Planning for a move this PCS Season? You need this budgeting checklist!
Guest Post by: Charlene Wilde, AAFMAA
For servicemembers, relocations and changes of station are simply a fact of life. Whether it’s your first or your fifth move, whether you’re single and moving on your own, or you have a spouse and children making the move with you, these moves can be daunting and even scary. Any seasoned PCS-er will tell you, no two moves are the same. You can encounter new and unique challenges each time you go through a relocation.
Late spring and into summer is a popular time for service men and women to undergo permanent changes of station. This time of the year lessens the impact on children who are enrolled in school. A well-balanced PCS budget is incredibly important. If a family is feeling financially strained going into a move, it can impact the family’s overall well-being throughout the process. This list can help families facing a PCS this summer shore up their finances.
Assess your current expenses and spending habits
Before making any adjustments to your budget for a new location, it is important to have a keen understanding of your current financial set-up. No matter where you live, certain expenses are a given and need to be worked into any budget. This includes necessities like housing, groceries and clothes. Equally important to consider are entertainment items like monthly trips to the movies or other family outings. Identify how much money, on average, your family needs for these things. Then be sure to work them into your PCS budget.
Recognize what incidental expenses you can eliminate
It’s likely that certain payments and expenses can’t be carried over to your new location and can either be changed or dropped in some cases. For instance, depending on the specifics of your move, you may need to switch cable, phone or internet providers. Be sure to look into what plans are available in your new location to see how it compares with your current payments. Depending on the distance of your move, you may want to consider selling your car and purchasing/leasing a new one in your new home. Conversely, if you are moving with your car, it is important to account for travel costs and pre-trip maintenance on your vehicle.
Research cost-of-living in your new location
Once you know the area you will be moving to, look into what it costs to live there. This includes, of course, rent/mortgage payments but it can also refer to common expenses. The average cost for some of the expenses we mentioned above (groceries, entertainment, dining) may be lower or higher in your new town. It’s important to adjust your budget accordingly. You don’t want to be surprised when your first grocery bill is higher than it used to be!
Research the housing market
Before you move, look into the housing market in your new town. Are there many homes available? How quickly are homes going off the market? If the market is particularly hot when you are looking, you’ll need to move quickly. This can be tricky if you are currently living far away. If you don’t have the ability to visit open houses, there are workarounds. Consider asking a trusted friend or family member who might be in the area to attend for you. They can take notes and pictures and report back. Another alternative is using services, such as Gomillie.com. Go Millie will put you in touch with realtors who will specialize in military moving needs. Be sure to do you research on the realtors and work with one who you trust. Local military spouse Facebook groups or other networks can be a great place to seek out recommendations as well.
Look into loan options, if needed
In some cases, once you have laid out your budget and accounted for the reimbursements you will receive from the military, you may still find yourself a bit short when it comes to covering incidentals that won’t be reimbursed. This is a particularly dangerous situation to find yourself in. Many military families end up accumulating debt because they pay for these expenses with credit cards. However, there are alternatives that are available to military families, including a no-interest, three-month basic pay advance that can help cover these costs. It’s important to remember that this advance is still a loan. It will need to be paid back over a set period of time.
Build up your savings
It is a good idea for all military families to have a savings plan. The amount you contribute depends on your unique financial situation. However, it’s good to build up a three-month cash buffer for any unplanned expenses. Having a solid strategy makes it easier. Look at your finances as a family to identify how much of each paycheck will be saved. Don’t foreget to stick with this plan! This money can be used not only to fund planned events like vacations and college tuition, it can really come in handy in the event of an emergency or unexpected expense. In the case of a PCS, even having a few hundred dollars stowed away in a “slush fund” can prevent you from taking on debt or asking for a loan.
PCS season can be scary, even for the most seasoned military families. However, joining a new community and discovering new opportunities also provide a chance to step back, assess your finances and hit the reset button on your family’s budget. Taking the time to go through these important financial steps with your spouse and family ahead of a move is one small thing you can do to improve everyone’s peace-of-mind during a hectic time.