Tag Archives: moving

Military Housing: An Experience of Then and Now

As a child, I remember the days when military housing was run by the installation. We had to make sure the grass was cut regularly, and there were self-help centers where you could go to get supplies to make sure it happened. There were sports leagues, like softball and volleyball, grouped by neighborhood communities, and the pride that came with winning the neighborhood trophy was contagious. Each neighborhood had Mayors who had administrative responsibilities, and assisted with relaying information to residents.

Those days are long gone.

Now, as a military spouse, I can tell you: housing has changed. The majority of military installations have privatized housing, which means, for the most part, a private housing company is in charge of handling the day in and day out responsibilities of housing.

Once we received orders to North Carolina, I went to the housing website I was given by our current installation. On the website, I had to fill out an application and a provide a copy of our orders. That seemed pretty easy…so far so good. We were sent housing options and floor plans, and were given options based on my husband’s rank and our family size. Because we received our orders early, we were able to choose a more desirable neighborhood, but it had a longer wait list. Once we received our final clearance from our current installation, we were all set to head to North Carolina.


The day finally came for us to go to the welcome center on our new base. We went straight to housing with all of our required paperwork, and toured the neighborhood we would be living in. There was a neighborhood center, with rooms to rent for birthday parties, Bunco nights, or whatever else, which was very different from what I was used to as a child.

And no cutting the grass, either. They’d have the grass cut for us. And gone are the days of self-help centers. Oh, my husband was super happy about that one! Instead, now maintenance workers would come to my house to fix any crazy problems that we may have. There were monthly activities that we could attend as a family, too. I could really enjoy this new privatized housing thing!

But what about the housing from my childhood?

We could definitely get used to not having to cut our own grass, but as an option, we were told we could cut our own grass, and we would be added to a “do not cut” list.

“That’s okay!” we said and laughed!

“What about the neighborhood sports leagues?”

They’re are none.

“So, what about the Mayors?” I asked. Another no.

“How will we get information?”

Now, there are monthly newsletters delivered by the housing staff. We could even read them on the neighborhood website.

To stay positive, I would give this new type of housing a chance, and not be stuck on what I remembered as a military child.

Although I do miss the neighborhood sports teams and the Mayor, my first experience with privatized housing has been a great experience! There have been definite upgrades to what I remember as a child. I don’t know if I can say that privatized military housing is better, but I can say, for my family, we enjoyed our first experience.

Did you enjoy your first experience with privatized military housing?  Do you have any tips to help others with a smooth transition?

Posted by Elizabeth H., military spouse and National Military Family Association Volunteer

Military Money Matters: 4 Tips for PCS Budgeting

Mil Money Matters

PCS season is upon us, and almost every military family can agree that a Permanent Change of Station (PCS) move is difficult for even the most seasoned service families! One of the biggest concerns during a move is the impact it can have on your budget.

Each time we PCS, it presents us with an opportunity to break out our budgeting tools, crack open our family’s trusty budget spreadsheet, or just bust out the paper and pencil and re-visit that tried and true paycheck planner. Whatever your method of choice, it’s imperative that you prepare for your move in advance by making a travel budget.

Having sufficient funds on hand to make the move is critical to alleviating unnecessary stress. While your branch of service will reimburse you for many travel expenses, crunching the numbers before you back out of the driveway or hit the runway will make your PCS much more enjoyable! Thankfully, there’s a wealth of information out there; here are a few tips to help you navigate the sea of great financial resources:

