By Claire Wood
It’s hard to believe that 2022 has moved past the halfway point already. This year, I’ve been sharing a month-by-month series on typical ways military families handle common money issues that arise. Last month, I shared 10 tips for financially preparing for a permanent change of station (PCS), and this month I am continuing with some useful ideas on how to close out your PCS with financial health and a hopeful future.
While we would love to think of a PCS as a finite moment in life with a clear beginning and an absolute end, a more realistic view is that a PCS is more like a season that doesn’t necessarily have specific time boundaries. Once you have physically relocated and your boxes are mostly unpacked, there can be lingering costs, expenses, and discomfort. Below are four important reminders to help you plan for the back half of your PCS.
1. Keep Organized Records and Begin to Draft a New Budget
A PCS can be a time when you are tempted to stick your head in the sand when it comes to your finances. Whether it is the irregularity of your accounts or the sheer pain from overspending, it can appear like ignorance is bliss.
In fact, it can be quite difficult to keep track of what is coming in and what is going out. With final bills, balances, and potential refunds from your last residence to paying deposits and watching for reimbursements from Defense Finance Accounting Service (DFAS), it is taxing to ascertain an accurate financial snapshot.
However, careful record keeping is a must. As these one-off charges and credits to your accounts begin to subside, it will become clearer what a typical month of expenses will look like as you adjust to a different basic allowance for housing (BAH), any cost of living allowances (COLA), new rent or mortgage amounts, and utility costs.
Whether you use a spreadsheet, a notebook and pen, or a built-in system provided by your bank, it is wise to begin letting a revised budget take shape so that you can continue to make sure your spending and your financial intentions are aligning. A quick Google search for “recommended budget percentages,” can offer some general guidelines on how much money to allocate to various personal spending categories.
2. Zoom In, But Remember to Zoom Out, Too
A PCS is a time in the life of a MilFam when the intensity of immediate circumstances can distract you from long-range priorities. Every relocation is a demanding exercise in rebuilding Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Pyramid.
You start with your physiological needs by covering where you and your family will live/sleep and making sure you have food and meals covered. Then you move on to your safety and security needs by ensuring your family feels stable, everyone’s health is good, and employment-/job-related needs are met. Establishing that these first two levels of the pyramid are covered can cost you a lot of material and mental energy.
However, don’t forget that as you move up the pyramid towards your love and belonging needs, your self-esteem and self-actualization needs, that these, too, have a material and mental cost. You’ve spent the past several weeks zooming in and hyper-focusing on the most pressing and immediate needs in order to settle in at your new duty assignment.
Remember to zoom out too as you budget and create your new patterns of life financially. Make sure that how you are planning, saving, and spending now, also aligns with your hopes and dreams one year, five years, or even twenty years down the line. Daily decisions impact your future self.
3. Have a Partner Dream Meeting
One way to ensure your daily decisions are in fact coordinating with your greater life and financial goals is to have a planned dream meeting. You can call it something else like a bucket list meeting, a vision-casting meeting, or just a planning session. The name isn’t as important as the act. The idea is that you and your partner sit down together, connect, and have a safe space for each of you to air your thoughts, opinions, and hopes for the immediate future.
Take time to forecast some of the important milestones of the next few years while you are at your new duty station. Will a child need braces or private school tuition? Will you need to replace a vehicle? Are there any great attractions nearby you’d like to visit or plan for a vacation to see? Will you or your spouse finally tackle that next educational degree or professional pursuit you’ve been putting off?
Not only will having these conversations with your partner allow you to articulate and communicate your needs and wants and (hopefully) strengthen your bond of unity toward the future, but also this allows you to see what financial steps you’ll need to take together in order to realize or achieve those dreams. Share the goal, make bite-size objectives, and walk toward the dream.
4. Remember That Money Doesn’t Buy Happiness
A PCS can bring about a lot of discomfort — and I’m not just talking about the weeks of sleeping on an air mattress or your tired, achy muscles from unpacking boxes of everything you own. It’s also annoying and sometimes downright distressing to feel physically lost in a new city. You get turned around, or don’t know how all of the roads connect. You are desperate to find a new place to get a good haircut. You may not be quick to find community or meaningful friendships.
In the presence of discomfort, the quick hit of adrenaline and endorphins from another Target run or Amazon purchase can momentarily dull the ache of loneliness, fear, or disorientation. It is important to recognize this and put some steps in place to fill those voids with the appropriate, fitting behaviors.
Sure, money can buy things and sometimes those things can bring joy, ease, and delight to you. However, ask yourself, “What is it I really need?” Is it relationships with those around you, like neighbors or work colleagues? Is it the need to make a meaningful contribution to your community or feel a sense of accomplishment outside of your home and family routines? Is there a creative outlet you need to explore?
When you get to the bottom of those questions, the answers usually reveal solutions to these questions that actually don’t involve a lot of money. The cost to meet a neighbor for a friendly walk? Zero dollars. The cost to volunteer for a cause near to your heart? Zero dollars. The cost to pick back up your hobbies of music, exercise, art, crafting, or gardening? Often, zero dollars, or much less than you think.
Be intentional as you settle into the new patterns of life you are establishing. As your PCS season finally (financially and practically) comes to a close, you will become free to breathe in those feelings of welcome, of relief, and of contentment with the new life you’re creating in a new place.
Claire Wood is a military spouse who calls home anywhere the Army sends her. She loves reading, hosting friends, and keeping houseplants alive. She shares on Instagram @home_sweet_military_home and her 2015 book, Mission Ready Marriage is available on Amazon.
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