Making a military PCS move carries a hefty financial burden for military families. That means smart money management and knowing and using all of your PCS entitlements is necessary for getting you from Point A to Point B without draining your bank account.
And even as you balance that cash flow, you also need to keep another life management factor in mind: All of that paperwork that makes the military life go ’round. From passports to shot records, knowing where your documents are won’t just save your sanity, it can also save you money.
In this episode of “PCS with Military.com,” financial columnist and accredited financial counselor Kate Horrell joins us to share her best tips and tricks for a financially smart and sanity-safe military move.
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The following is an edited transcript of this episode of PCS with Military.com.
Amy Bushatz: Welcome to PCS With Military.com. I'm your host, Amy Bushatz, Military.com's executive editor. On this podcast, we talk about everything you need to know to make this military move season your best yet. PCS With Military.com is brought to you by Navy Federal Credit Union. Proudly serving all branches of the armed forces, veterans and their families. No matter where you are in your military career, Navy Federal Credit Union has the products and resources to help you navigate your finances. Learn more at NavyFederal.org. Our members are the mission.
Now, let's get this PCS started.
There's no way around it. Military moves are expensive. Sure, Uncle Sam is supposed to reimburse you for your move, but practically speaking, that almost never covers the full cost of relocating your life from one spot to another as part of a PCS. A study from the Military Family Advocacy Network found military families spend an average of $5,000 out of pocket on any given military move -- that's $5,000 that isn't reimbursed by the government and simply gone from your bank account.
And even as you spend that money, there's another financial aspect to think about that may not even occur to you: Your documentation and keeping all those paperwork ducks in [a row]. What do you need? Where do you find it? Why should you bother? To help us think through some of the practicalities of financial planning and important documents around a military move, we have my friend, accredited financial counselor and longtime Military.com money columnist Kate Harrell joining us today.
She's gonna offer us some tips and tricks and things to think about as we prepare for PCS season or tackle a move. Kate, welcome to PCS with Military.com.
Kate Horrell: I'm really glad to be here.
Amy Bushatz: Well, I am so glad to have you. You're exactly the right person to talk to us about this. Both of these subjects are a point of passion for you. And you guys are a Navy family. So tell us, how many times have you moved with or without the military?
Kate Horrell: We've done nine actual PCS moves. I was trying to count how many times I've moved in my whole life. I think 21. Cuz sometimes you can't stay in the same house from, you know, stuff happens.
Amy Bushatz: Yeah. But all those things count, I think. And they all carry stresses of their own. So that's why we ask for the sum total so we can understand just how stressed you are.
Kate Horrell: That is so true.
Amy Bushatz: So there is so many things to talk about around financial planning and PCS, but one of the things I really wanna focus on today is a few best practices around making it through a military move without going into major debt, money, or sanity, really. So for our purposes with you, money, can you offer us three or four tips to help us with that?
Kate Horrell: Absolutely. The first thing is, may seem kind of basic, but a lot of families just don't know, especially when you're new to the military. Get to know what allowances you are supposed to get. My family slept on the floor for many, many moves because we did not know that there was this thing called temporary lodging and that you could get an allowance for that. Dislocation allowance is something that a lot of families don't know about, and you have to ask for it. It just doesn't show up in your bank account unless you check the little form on your travel voucher.
The other thing is to know exactly not only that, those allowances exist, but how much you're supposed to get. Our family lived in temporary lodging one time overseas for a really long time. We were there for two months at a very small installation, and the guy who was not a personnel person who was doing our paperwork didn't know you got more money for more family members, and we had to like bring him the regulations and say, Hey, in fact, it's not just this standard rate. So knowing your stuff is really important and then just filling out the paperwork.
Amy Bushatz: Yeah. So what I, I, what I hear you saying on the rates is that , we have this sort of expectation in the military that everybody is gonna be doing their jobs, and I think anyone who's ever I know, right? Jokes, jokes, all. Anyone who's ever dealt with personnel or paperwork or pay or anything like this knows that stuff does fall through the cracks. And as wonderful as it would be if everybody did their jobs sometimes people just aren't that good at their jobs. That's a thing.
Kate Horrell: That is a thing, and one of the natures of the military is that people change jobs every two to three years. So unless they're in exactly the same job that they were in before, they've only been doing this for, I don't know, six months, maybe two years. And particularly if your family has any unusual situation, they're just not gonna know.
Amy Bushatz: Right? Right. So not everyone is as nerdy as us. That's what you're saying.
Kate Horrell: That is the point here. The second thing I will say, this may not decrease the amount of money you spend, but I really like to see if a military family can manage to have a separate savings account for their PCSs.
This prevents you from going into debt while you're waiting for reimbursements, and then it may cover if you do have things that you aren't gonna be reimbursed for. If you have pets, that PCS savings account is essential because almost none of the pet PCS costs are covered by the Department of Defense.
