By Jaimi Erickson
Throughout more than 20 years of military life, my husband and I have lived both on base and off base. Each area provided opportunities to consider when we evaluated what living situation was best for our family. With every PCS, we made a different housing choice.
When we lived on base, as I recently shared in this article, the experience provided great lessons for us. Living off base has also given us some unique opportunities. There are benefits and challenges whether you live on base or off. Let’s start with what I learned from living off base.
Benefits and Challenges of Living Off Base
1. More Privacy
Without question, if you want privacy for your family, live off base. Living in an on-base community can feel like living in a fish bowl. Living off base is the opposite; at times, we have felt anonymous. Because of that, we had to work harder to build community.
Privacy (when we want it) is a benefit. The downside is, we have had to go through deployments without a close-knit community of support. The community around us did not come together to help.
We have lived through multiple deployments. Some of these happened while living on base and some while living off of a military installation. Living off base during deployment meant I had to build my community of support.
If you want a village, you can have it whether you live on base or not. But, you determine who is part of the village more than when living on base.
2. You Have to Work to Build Friendships
In my experience, a village did not just appear on our porch to welcome us to the neighborhood. In many off-base locations, we never even met most of our neighbors. The village tends to show up right away when you live on base. Off base we had to actively seek out friendships.
It was essential to join a church or moms’ group in order to meet people and make friends. Base events were always great for connecting with fellow military families. The additional benefit was, at the end, we went home to our off-base residence. That separation from work can be a big perk.
3. Work-Life Separation
For the active-duty servicemember, this is an important aspect of stress relief. When you live off base, you do not have to be “military” all the time. On base, you have to watch what you say, who you say it to, and are in a state of “working” all the time. That was draining for my husband.
We have lived on base so our children could have a close group of friends. However, my husband always appreciated the separation he had from work,when we lived off base.
4. Family Can Visit Easily
It was always easier for family to visit when we lived off base. There was no need to get visitor passes. They could drive right to our door. This made life easier, especially when our children were younger.
5. Less Drama
Living off base can provide a quieter, drama-free life. Many base communities can feel overwhelming when cliques take over. You feel the pull to attend every neighbor gathering. It always depends on the neighborhood of course.
6. More Housing Options
Newer, nicer housing is often more available off base. We have all read about the housing troubles of the past 20 years. Homes off base are usually newer or updated. On base, you get what you get. This can also be dependent on location. In some ZIP Codes, housing will be larger on base. That is why it can be best to evaluate whether on base or off base options can provide the best housing — before every PCS.
7. Better Financial Choice
Off-base living provided an opportunity to spend less than our BAH on a home. The extra went into our pocket. This can be a better financial choice whether you rent or buy. When living on base, your entire BAH — in most communities — is allotted to the housing management company each month. There is no margin.
When you can take some of that BAH money, and use it for utilities or extras, the savings can provide your family more financial flexibility. If you buy a home off base, this can lead to building equity, which may be a wiser use of that housing allowance. These are just options that living on base cannot offer.
Evaluate What Will Be Best for Your Family
When we chose to live on base, we did so to have an immediate community. Even though no base is a utopia, they each have benefits and challenges.
Ultimately, we have to evaluate each new location when deciding to live on base or off base. The good news is there are positives, no matter which you choose.