  1. Start with the basics! Begin gathering information on the cost of living at your new duty station by visiting the Department of Defense BAH Calculator. Simply plug in your service member’s rank, your new duty station’s zip code, and the year, and the calculator will provide you with the BAH rates for your family. Once you have this information, take a look at area housing and compare costs. Remember to consider the cost of utilities, too. Call the local cable company and lookup the average cost of electricity, gas, heat, etc. for homes in the area. Knowing your basic housing costs is an excellent place to start!
  2. Take a look at the distance between where you might like to live and the nearest commissary. Commissaries save military families an average of 30% on their groceries, so most of the time, it’s worth the trip! If you will be quite far from the commissary, locate some information on what basic food items in the area cost so you can estimate your monthly grocery bill. Housing, utilities, food and vehicles make up the bulk of a military family’s monthly expenses, so starting here will give your budget a solid foundation.
  3. Speaking of cars, check your vehicle expenses. When you move, insurance rates can change, along with taxes paid on your vehicle each year. This is especially important for leases. Car insurance will fluctuate, and remember each state has different laws regarding insurance coverage. Take a moment to look up this information and adjust your plan accordingly. Planning for possible insurance cost fluctuations is much cheaper than paying the ticket you’ll receive if you drive without the proper coverage! Also, don’t forget to factor gas prices and commute into your budget.
  4. Get the scoop from your Admin section before you leave your current duty station. Take a moment to visit with your personnel office and learn your entitlements before you go. Many military families don’t ask about Dislocation Allowance (DLA), which they are entitled each time they move. DLA’s purpose is to offset the cost of a military PCS, so that families don’t spend an excessive amount of money out of their own pockets when they move. In addition, make sure you understand what receipts to save and what expenses are covered as part of your move. When travel claims are filed, you want to have the necessary documentation so that any monies you are owed are returned to you as quickly as possible.

In the end, no two military families PCS in the same way, so choose the methods which are best for you. Just be sure that budgeting is a part of your process! Having a financial PCS plan will go a long way toward starting your new tour off on the right foot.

What are your best budgeting tips for a PCS? Leave us a comment and share!

meredithPosted by Meredith Lozar, MHR, AFC, Volunteer & Community Outreach Manager

5 Things I Wish I Knew Before We Moved Back to the States

My family lived in Wiesbaden, Germany for three years. The day my husband came home with orders overseas, I jumped up and down in excitement. The day he told us we had to go back to the States, I sat down and cried.

If you’ve been able to live in Europe, this post probably won’t surprise you. There is something about living there that changes you. As much as I love our home here in the States, a piece of me will always be yearning for Germany. If you are still lucky enough to be living overseas, here are some things about coming home that may surprise you:

Moving Back to States Horizontal Graphic

Reverse culture shock is real. 

This one is difficult to explain. Feeling out of place in your own home is a thing. It took time for the kids and I to adjust to saying “thank you” instead of “danke.” They hardly remembered living in the States, and they were confused by everything from the way American toilets flush, to the types of door handles we used. The first night we were back, we stopped at a restaurant, and my poor son stood in the bathroom crying because he couldn’t figure out how to flush the toilet and he was too embarrassed to walk away without finishing the job. We had to send someone in to “rescue” him!

Everything is LOUD.

When we were overseas, I couldn’t understand the language being spoken around me. When you don’t understand the language, it’s really easy for the sounds of people talking to just become background noise–you tune it out. When we got home, it felt like I had some sort of superhuman ability to hear everything. All of a sudden, I could understand all the noise around me again, and it took some time for me to be able to block out that noise. It was overwhelming for the first couple weeks!

You’ll be homesick…for a country that isn’t home.

We’ve been back two years now, and I still ache for Germany. It hits me at the most unexpected times. Around Easter, I want to go back for Spargle season. In the summer, I can’t stop thinking about all the festivals. At Christmastime, I’d sell my soul for a Christmas market. I can’t stop thinking about it!

Moving Back to States PINTEREST PIN

Things go back to the way they were.

While living in Germany, I was determined to make sure we could travel (a lot!) and not rack up a huge amount of debt. In order to balance the budget, we didn’t have television service, or smart phones. The TV was almost never on, and I learned to function with an small, emergency-only cell phone. No one could reach me, and I was never distracted from the moment. It was magical. We also shopped at farmers markets instead of the grocery store, and almost never ate out.

When we came home, I was determined to stay unplugged, and stay healthy. Lets just say the iPhone and Panda Express won in the end. I’m still a little disappointed in myself.

Everything changes.

I struggled a bit with how much everything changed at home. We have a large family, and I wasn’t able to afford a trip back to my hometown for all of us, so after four years, I finally flew to San Diego to see my family. When I arrived, my favorite ice cream shop from my childhood was closed. The house was older. The people were older. I was different, too. Things didn’t fit together the way they once did. I no longer felt like I belonged there, and I didn’t belong in Germany. Everything was different.

Living overseas is magical and exhilarating, filled with places to explore, and memories to make. Coming back home is a little different, as you can see.