The third thing I say about PCSing is be creative and realistic. Like when you're PCSing, you don't have to be fancy like Applebee's for every single meal. Maybe you go to the grocery store and you buy cold cuts and bread, or I'm a big fan of those pre-made veggie trays and I wouldn't buy them in my regular life cuz they're very expensive for what you're getting, but a pre-made veggie tray will feed, my family a good side. Plus we're getting some vegetables in.
Amy Bushatz: Right? No scurvy for you on your military move.
Kate Horrell: No scurvy. Big old bag of mandarin oranges right there. Another thing that you can do is to maybe go to the grocery store, but buy that prepared stuff that you wouldn't normally get. My kids know that PCS means toaster strudels. I don't know where they got this idea. I think one time somebody wanted toaster strudels and I said, next time we move and we need to live somewhere temporarily, we will buy toaster strudels. But same thing for those pulled pork in a package, or just things that are already prepared that might be outside of your normal food budget, but make a lot more sense than getting takeouts.
Amy Bushatz: Right, because you are the per diem rate that you are getting every day for this period of time is not based off of you turning in receipts. It's a set amount. And so when you go to Applebee's, you are spending a portion or more than that set amount, and when you go to the grocery store or on your new installation, maybe the commissary to grab groceries or Costco. Get some of that prepared stuff that you wouldn't normally get. It's gonna cost less than Applebee's, it's still gonna be more than your per diem or within that budget, and it's also going to save your sanity. So like three boxes checked right there.
Kate Horrell: Yeah. Particularly for families who live in temporary lodging long term. I mean, sometimes this is actually cash in pocket to offset some of those other expenses. Getting your pet to your new location or buying new uniforms if your spouse has come to a location that suddenly they wear something totally different and you didn't know.
Amy Bushatz: That happens.
Kate Horrell: That happens.
Amy Bushatz: Just a quick pit stop here to thank our sponsor. PCS With Military.com is brought to you by Navy Federal Credit Union.. They may be called Navy Federal, but they don't exclusively serve sailors. Serving all members of the armed forces, they have the products and resources to help you navigate your finances through every phase of life. So even if you can't tell port from starboard, Navy Federal Credit Union will help you earn and save with great rates and exclusive discounts. Learn more at NavyFederal.org. Navy Federal Credit Union, our members are the mission, an equal housing lender.
One of your passion points is helping military families with documentation and understanding all of the things they need to have in what you call a everything you need binder. Oh, and we've talked about binders here on this podcast before. We love binders. Okay, so first of all, that's kind of a nerdy passion point. I think we can acknowledge that. But tell us why this binder and this documentation is a passion point and why it's important.
Kate Horrell: Our family had two different emergencies. One time we needed help and one time we needed to help another family member, and both times we were wholly unprepared for it.
The first time was in September of 2001. I think most of us remember that we had our, we had just PCSd. Our household goods were delivered on September 10th and September 11th happened, and my husband had to deploy, pretty immediately. He got on his little ship and it started sailing. It was not even in an ocean yet, and my four month old fell and was unconscious, paramedics talking about helicopters, and I'm standing on my neighbor's front door. We've just PCS keep in mind with an unconscious infant. And I said to her, there are other children in my house. And I just left. Like I didn't really have any other choice. And that, and between the time we had to help another family member with a slightly different but lack of communication, unexpected situation, I thought we really need to be writing some stuff down. Like people need some sort of help when they roll into this. So I started gathering little bits and pieces here and there, but it was really disorganized and I didn't know what I needed to include in there. Like I just didn't really have good ideas. So I went out in the world of the internet and I found a commercial in case of emergency binder.
It's a very popular one. It's really good. But it covered emergencies. Big emergencies, deaths, things like that, and it did not reflect my military life. There was no place to write down all the information my neighbor would've needed if she needed to send a Red Cross message. There was no place to write down like, how do you find my family? What state do they even live in?
I think there might have been some assumption that, your neighbors or your family, were going to know each other or be nearby. So I thought, well, I like to start projects and not finish them. I'm gonna make one of these for myself. And three years later it was finished. I had input from dozens of people, active duty, veterans, retired, family members.. There was no place to write down who my landlord was five houses ago and what email address they might reply to if I needed a reference.
We added, we subtracted, we made it bigger and larger and use less ink .
Amy Bushatz: And this is a binder kit that is available for download on your personal website, Katehorrell.com.
But I'm hoping that for the purposes of PCSing, you can tell us what kind of documentation do people regularly miss when they PCS. Because when you're talking thinking, well, yeah, power of attorneys and oh my gosh, this like, uh, writing down what state your family lives in. That makes perfect sense. But when it comes to PCSing, what, where, what are people just not thinking about?
Kate Horrell: I am really surprised at the number of people who the packers accidentally pack like their passports and they have an OCONUS move coming up. There are so many documents that I hand carry with me when I move and that's one of the reasons I keep my binder in like an actual binder cuz it just goes in my suitcase.
But things like birth certificates, marriage certificates. Deeds to cars are never available when you need them. I once drove five states away to get the replacement title for a car so that we could move it overseas. And then of course it turned up. So that was a total waste of my time. Immunization records. You know, the Department of Defense claims that everything is online.
