit stops and detours
- Moving to a new place provides incredible professional and interpersonal opportunities. But the move itself can also provide opportunities for sightseeing and en-route vacations, especially in parts of America that you wouldn’t think to otherwise visit. Keep in mind that not all sightseeing opportunities are located right next to the highway, so be sure to include the extra cost of gas, food, lodging, and the attractions themselves in your budget.
- If you’re moving into a rental home or off-base apartment, expect to pay your first month’s rent as well as a security deposit. Typically, the deposit isn’t returned to you until it’s time to move out and your landlord has cleared the property of damage. Have pets? That’ll be an extra fee as well. It’s also not uncommon for utility companies to charge a deposit before they connect the services.
By including these items in your budget, you and your family are less likely to be caught off guard by expenses during your PCS move.
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How to Save the Most Money on a Military Move
If financial savings are your main priority, then you’ll want to consider the Personally Procured Move (PPM) program (the same as the DITY option discussed above).
To reiterate, the military DITY move is for families who choose to move their belongings themselves. The government reimburses the cost of the move based on the weight of your belongings and the distance of the relocation. The government determines the Government Constructive Cost (GCC), and families can receive 100% reimbursement of what the GCC is determined to be.
Through the PPM program, families are “entitled to travel allowances, per diem and mileage through government. You also receive $25,000 of insurance coverage. An advance monetary allowance for your move can be paid under certain circumstances.”
However, the reason that the PPM program isn’t the first choice for everyone is because of the weight allowance limitations and the fact that you are personally responsible for moving your belongings.
To save the most money on your military move, you must schedule an appointment with your base Personal Property Office (PPO). When you go to the PPO and meet with a PTO representative, you can ask specific questions about your PPM (DITY) move. During this process, you’ll need to fill out DD Form 2278. This includes the Application for Move and Counseling Checklist.
The Bottom Line
Aside from saving money during the move itself, it’s important to ensure that you and your family have a healthy budget in general. After all, once you settle into your new home, you’ll need to stick to a budget to keep your finances in good order.
What about you? Are you in a military family? What was your experience like? What did your family do to budget and save money? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below! You never know who is reading and might benefit from your insight!