Have you ever had a hard time adjusting back to living in the United States after OCONUS orders?

HeatherPosted by Heather Aliano, Social Media Manager

Saying “Hail and Farewell” to Our Geo-Bachelor Adventure

A few weeks ago I found myself in the dimly lit party room of a Norfolk, Virginia restaurant, sipping a Diet Coke, and watching a group of sailors laugh and reminisce. I traveled down to Norfolk to attend my husband’s Hail and Farewell–a party to celebrate the end of his tour on-board a cruiser. The following day, we would load his gear into our car and drive back to our home in the DC suburbs. It was hard to believe, but after more than two years, our family’s adventures in geo-bachelorhood were finally coming to an end.

Geo-Bachelor Horizontal Graphic

While it wasn’t an easy decision, the choice to live apart during my husband’s sea tour made a lot of sense at the time. With two kids approaching high school and me finally in a job I loved, it seemed like a bad time to move our family, yet again. We had the added benefit that his job in Norfolk was only four hours away from our home, which would allow him to come home most weekends. After talking it over, we decided to give the arrangement a shot. Privately, I told myself that if we were too miserable or it proved to be too hard, we could always PCS to Norfolk later.

It didn’t always go smoothly, but over time we figured things out and got used to our new routines. My husband became an expert at navigating the I-95 corridor, discovering back roads and alternate routes to make his weekly drive easier. He rarely complained about the long drive, although I know it was exhausting for him, especially during the summer when tourist traffic could add an hour or more to the trip. I tried to keep this in mind when making our weekend plans and remember to set aside some time for rest and relaxation – but often that seemed impossible with a house to maintain and two busy kids to keep up with.

For the kids and me, the adjustment was a little easier – after so many years in the Navy, having Dad gone was nothing new. I quickly got used to cooking dinner for three instead of four and secretly enjoyed my sole ownership of the TV remote. Juggling my job responsibilities and the kids’ schedules on my own was sometimes a struggle, but what military spouse hasn’t had to solve the riddle of how to get two kids to two locations at the same time with one driver?

I did miss the close friendships I developed with other spouses during our previous sea tours. I traveled down to Norfolk occasionally to attend family events, but I wasn’t able to be there often enough to really get to know anyone. My local friends and coworkers were incredibly supportive and understanding about our situation, but there is nothing quite like bonding with another spouse who is going through the same experience.


Sitting at the Hail and Farewell, I reflected back on our geo-bachelor experience. Had it been the right decision? Would I make the same choice if I had it to do over? As difficult as the past two years have been at times, I would have to say yes. Staying in Northern Virginia gave our family a degree of stability that we’d never experienced before. My kids have thrived and I am grateful that, so far, we have been able to spare them the stress of moving while they are in high school. And of course, I’ve appreciated the opportunity to work and pursue my career in a way that would have been impossible had we moved.

However, I recognize this choice wouldn’t be right for every family. We made it work, and now we get to focus on a new challenge: adjusting to having Dad back at home again, and me saying my goodbyes to the TV remote.

Did you ever choose a geo-bachelor tour for your family? How did it go?

eileenPosted by Eileen Huck, Government Relations Deputy Director

Moving OCONUS with Pets: How Hard Could it Be?

“It’s cheaper to ship our car than it is to ship our dogs,” I relayed to my husband as we finalized preparations for our move overseas. New kennels and veterinary visits for mandatory health certificates, along with their airfare added up to just over $3,000. Our car could have made the trip for about $1,200.

Not all military families will face a bill quite so steep. Our move was stressful enough for me, between inaccurate information from the transportation office, booked flights on carriers that never accept pets as luggage, and driving our dogs to an airport with an airline that would get them overseas, then trying to connect my family back to our original government purchased airfare, it’s safe to say, we’d been through the ringer.

We have two dogs, both too big to transport in either the cabin, or as luggage on US flagged carriers. This meant they’d have to fly as cargo. The contracted airline for our move overseas never transports pets, so the dogs couldn’t travel on the same aircraft as us (typically a less expensive option). Further complicating the process is the fact that fewer US flagged carriers will even accept pets on board these days.

