PCS Prepper’s Guide to PCSing 2016

I’m officially “off” the PCSing track–but hey, maybe you met me through PCS Prepper, where I spent a couple of years trying to take the stress out of PCS.  I leave my guide to PCSing up for any spouses out there who need some tips and encouragement, but I do make a caveat:  regulations change all the time, so please–at any time, part of this list might not hold true (for example, you might not need a Letter of Intent in lieu of official orders to schedule your PCS), so please, PLEASE check in with official military-like people, OK?  Promise?  Good, then with that out of the way, I still feel like a lot of my advice is good advice and I truly hope it helps you!  
Hugs – Rachel (August 2019)
This is what has worked for me, 12 times. Will it work for you? Parts of it might, parts of it might have nothing whatsoever to do with your particular PCS. PCSing is like a snowflake–they’re all made of the same basic stuff, but each one looks a little different. Here you go:
1. Orders or Letter of Intent arrives–visit www.move.mil to explore different move options/types and decide what move option(s) work best for your situation.
2. Celebrate!!!
3. Learn about allowances and entitlements–visit http://www.defensetravel.dod.mil/ to get educated about weight allowances, BAH, MIHA, OHA, TLA, DLA, DLE, per diem and host of other acronyms! Don’t worry–it isn’t as complicated as it seems.
4. Make a PCS checklist and put it in your PCS binder–these tools will help you to stay organized during your PCS. There are tons of examples on how to build your checklist here, there and everywhere. Check my Pinterest board! I choose to build my checklist on Excel, I’m old school…Google docs will let you access your spreadsheet or checklist from your mobile device.
5. Budget for PCS–the sooner you start, the better. DLA will help defray some of the costs of PCS, but unexpected expenses can and will pop up during your PCS. Start saving now. If you need help budgeting, check in with places like Army Community Services, Fleet & Family Support Center, Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, etc.–they all offer classes on budgeting and/or will sit down and complete a detailed budget for you. Make sure you hold on to any receipts related to your PCS.
6. Speaking of classes–get educated on how to PCS. Fleet & Family Support Center offers a class on PCSing called “Smooth Move” (unfortunate name for a great class!). COMPASS is another amazing 3-day course that covers all aspects of Navy life, from deployments to managing your money to Naval customs and traditions to…you guessed it: PCS! Check in with whatever family/community support your base has to see if there are classes available.
7. Get yourself a sponsor! Check in with the incoming command’s ombudsman. Join Facebook groups specific to the command and the new base and start getting to know what’s happening around town. “Like” your new city. Use the network–the network of military spouses who have lived at “x” duty station (or have a friend who does/did) and get the skinny. Check out sites online that review various bases and/or can be virtual sponsors. A great sponsor can make or break a PCS–and hey, once you’re there and settled, pay it forward and volunteer to become a sponsor yourself!
8. OCONUS special tasks: (a) Family Entry Approval; (b) Letter of Intent (if waiting for orders, allows you to schedule moves, etc.); (c) No-fee passports; (d) Power of Attorney–if you’re traveling without your spouse; (e) Overseas screenings–#1 PRIORITY as the results can cause orders to be changed; (f) Personally owned vehicle–can you ship?; (g) Pets–will they need to be quarantined; (h) What is housing size–decide what items will be put in long-term temp storage, what will go overseas with you.
9. Figure BAH for your new location if CONUS and determine wants vs. needs. Do you value shorter commute over house size? Do you need a backyard or a garage or a hot tub? Are you willing to give up a bigger house or a hot tub to live closer to base and its amenities?
10. Base housing vs non-base housing. There are many great sites with floor plans and YouTube video tours of base housing. Weigh the pros and cons of base housing–it may be the best choice for you, and if you’re moving OCONUS, it may be the only choice.
11. The Great House Search–there is a list of sites to search on PCS Prepper. There are so many different sites out there to make the search easier and more streamlined. Would you rent sight unseen? If you’ve made a list of pros and cons and pinpointed a few areas you’d like to live, it should be fairly easy to pick a few homes. Millie/SCOUT/USAA–all offer help finding homes. Check out sites like Military Town Advisor, PCS Grades for guides to help you get clarity on larger urban areas, like DC. House hunting leave?
12. The Great School Search–Great Schools, Niche, etc. all offer reviews on schools, but try to get some firsthand word from people who have children in the school. Use the network! Google. Facebook. Just because a school gets a “4” on Great Schools doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad school.
13. Do you own your current home? Will you be renting it out or selling it? Will you self-manage or hire a property management company? Determine how much rent to charge and best places to list your home for rent (hint: the sites you’ve been searching for the next house). If you’re self-managing, you’ll need to find a good lease and application form for prospective tenants. Any which way–selling or renting, you’ll need to make a list of needed repairs and boost curb appeal for quick sale/rental.
