“When you protect your wellness by finding ways to do the things you love, while also protecting your finances, you can use the PCS season to rest, reset, and arrive at the new duty station ready to re-engage with the mission.” – Heather Campbell
Relocation. Financial hardship. Food insecurity. Unemployment. Life through a permanent change of station (PCS) is full of difficulty, with lots of opportunities for hardship to sabotage the wellness of military families. One way you can care for individual wellness through a PCS is to protect your financial wellness. Here are a few simple steps that can help prepare your family to financially survive a PCS, and find enjoyment along the way:
KNOW YOUR BUDGET
For every military-sponsored PCS, service members receive a set amount of financial compensation. First is the per diem, which is a federally determined amount, that covers food and lodging each day. Servicemembers receive one hundred percent, spouses receive seventy-five percent, and each remaining dependent receives fifty percent. This amount is automatic and is given for each approved travel day, no receipt reimbursement is required. For example, a family of five with five days to relocate will receive 325 percent of the approved per diem rate for five days, no matter how long they take to relocate. Use this estimate to plan the target budget for lodging and food. Other allowances are allowed including mileage for driving, a dislocation allowance to help set up the new house, paid plane tickets or ferry passage, and weight-based reimbursement for driving. There are even more allowances for a move that servicemembers complete themselves. Be in the know about the expected budget, and plan accordingly. When in doubt, call the gaining unit to verify PCS allowances and reimbursements. Often, you can use a five-day allowance to cover ten days of travel for your family if you budget right.
DECIDE TO SPLURGE
One of the unique things about PCS season is the ability to see other parts of the country, or the world, along with way, for little to no out-of-pocket cost. Once a budget is established, it is much easier to prioritize places, meals, and experiences along the way that are worth the splurge. If splurges can fit into the budget, then you can try to incorporate some fun along your route during a typically stressful season.
STAY ON A DIME
Multiple options exist to find lodging for less than the per diem rate. Try asking friends and family if they have a place you can stay, look for military lodging, enjoy camping, or even try discount websites or ask for the “military on orders” rate at favorite hotel chains. When choosing places to stay, remember to prioritize ideal places that override the budget, like a cabin with a view or an ideal location in a favorite city, then aim for below budget stops the rest of the time to balance it out. When choosing a combination of budget and pricey lodging, it’s possible to swing some great stops on your route and stay within the pre-planned budget.
EAT WELL FOR CHEAP
Just like lodging, prioritize special meals or foods to try, and see what fits in the budget. For regular meals, budget eating will help save dollars for the “fun food.” Thankfully, budget food does not mean only PB&J and ramen noodles. Lots of options exist in gas stations, grocery stores, and even quick-service restaurants for healthy, balanced foods for cheap. Consider bringing an instant pot, or similar pressure cooker, and a grill like a George Foreman, on the journey. Many recipes can be made in campers, hotels, or even aboard an Alaskan ferry using just these two appliances.
One of the best ways to enjoy PCS season is to find ways to include adventure along the journey. Whether through fun foods or exciting locations, finding the fun, as Mary Poppins would say, can make a stressful season easier to endure. When you protect your wellness by finding ways to do the things you love, while also protecting your finances, you can use the PCS season to rest, reset, and arrive at the new duty station ready to reengage with the mission.
Heather Campbell is a Registered Dietitian, Air Force spouse, mom of three, and owner of Glory Nutrition. Heather’s expertise was most influenced by a season of single income family life with three children under four, in an expensive OCONUS location, where she and her husband managed to pay off nearly $125,000 of student debt. As a family feeding expert and budget whiz, Heather helps fellow busy families use “shortcuts that save time, save money, and get kids to freakin’ eat,” so they can save brain space for the most important things in their lives. Heather is passionate about food equity and ending military family food insecurity.