Moving is expensive, there’s no way around it. Fortunately the military reimburses good chunks of our actual moving expenses when we PCS, but I still find myself bleeding money anyway. It’s that new bathroom just BEGS for a different color shower curtain than the one I already own. And wouldn’t new pots go well with you new kitchen? And what about the deposit for your new gas and water accounts at your new duty station. Even a credit check cannot always get you out of those, I am sad to report.
We had the chance to chat with J.J. Montanaro, a USAA financial guru and Certified Public Accountant (CPA), about ways military families can tackle their next PCS and still be smart about money. Here are his top five PCS money tips.
1. Create a moving fund. Even if you are going to get back from Uncle Sam most of what you spend on the move, you still need to have the money up front. And while you can get an advance on your pay, who wants to spend the next year getting a reduced paycheck while paying it back? J.J. advices setting up a moving fund now to cover your move later.
“Essentially what I mean there is there’s so many reasons to have some cash when you get to the other side of a PCS,” he said. “I’d much rather have my own cash in hand for a deposit for utilities, down payment for a house, for all those things.”
And if you save all that cash and then done end up needing it?
“That’s still good because then you have that money in hand,” he said.
2. Make the right call on a roof over your head. When I get to a new duty station I am hot to trot to find a place to live. I want to sign a lease and receive my household goods Right. NOW. But J.J. advices that we instead take our time – if only so that we don’t have the financial burden of moving yet again in a few months when we realize that the place we signed a lease on in a hurry is awful, awful, awful.
3. Use the PCS as a way to kind of reset your financial structure. Moving can be the perfect fresh start. You just saw and put away yet again all of your stuff and, hopefully, in the process realized that you do not, in fact, need 17 black t-shirts. So why not reexamine your financial stuff, too? J.J. said moving is the perfect time to create a budget and make a renewed effort to live only within your means.
“Moving to a new location, from a financial perspective, really gives you an opportunity to reset things and take a look at how your expenses are structured, how much you’re spending on housing and transportation and the various things that are out there,” he said. “I think it gives you an opportunity to reinvent yourself … and that’s exciting.”
4. Do your research. Remember when J.J. said in tip two that we should make the right housing choice? Doing so involves research – lots and lots of research.
I have a friend who is the Research Queen. Her family had the luxury of knowing their future duty station about a year out – and she spent that entire year meticulously researching the perfect neighborhood for her growing family. The result? She was able to buy a great home before getting there, knowing for a fact that the area would be just right for her family.
How did she do it? Research.
J.J. says taking your time is the biggest key to research.
“I want to look at the neighborhoods that are out there, the schools, the amenities, the travel time to and from work,” he said.
While most people may not have the year-long bumper my friend did, you can at least make the most of every second of those 10 days of paid-for housing when you arrive at your new duty station. And generally speaking most of us get our orders or have at least an inkling of where we’ll be moving several months in advance. Take that time to pull up Google and research your future hometown. It will pay off.
5. Lighten your load. Moving isn’t just a great chance to reset your budget, it’s also a great chance to offload stuff you don’t need and a little extra cash in the process, J.J. said.
“Maybe you’re looking for ways to build up the moving fund,” he said. “So it’s a garage sale, maybe it’s selling a car, maybe it’s … making a bunch of charitable donations of all the stuff that doesn’t necessarily need to go with you on the move. So look for opportunities to get to the new station lean and mean.”
These five tips can make future moves go much smoother on a financial AND sanity level. Because, let’s be honest, the money spending parts of a PCS are super stressful. Here’s to a relaxed move!