… during PCS season
You have heard the story by now. The PCS from hell. The one where they didn’t send enough packers and then half our stuff ended up broken or unuseable. The one where we didn’t find out orders until 3 weeks before “Go-Time.” The one where my truck couldn’t finish the trip and we almost died trying to get it to the Sunshine state. Yea, it was a real adventure. But almost always the second major concern for us working women is whether or not we will find a job. The frustration of having to leave a previous gig for a hopefully just as good if not better one, and how we will make ends meet until we do.
Maybe you are not one who is primarily responsible for the finances. Maybe you and your spouse have an agreement that they will be the ones working while you stay home and continue your education or raise the kiddos. Maybe you are lucky enough to have secured remote work from any type of job where you can stay on board in your current position without losing any income. And maybe you are just really really good with money and save just about every penny for situations like that. That is all awesome! But for the rest of us, who when life happens as it often does, we have to stop what we are doing and sacrifice what we have for the sake of supporting our loved ones, moving can be really stressful financially. It’s filled with a lot of unforeseen expenses that even the most overthought brain couldn’t even imagine. And after making it through four moves with the military, I’ve experienced every possible financial scenario both good and bad that one can experience. I’ve moved without having worked in a while and I’ve had to quit a job to move. I’ve moved with a mountain of money safely tucked in my saving’s account and I’ve moved with nickels and dimes to my name. And in every situation that our family has found ourselves in, we still find a way to stretch that dollar until we get settled.
Moving is expensive. Yes, the Army will pay for most of the expenses when it comes to gas, airfare (if approved) and lodging. But there are other things that will sneak up and bite you after you get to your new permanent change of station. Here are some ways you can be better prepared to deal with them, if and when they do. So I thought it might be helpful to share some of my best tips and tricks for helping to stretch that dollar longer when the inevitable PCS comes up.
- Learn the Law
If you are a working spouse, most states will pay you unemployment benefits for having to move due to a change in duty station. While the laws might slightly vary depending on the state from which you are moving, generally speaking the unemployment law states that one is eligible for benefits when he or she has to leave a job through no fault of their own. So because a military spouse usually has to leave his or her job because their spouse is relocating for work, tht would render that spouse eligible for benefits. But do your research! Covid has overwhelmed all benefit programs, especially the Unemployment Offices in each state. There are horror stories of people who have applied for benefits a year ago and still are waiting for their payments. After I left my position at the non-profit I worked for, I applied for Unemployment right away. There was an issue with my wages and my claim was put on hold for months. Finally when I figured out what the issue was and resolved it, I was able to put in my weekly claims for the weeks of missed work. However, following that, I waited almost two months before anyone would call me back regarding those claims. Finally, when I got someone on the phone, they told me that none of my paperwork had been applied to my claim. So here I am, six months after my original claim and I still have not a dime to show for those missed weeks of unemployment. My story is not as bad as others I have heard; I was blessed enough to find work to help pay the bills without draining my savings. But it’s still a process that I have to deal with which is stressful when all you want to do is move on. So, if you are working and you know you will have to leave when you PCS, learn the law, talk to someone at the unemployment office in the state you are leaving and be sure that you will be eligible for benefits once you vacate your position. This will help ease the transition between leaving one job and having to find another.
- Know Where Your Wages Are
This seems like a no-brainer, right? Like why wouldn’t you know where your wages are being reported. Obviously it should be where you work! But you’d be surprised at the kinds of things that can happen when you are a working spouse. As military, we are afforded the ability to either claim our home of record, meaning the place we lived when we first joined the military, or we could claim taxes in our duty station. It is important when filling out on-boarding tax forms to pay attention where you are claiming your state taxes. This may be linked to where your wages get reported. And when or if you end up having to file unemployment, your claim can be delayed due to the wages being in another state. This happen[ed to me. Apparently the HR department at my previous job made an error when processing my paperwork during onboarding and when I went to apply for unemployment in DC, I was told I wasn’t eligible based on not having wages. As you can imagine I was very confused by this because I had worked in DC for the past two years. Turns out because I claimed NJ as my home of record, my wages were reported there. So make sure where you pay taxes is the same as where you are working. It just makes it so much easier.