Amy Bushatz: Yeah, that's a lie.
Kate Horrell: That's a lie. It's just flat-out a lie.
Amy Bushatz: Although I did find like a one off record of my son's pediatrician appointment in 2009, but no. Like no appointments after that. Just that one.
Kate Horrell: No actual records, right? Yes. immunization records. You get to your new location and your, you need to register your child for school and you don't have immunization records, this is not gonna end well one way or another. Yeah. You're either gonna make yourself crazy, your child is not gonna get enrolled in school, or they're gonna get a whole bunch of immunizations that they've already had. And this is not a desired outcome for anybody.
Amy Bushatz: No. So the documents I hear you talking about here are not moving paperwork, although that exists too. They're more like life paperwork that you need when you move.
Kate Horrell: Yes. Moving paperwork is obviously important, right? You need to have your orders, you need to have your household goods inventory. You need to have whatever travel documentation you have, if it's an overseas screening, or if it's EFMP approval to move to your new location. Those are also extremely important, but those other life paperworks, like don't just put them in a lockbox and let the movers take. Please, I beg you. Don't do that.
Amy Bushatz: Or even just stuff them in your stuff and hope you remember what part of your stuff you put them in. Because I mean, who among us has not packed a car and then been like, oh crap, I don't know what part of the car that one thing that I need in the first hotel is. And now you have unpacked a car. And it's not that fun.
Kate Horrell: Well, and PCS cars, I don't know about your PCS is Amy, but we never even can put our feet down on the floor because there is so much stuff in the car.
Amy Bushatz: Dogs, humans, belongings, everything. Yeah. Snacks.
Kate Horrell: So many things.
Amy Bushatz: Trash. Yep. It's chaos.
Kate Horrell: We always overestimate how much will fit in our car and we pull out a thing, oh, we'll just take that with us. Oh, we'll just take that with us. And next thing you know, we have a five bedroom house worth of stuff that we think we're gonna put in our minivan. It's not gonna happen.
Amy Bushatz: Totally understand that. Okay, so you have a binder kit that you sell. Talk to us about the best way to address some of this organizational stuff. Obviously, your binder is one of them. Are, is there other ways to maybe collect this that people should know about or create their own binder?
Kate Horrell: Create your own binder, if that works for you. I tried it and it was not a pretty process for me until I had a little direction, right? There are a lot of really good PCS checklists out there. The one I have at my website is very comprehensive. It says things like go to medical and have them print out your entire family's immunizations. It's not just purge your things, or gather all of your office supplies in one room so that they don't end up in 43 different boxes. Also, not that that's ever happened to eith I also recommend people take advantage of online document storage. It doesn't replace originals for a lot of things, but for some things it does. Like when my kids get new glasses or contacts, I automatically upload their prescriptions to the cloud because that way when we are in the middle of Nebraska and someone is in a crammed car and steps on their sister's glasses, we can go get them new glasses because I know that prescription exists in the cloud.
er of us.
There are websites, there are all sorts of things.
Amy Bushatz: And that step is one of those things that if you do these things every time you have one of them to do, like, don't save them for the end when you're PCSing, right? Like you get the prescription, you upload it. Not, I'm moving in two weeks and now I have to do all of this. It saves you over time, but it does it, you say that and I'm like, gosh, why don't I do that? Are you crazy, Amy? It's like such an easy thing that it's almost too easy. I did not think of. ,
Kate Horrell: And I think you maybe have seen my scanning pile because it does get overwhelming. I frequently try to take people to say the eye doctor in bulk, right? And so I come home and I now have 12 prescriptions that need to be uploaded, and then they just sit on top of the scanner. Well, they don't do me any good if they're sitting on top of the scanner, because then if the movers come, they're just gonna go in a box. Because I do move boxes of things that say like, papers that need to be filed. I have moved those boxes before.
Amy Bushatz: Yeah, I hear that. And your, this sort of binder idea is a, I mean, maybe it's a fail safe. Maybe it's a replacement for storing, say, I don't know, I don't know all of your previous addresses simply on amazon.com. That's how I, you find your last five zip codes.
Kate Horrell: It's also how I figure out my siblings addresses, so don't knock Amazon.
Amy Bushatz: Kate, you have given us a bunch of little hints today to help us with our military PCS finances, and keeping our documentation ducks in a row, ducks that we didn't even know were wandering about. So thank you so much for your time and expertise and for joining us on PCS with Military.com.
Kate Horrell: Glad to be here. Thanks, Amy.
Amy Bushatz: Thanks so much for listening to PCS With Military.com. Want more PCS advice? Check out the rest of PCS With Military.com wherever you get your podcasts. A special thanks to our sponsor, Navy Federal Credit Union, proudly serving all branches of the armed forces, veterans and their families. No matter where you are in your military career, Navy Federal Credit Union has the products and resources to help you navigate your finances. Learn more at NavyFederal.org. Our members are the mission.
And until next time, happy moving.