Pets Oconus Graphic

Options are even more limited in the summer months (peak PCS season). Generally speaking, if temperatures exceed 80 degrees, pets can’t fly. What’s a military family to do? Our pets are a valued part of our family—they’ve helped my children deal with the stress of moving, among other things. And handing them off to someone else because we can’t afford their airfare would be heartbreaking. So, we chose to pay the fees and bring our dogs along on our overseas adventure. However, not all families can do the same and are left to find a new home for their pets.

Moving back to the US, we face a similar challenge. There’s not much information for pet owners. We haven’t been able to figure out if pets can fly unaccompanied as long as they’re met by someone in the destination city. I’ve been trying to connect with Ramstein AFB, but they keep referring me to their online brochure, which doesn’t give us any answers. Most families are getting their information from local Facebook groups. The question of flying pets unaccompanied is one that comes up over and over for military families, and for our family, has truly been one of the most stressful aspects of moving overseas.


So, we’ve decided to get our dogs back to the States ahead of our move (thanks Mom and Dad!), but now must decide how we go about making it happen.

We have the option of using a professional pet shipper, who will collect our dogs and get them loaded as cargo on a flight out of Brussels. We could play “Space-A roulette” out of Ramstein when it’s time for our entire family to fly back to the states, or one of us can make the drive to Amsterdam to fly KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, with the dogs traveling as luggage (KLM has a higher weight limit than any US flagged carrier).

I’m not sure which option we’ll select, but the kennels have been hauled out of storage and the dogs know something is up. Our dogs are members of the family, and leaving them behind is not an option. And, these days, affordable transportation doesn’t seem to be an option, either.

Have you moved overseas with a pet? What tips could you share?

Posted by Kelly Henry, National Military Family Association Volunteer

Survive and Thrive: Jacksonville, Florida!

I hope you like water, sports, and adventure, because your orders to the River City will turn any snow bunny into a Florida-loving beach bum before you can say “More sunscreen, please!”

Jacksonville, Florida boasts salty intracoastal waterways, and one of the nation’s few north-flowing rivers—the St. Johns—which runs right into beautiful Atlantic Ocean beaches. And smack dab in the middle of this growing city (the largest city by area in the contiguous United States) is the third largest military presence in the US, a combination of NAS Jacksonville, NAS Mayport, Blount Island Command, and Kings Bay Naval Base.

As a native of Jacksonville, my heart bursts with pride when I hear friends getting orders to the First Coast. I’m a walking billboard and like to play travel agent for new Jacksonvillians.

S&T Jacksonville Graphic

My home can be your home. Here’s what you need to know to survive and thrive in Jacksonville:

Not all beaches are created equal.
Don’t make a rookie mistake and think Jacksonville Beach, Ponte Vedra Beach, and St. Augustine Beach are the same. They’re not. But they’re awesome. Jacksonville Beach is your buzzing, typical vacation-style beach town—beachside restaurants, boardwalks, and surf shops abound. Ponte Vedra Beach is an upper-income beach town famously known for its golf affiliation (it’s home to the PGA Tour and The Players Championship), but it isn’t best for wild and crazy spring break adventures. If you want to drive your car on the beach, St. Augustine Beaches are your only choice in the area, and they’re perfect for a family beach day.

Every side of town is like a different state.
Within the Jacksonville area are multiple booming towns, and depending on what you’re looking for in a community, all offer different experiences. Downtown Jacksonville and its immediate surroundings are a mix of upcoming neighborhoods right next to historic areas, like the oak-tree lined streets of Avondale and Riverside. Just south of downtown is the Town Center area, with landmarks more my speed: Norstom, Macys, PF Chang, and Louis Vuitton. It’s a shopping mecca with everything you’d ever need. The University of North Florida sits just across the way, and there’s no shortage of unique bars and restaurants. If you want a family-friendly area with good schools, look to Fleming Island, Mandarin, or St. John’s County. You’ll find settled neighborhoods, plenty of kids’ activities and clubs, and a little less traffic. Where ever you find yourself, my best advice: give yourself 30 minutes to get anywhere.

