Just in case you think moving to another country on the military’s dime is just a free ride to hang out in a foreign land, you might want to think twice. Hopefully this post will give you some tips on how to save a dime or two if you’re looking to save some money when you PCS overseas with the military.
While moving overseas with the military is still substantially cheaper than moving on your own, there are still out-of pocket costs that you’ll need to be aware of before you move.
Five Ways You Can Save Some Cash After an Overseas PCS
First things to know: you’ll still need a pretty substantial nest egg when you get out here, and you’ve gotta have your finances in order. Drowning in debt is definitely not how you want to start your European tour.
This was our second time living in Europe, so thankfully we knew some of the extra expenses we’d occur, and we also had a strong inkling for two years that we’d move to Germany, so we planned well ahead and saved our moola.
1. Buy Used Appliances After You Arrive
Moving overseas to Europe means that some appliances you used in America won’t work out here. Instead of using a transformer for all of our things, we sold just about everything that needed to be plugged in before we left and bought “new” things out here.
Your first stop when looking to save money with your PCS overseas is to hop on Facebook and check your base’s classifieds/marketplace/yard sale page.
If you can’t find it with a quick search: ask around and find it.
People are always PCSing in and out. And when families are leaving they’re selling pretty much anything and everything, and at a much cheaper price than you can get new.
PRO TIP: most bases have a program called a “loan locker” (or something similar to that) where you can borrow appliances like a microwave or a coffee maker for a month or so while you get your feet wet and are waiting for your household goods to arrive and/or while you can get out there and get your own. Super handy when you’re on your way in and PCSing out. Check with your local A&FRC.
Two ways to snag things quickly from the FB classifieds:
- Make a list and post what you’re looking for (and don’t be overly picky!).
- Watch the page like a hawk and try to be the first one to inquire when what you need gets posted.
Here’s a small list of appliances you might need to buy:
- portable air conditioner
- space heater for garage
- slow cooker
- hand mixer/immersion blender
- coffee maker
- water kettle
- alarm clocks
- waffle maker
- hair dryer/curling iron
- trash/recycle cans (we bought these new)
We also purchased a couple transformers (~ $150) to use a few of the bigger things we brought with us (our TV, my air fryer that I couldn’t give up, etc.. I wrote more about transformers here.
2. Save with Bigger Appliances & Furniture
Here’s a bit of good news on how to save money: when you PCS overseas with the military: they will provide* you with some of the bigger appliances like: a washer, a dryer, stove/ovens if necessary, and an old-school American-style fridge (with a freezer attached!).
They’ll also let you borrow kitchen cabinets and wardrobes for your clothes since Europeans don’t have closets in their home.
Speaking of wardrobes…
We got rid of a lot of our things before we moved, taking on a less-is-more ideology, knowing full well we’d have to buy a decent amount of things when we arrived.
Instead of buying everything brand new, we took to the FB classified groups again. Whatever we couldn’t find locally from those leaving, we got from Ikea.
*Please check with your specific base on what they loan out temporarily and for the entire tour. This could be very base specific
3. Get a Beater (used car)
The military will pay to ship out one vehicle, and while you can technically get buy with just one car (we did it for the majority of our time stationed in Italy), it’s just much easier to have a second vehicle, especially if you have a family to cart around.
Most bases have a “lemon lot” to check out cars for sale, and people will also post them in your base’s Facebook groups. If you know you need a second care, start asking around once you arrive so you can save money shortly after your PCS overseas.
PRO TIP: If you love your second car in America, you can technically ship it out privately, and pay for it out of your own pocket. That could be a cheaper option in the long run.
Keep in mind that if you need something very specific, you may not be able to find one for a low price.
When it was just my husband and I living in Italy we snagged a Jetta for less than €1,500.
But in Germany we needed something larger for all five of us, and we didn’t have wiggle room to wait and see if something would pop up, so we spent substantially more on a second car than anticipated. Thankfully, we planned for this, so when the $15,000 price tag popped up, we weren’t completely shell shocked.
4. Use Coupons at the Commissary
Moving to a new country means that you have to start over completely with food in your fridge and stocking your pantry.
Brain dump all of your essentials for what you think you need before you go to the store. Having a list before you shop will help keep you on track so you don’t forget something essential (like a plunger and toilet paper).
One of the cool things about being stationed OCONUS is that you can actually use coupons up until six months after their printed expiration date.
Find coupons for things you know you’ll need like: condiments, baking stuff, cleaning things, pantry staples, etc.
So before you move, scour the ads and start collecting coupons. I also have my mom send me coupons before major holidays so I can save some pennies on baking essentials.
Some commissaries go the extra mile and will actually have a stack of coupons that you can look through in their store.
5. Understand Your Military Entitlements
When you’re overseas you don’t get your typical Base of Allowance for Housing (BAH); you get something called an Overseas Housing Allowance (OHA), which is determined by rank, dependents, and location.
Under the OHA you get a move-in allowance, a rent allowance, and a utility allowance. You can’t pocket any extra OHA like you typically can with BAH.
BUT, when you’re overseas the service member gets something called COLA, or “Cost of Living Allowance.” This is a non-taxable allowance to help offset the higher cost of living for non-housing goods and services. It’s calculated by comparing the prices of similar things with the average cost in America. Dependents and location also play into this calculated amount.
So, one way you can save money when you PCS overseas with the military is to pay attention to your COLA. Shop smartly and save that instead of spending it.
Another way—if you’re living off base/post—is to find a home (including utilities) at or under OHA, that way you won’t have to dip into using your COLA to pay for those extra utilities.
For example: if your house uses oil to heat the home, and the amount you need takes you over your OHA, you will need to use your own money (COLA) to pay for the extra oil you need.
You can calculate your OHA and COLA here, but just so you can see the numbers, here’s what it looks like for us:
Family of 5 living at a base in Germany. My husband has 14 years of service under his belt:
€1,300/month in for rent (OHA)
€640/month for utilities and maintenance (OHA)
€576 move-in allowance
Please keep in mind this is generalized overview, and each branch of the military, location, and service member may encounter different and more specific entitlements. Check with your local housing office for more information.
How Did YOU Save Money After Your Overseas PCS?
Have you done an OCONUS move before? I’d love to hear more ways you can save money after moving overseas with the military. Share your ideas in the comments!