The months leading up to the military family PCS tend to be filled with a lot of googling and caffeine. There’s also some blood, sweat and tears mixed in there! Caliber Home Loans can be a great source when it comes to online information about PCS’ing. Those of us who have PCS’ed at least twice are what we called seasoned. We roll up our sleeves and approach it as a three-ring circus we’re the conductors of. However, one of the things we may be missing in our PCS process is truly financially planning for it.
Megan Harless is an Army spouse, veteran soldier and mama. She’s also one of the foremost experts on PCS’ing like a pro! We reached out to her to get the lowdown on being financially savvy during a PCS. Check out our interview below.
Answer: The best thing that anyone can do is budget. First, find out what your PCS entitlements amount will be, so you know what your expected reimbursement/incentive payments are anticipated to be. The budget can begin to build from there. Having a budget and knowing what your entitlements are will help you to have a realistic expectation of what you may be paying out of pocket so you can plan accordingly. When you make your PCS budget, you can see what savings you need to work towards or areas that you may be able to splurge in. No matter what, make a budget!
Answer: Not knowing what your PCS entitlements are. There are many myths out there from “everything is reimbursed” to “the military gives you $10,000 to PCS and spend how you want” and then families are left in a hole when they find out that isn’t the case. Some service branches allow advancements on different entitlements but if not, you can always file for them when you arrive. Know what your DLA amount is, how many days of per diem you will receive and what the rate per person is, your TLE/TLA allotments, mileage rate and if doing a PPM, you need to understand the incentive pay, taxable amount with rate and authorized operating expenses. Knowing these entitlements will help you make your budget and help keep your finances on track.
A notable mistake to mention is not being aware of the liability of your household goods. Currently the moving company is only liable for $6 per pound and only up to $75,000. If your shipment is 10,000 pounds, then they are only liable for $60,000 should something happen. I see many families who either sell their home and do not add renters insurance during the move, or cancel their renters insurance hoping to save a month’s payment. This is a huge mistake that can have catastrophic consequences. Having renters insurance or another personal property type policy can come in handy should you have a loss and need to file any overage with them. It is also important to note that your policy should cover your household goods in transit and in storage; if they do not then you should shop around for a new policy.
Answer: Before your PCS I always suggest a “purge” of the home. Clean out what you don’t need or doesn’t fit. Then have a great yard sale! Having some “PCS Cash” for incidentals along the way will help you stay on budget. Your per diem is a flat rate payment for you to utilize how you want, so staying at cheaper hotels can help you pocket a little money. Additionally with the hotels, you should pick your favorite hotel chain and join their rewards club and stay with them during your PCS. This can help you rack up free nights to use during a vacation or another time.
Answer: For our family we start with a budget. We figure out what we can receive when filing our travel voucher and go from there. When planning our lodging in hotels, I try to plan our route where military installations are and it’ll be cheaper to stay, or where some good hotel deals are happening. Meal planning is a big thing for me. We’ll make sure our hotels offer a free breakfast option to eat before hitting the road, then we’ll usually snack over lunch to keep driving and plan something quick, easy and cheap for dinner. And we always avoid buffets!
Answer: When we first got married and had our first PCS a few weeks later, I was completely clueless on the PCS entitlements. I knew the military would pay for gas and probably hotels but that was it. Nothing else. So here we are at our first duty station Fort Riley, Kansas and we suddenly had a deposit for $6,000, which is a lot for just out of college newlyweds. Neither of us knew where it came from. I asked my husband if he had a rich family member who just made a deposit as a wedding gift! We eventually found out it was our PCS entitlements. Ever since that moment I started learning what our entitlements were and how to maximize them for not just us but all military families.
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