The Hidden Costs of PCS

Things are frantic here – two days until the main packers come, and the bills are already piling up.  Now, you might be thinking, “but the Navy pays to move you.”  True statement.  However, there are always surprising expenses that aren’t covered by the military, and aren’t tax deductible, either.

This move, for example, is turning out to be awfully expensive.  Because we have six people, and we’re moving about 26 hours away but our things aren’t estimated to arrive for 60 days, we’ve dropped about $1000 for a huge hard top roof carrier.  It seems the only way to get six people and two months worth of stuff to our new home.  At least we will have a really nice roof carrier after the move.  We absolutely could have made other choices, like mailing a ton of stuff, or living in the same five outfits for two months, but given our details (my husband’s uniforms, and four girls going to camp mid-PCS, and the fact that we have a ball to go to shortly after attending), we chose to buy the roof carrier.  I’m certainly not complaining, but it is one of those things that you don’t consider until it happens.

I’m sure we’re not the only ones who have had to buy luggage to PCS.  Every time we move overseas, we are faced with potentially months without our household goods.  The desire for more and bigger luggage is fierce.  And gosh darn it, despite all the guarantees, luggage just doesn’t last like they promise.  (Except Lands’ End, but I can never convince myself to spend that much!)

Also on this move’s shopping list:  supplies to carry a cat during a five day drive.  We’ve never done this – heck, I’m not even sure we CAN do this.  Today we purchased doggies housebreaking pads, and a harness, and a leash, and catnip treats.  I really, really hope this works.

And today’s grocery shop?  All convenience food, which is not cheap.  I don’t usually allow such junk in my house, but we’ve got frozen family dinners and frozen breakfast items, and things that make the children say, “Yeah!”  My kids love it when we PCS, because I let them eat Bagel Bites and Pop-Tarts and all sorts of other awful foodstuffs.  For the next week, my primary concern is that the eat and it doesn’t take any time out of my day.  So junk it is.  (Plus, it allows me to put them off the other 23 months of every two years.  “You can have that next time we move” is my standard way of saying, “No, I’m not going to buy that.”

What other unexpected expenses have you encountered during a PCS move?  I’m curious what sort of things will show up on the list.

About the Author

Kate Horrell
Kate Horrell is a military financial coach, mom of four teens, and Navy spouse. She has a background in taxes and mortgage banking, and a trove of experience helping other military families with their money. Follow her on twitter @realKateHorrell.
  • bec

    Get a carrier for the cat. Seriously. We did 3 days and that was the best way to go. It contained the mess more than any training pad will.

    • KateKashman

      Thanks, Bec. He does have a carrier – he’s lived in four different countries! The training pads are just for extra protection as he tends to urinate when he is mad :)

  • melissamackinnon

    We travel with cats. We put them in a large hard carrier with a bed, a small litter box, and put their food and water in dishes that attach to the door. Forget the doggie pads, catnip, and harness, that isn’t going to work.

  • CarleeJones

    Our cat prefers to walk around in the van, and use her litter box at her convenience. We did find some “Calming” by Pet Naturals cat treats at the pet store – they worked fantastically! Ours is a 6 lb cat, and ONE did the trick the first day, and our second day on the road for her was “old hat,” she did not even need the treat, and rejected it when offered. Mostly the cat perched on top her carrier or where ever she could look out the window. The harness was more difficult for her to learn, but after a couple of weeks she adapted.

  • CarleeJones

    Unexpected expenses included a new small grill for our new “diggs” when our gas was delayed in being turned on, Another move the car seat laws were different in the varying states, requiring us to immediately purchase appropriate child restraint items, and still another put our vehicle in the middle of a storm, severely damaging it – thank goodness the kids slept through, but we were not expecting to need to get a new car just then, and insurance only pays so much.

    I learned to get thrift store pots and pans for the weeks my household goods were not available, then donate them back when my things arrived. And we played “indoor camp out” using blow up mattresses for furniture during one transition when our furniture was accidentally sent to the wrong state! We could have rented furniture, but the kids were young and it was fun for them.

    • KateKashman

      I have heard of several people having to buy new car seats when they move. That gets expensive fast! You are a good woman to live on air mattresses. I’m afraid I might have had to go buy a new mattress for myself. The kids really do enjoy the empty houses – I’m always amazed at their creativity and enjoyment of less. If only I could convince them to enjoy less as a regular state of things.

  • KateKashman

    Oh, how could I forget cleaning supplies? Or “basic” spices and little used but important ingredients. Or lamps! I just emailed the current tenants of our prospective house and thankfully they have ceiling lights or I would have been buying lamps with you. And lamps are expensive. Why is that? Any lamp people care to explain?

    Thanks for adding to the conversation!

  • Dee Ann

    Two years ago, we PCSed from Hawaii to Germany. We had two cars and paid to ship one of them. The cost was around $1,000 from Honolulu to LA, where we picked it up and drove cross country. We spent 34 days stateside before shipping the car from Maryland, where it cost about $1,000 to ship it. Definitely worth the cost since we didn’t hAve to buy a neW car here. One thing I packed for our travels was Purex 3-in-1 laundry sheets. They saved money because we didn’t need to have quarters for laundry detergent and dryer sheets. Plus, they are jus sheets so ey aren’t heavy nor do they take up much room. Instead of a hard-top carrier, we bought a soft-top carrier that we could fold up and put in our luggage for the flight from Baltimore to Germany. This gave us plenty of room for four people and a dog in a kennel. Plus, it was cheap, easy to use and held up nicely for our trip.

  • Dee Ann

    Sorry, I left out one key detail: we bought the soft top carrier because our luggage wouldn’t fit in the car trunk without putting one case inside another. The carrier had three long bags that fit inside a protective case. We used one for dirty laundry, and divvied up the other two. We put bras and underwear in baggies so we could easily locate them.

  • Tonya

    We have cats and what we do is drug them during the day with there special travel meds from the vet. They sleep for 6 to 8 hours. When we get to the hotel we let them out. They can’t walk very good at first (looks like there drunk) but then they get there footing. They eat and all there normal stuff till the next morning till we start all over. This may not be for everyone but works for my family and for them too. They get so stressed when we move it just makes it easier.