3-10 S&T Jacksonville PINTEREST PIN

Get outside of the city limits.
Jacksonville sits in one of the best spots in the state, I think. Drive two hours in any direction and you have an awesome day trip waiting to happen. Two hours to the north is Savannah, Georgia. To the west is Tallahassee—the capitol of Florida (and the best school in all the world, Florida State University…I’m totally biased). And hold your cousin, because two hours south of Jacksonville is where the magic happens. Literally. Orlando is home to Disney World, Universal Studios (hello, Harry Potter World), the Orlando Magic NBA team, and the closest IKEA you can get. If two hours is too far, you have St. Augustine—the nation’s oldest city. Rich in history, great seafood, and the Alligator Farm, it’s the perfect place to take visiting relatives.

All the sports.
If you love sports, Jacksonville is your place. We’ve got the Jacksonville Jaguars, who might not have the best record, but darn it, we celebrate every coin toss win. There’s a minor league baseball team—the Jacksonville Suns, who are pretty awesome. You want amazing stadium food, the Suns games are where it’s at. Every January, Jacksonville hosts the TaxSlayer Bowl, for NCAA football. And if you’ve always wanted to go to the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, this is your chance; The University of Florida Gators meet the Georgia Bulldogs in college football showdown on neutral ground in Jacksonville. It’s so serious, a small sub-town pops up right outside EverBank Stadium the week before the game, lovingly dubbed RV City. Tailgating is on great display and you don’t want to miss it. Not a football or baseball fan? There’s golf tournaments (The Players), the Daytona 500 (an hour away), and an indoor football team (The Jacksonville Sharks), too.

No matter what you have an itch for, Jacksonville can scratch it. Your time stationed there will prove to be the most memorable…and for good reason.

Now, what will you do first?

Have you ever been stationed in Jacksonville, Florida? Tell us what you loved!

shannonPosted by Shannon Prentice, Content Development Manager

Get Organized and Save Money During Your Next PCS!

As a military family, we move…a lot. And moving comes with a long list of expenses–everything from non-essentials while moving, to security and utilities deposits. But one place you can save some money is by keeping yourself organized so you don’t have to buy multiples of the same things because you can’t find them, or because you recently got rid of something that you will need in just a few years.

2-25 Money Graphic 3

Pack Outgrown Kids Clothing by Size
When kids outgrow clothing, it is easy to just throw them all in a few boxes and decide you will just go through the clothing and organize it if you have anymore children. But the majority of the time, those boxes end up donated or mismarked, and you find a box of clothing that is too small for any of your little ones, months after it would have been useful. Instead, pack up clothing by size. I keep a clear plastic bin in my daughter’s closet with a label taped on the inside with the current size she is wearing. Then as she outgrows a piece of clothing, rather than returning the clothing to her drawers after washing them I place it directly into the bin.

By taping the label on the inside I don’t have to worry about the label getting lost or torn during moving. I labeled each bin with a simple breakdown. For example, the very first bin was labeled Newborn & 0-3 Months. I put everything from clothing to socks and hats. That way, if we ever have another child I know where to start.

Pack Up Kid Toys by Age
Using this same idea, I have been packing newborn and toddler toys in clearly marked oversized footlockers. That way, if another child is over visiting, or if we have anymore children, I will know exactly where to find the perfect age-appropriate toys, without paying for new toys each time.


Keep Seasonal Wear, Even When You Know You Won’t Need it For a Few Years
When orders come in and you find yourself moving to a warm and sunny climate, it can be tempting to void your closet of all your oversized wool sweaters, winter coats, and snow gear. But we all know what happens when four years later, you find yourself PCSing way up north. All of sudden you have to go and repurchase all those things you got rid of. It is a rookie mistake almost every military family makes at some point. One easy way to save some money is to invest in a few really good storage containers and fill them will all your seasonal wear that will now be obsolete.

Hold onto Household Goods That Might Not Fit Your Current Home
I know a lot of military families that have a box with multiple move stickers on the outside with at least one set of curtains on the inside. When you move as often as we do, things like curtains and rugs often fit one house, but not the next. And buying curtains and rugs at each house can be quite expensive, so to save a little money, I keep a box of all those extra little things that may not fit this house, but just might fit our next.

It is amazing how much staying organized can really save your family money in the long run! If you’re interested in learning how to save even more money, take the pledge to save as a part of Military Saves Week!

Where do you save money through organization in your home?

Posted by Tara O., National Military Family Association Volunteer