3. Create a PCS fund
This sounds like a no-brainer and it should be. But you would be surprised at how many people do not have one. Once you start working, you and your spouse should arrange to put a certain amount into this account each pay or month or however you want to do it. This will build over time and when it comes time to move, you will have money saved for any unforeseen expenses that moving is sure to bring. Sure, you might have been able to live on base or on post at your previous duty station but what if your new one won’t have housing available for months or even a year and you have to rent or buy a home on the economy? Unless you’ve been living under a rock, the housing market is off the chain right now and prices to rent and buy are soaring by the day. Our government isn’t very good at keeping up with the changes and BAH or the housing allowance afforded to military families isn’t enough in some places to respond to the need to live off base or off post. Having an emergency stash may help to alleviate the financial burden of having to live on the economy at least for the first few months. Anything could happen before or during a move that could put a drain on your wallet, and it ‘s always best to be prepared.
4. Stock up on gift cards
I learned this trick when planning my Disney World/Universal Orlando trip last year. I wanted for my family and I to have the full vacation experience and the thought of preparing meals during a vacation made me want to throw up. And in case you haven’t heard, Disney and Universal are expensive AF. I decided to buy and save up gift cards to help pay for food and souvenirs. This kept money in my pocket and kept us on a budget which can be hard to do in the most magical place on Earth. So, I figured, why not do this with every trip? Or even during and after a move. If you buy basic Visa or Mastercard gift cards, you can plan for expenses like restocking your house with household goods and food when you arrive at your destination, planning outings with your family to better get to know your newly adopted city or town, and even fixing up/ preparing your vehicle for the long trip ahead if necessary. Gift cards can help you to better budget for your move and stick to that budget once you get your feet on the ground in your new home.
5. Find a job that will move with you
This one is a lot more difficult than it seems. I do realize that. Hell, I’ve lived it. But one good thing has come out of this awful pandemic is that many businesses and companies were exposed for the bullshit they’d been getting away with feeding their employees for years. Suddenly, the “we can’ts” that were heard for so long became “we can” and “we have to.” Those can’ts were really won’ts all along. And many companies began re-configuring their business so that people could work remotely either full time or part time. Now, I realize that there are many jobs where you simply cannot work from home (I’m looking at you nurses, doctors, and teachers) but there are so many more careers that offer that option. Working remotely gives you the opportunity to well, work from anywhere which can eliminate the need to have to quit a job and start a new one every 2-4 years. Trust me, that gets more and more exhausting the older you get. And if working remotely isn’t something that’s possible, finding a federal job is the next best thing. Often, there are special provisions and protections for military spouses and jobs that are specifically looking for military spouses or give preference to spouse applicants. The best part is that many times, these jobs are transferable meaning when you move, the job moves with you!
Bonus: Don’t fall for the first job you see unless you really know what it’s about.
So with this last move, things were hectic and our money situation took a hit. And because the bills were gonna come each month, I needed to do something since unemployment looked like it was going to take forever. I applied for a position that looked perfect. It was somewhat related to what I had been doing in DC and I figured all I’d have to do is learn the policies of this new organization with respect to how they operate. The rest would fall in line. When I interviewed for the position, one of the first things the interviewer said was that this was not a call center, and that confused me. I was going for a position in helping people with their benefits. Why would there be a need to say that? That was my first clue. And even though I was moved to another position, it still felt very much like a customer service role more so than an advocacy role. After getting another position with another company, I was all too ready to leave after only 3 months. The position didn’t pay well enough and I felt like I was tethered to my chair and to a phone all day which does nothing good for my anxiety. So unless you are desperate for a job that anything will do, take your time, if possible, to find something that will suit you, your skills, your interests, and your lifestyle. Nothing worse than finding out a job isn’t a good fit for you after the fact and getting stuck there. I know most of us are concerned with our resumes and how much crap is on there to want to leave a job after starting it but the most important thing is that you get the chance to make money doing something you love, like, or at least can tolerate.
So those my most trusted tips for getting and keeping that wallet ready for whatever the military decides to throw at you next. This life is a hard one. Heck, no one said it would be easy. But it is possible to keep your hard-earned money close to your chest while these Armed Forces will try you. Speaking of which, those son’s of bitches owe me money. Norman!