14. Let your landlord know or the housing office know your move date. Review your lease to see what repairs/level of cleanliness you need to leave your home in to receive your full security deposit back. Again–make a list of repairs and get them done ahead of time. There’s nothing worse than spackling and rushing to paint, etc. while your house is getting packed out.
15. Declutter!! This will be an ongoing process during the weeks leading up to your PCS. You have a weight limit (find out what it is at DTMO) and if you go over it, you will pay 1 per pound for every pound over your weight limit! Do NOT move things you don’t need, don’t want and don’t use. Move into your new home on a fresh start with only the things you love and use!
16. Research your new base/duty station–I alluded to this earlier, but do some research. Get the troops fired up for this PCS. Start a bucket list. Bloom where you’re planted. Find out what sort of attractions, both on and off the beaten path are. Do they distill whiskey there? Have a Six Flags nearby? Do you love heirloom tomatoes? Find out when the farmer’s market is? Love to knit/scrapbook/practice yoga, WHATEVER? Find out what’s going on. Get the gouge–there’s always something great about a change of scenery!
17. The Bucket List–if you have some items at the current duty station, now is the time to try to fit a few of those last things in–you won’t regret it. Life gets busy, I understand. We arrive with the best of intentions and time passes so quickly. I truly believe that it’s vital to say a proper farewell to a place and if that means finally trying out that tapas restaurant or hitting up the awesome flea market everyone talks about, then GET IT DONE. I promise, you’ll leave feeling more satisfied.
18. Keep decluttering.
19. If you’re moving OCONUS, prepare your Unaccompanied Baggage checklist–these are the items that will leave your home last and arrive OCONUS first and are meant to b the items that will bridge you over until your proper HHGs arrive. I have a good list on PCS Prepper that has served me well. Tweak to fit your situation.
20. The Unaccompanied Baggage checklist becomes your “First Day Box” if you’re moving CONUS…it will ride with you in your car.
21. Complete a home inventory–go room by room and take a home inventory. There are lots of sites out there that offer great printable home inventory sheets. Note items of value and take down model/serial numbers of firearms and electronics. Pictures and/or video never hurt either. Get this done before you start pre-packing and making changes to your home prior to PCS.
22. Talk to your kids (if you have them) about your impending PCS. They know it’s happening, but give them some of your time to answer questions and talk about what’s on their mind. Show them pictures of your new home, their new school(s), and talk about the new community. Let them know it’s OK to be sad and that you’re there for them. It sounds simplistic, but it works wonders. If you’re moving overseas and will be experiencing a new culture, books with basic language, books/movies/media about the new culture–all great ideas for introducing kids to this major, exciting life change!
23. Drink wine. Better yet, drink wine with friends! Make a proper farewell.
24. Check in with your Personal Property Office to make sure your moves are on the schedule.
25. If you plan on a DITY/PPM—packing can start pretty much anytime. Moving in July? You can sure pack up your Christmas things, for example. Don’t have babies but planning on another one in a year? Get all of that stuff packed up—and remember—do NOT pack anything you don’t want, need or use.
26. Plan travel—driving from California to Virginia or Georgia to Washington? Texas to Maine? Make it an adventure, but prep beforehand. Schedule a time to get the car fully serviced just before your trip. Plan a general route and make some time for sightseeing along the way. If you have pets, you need to plan for pet-friendly stops and hotels. Research military lodging facilities along the way, plan on using a hotel chain and accruing/using points. Decide what you’ll pack. Make sure the kids have lots of entertainment and snacks. Flying? You’ll probably have to be a bit more judicious in what you’re packing. There are SO many amazing articles with tips and tricks to stay safe, stay sane and save money while traveling.
27. Are you PCSing without your spouse? Make sure you have an updated Power of Attorney if you plan on signing leases or other official paperwork without your spouse present.
28. Hand-carry documents—list on PCS Prepper. These are the very important documents such as birth certificates, social security cards, passports, marriage certificates, adoption paperwork, etc. that you should carry with you, whether in the car or on the plane—these documents should not leave your general vicinity during travel.
29. Pre-pack as much as you can. What does this mean? If you’ve decluttered as much as you can, it’s time to make sure everything is organized as well. Make sure everything that needs to be packed in your family room is IN the family room, home office, etc. and not scattered throughout the house. Ziploc baggies are going to become your new best friend—large or small, use them to contain everything from the paperclips in your desk to Legos to entire games and puzzles, scrapbooking supplies, lingerie. Bag it up, zip it shut—you can be a little more assured that it will make it there in one piece all together.
30. Some moving companies allow you to use plastic bins, so check in with your carrier and ask if they’ll pack plastic bins/tubs.
31. Change of address—make a list of companies that will need to know about your move—I generally go through my bank’s bill pay section and list everyone that we pay regularly. Change your address with the bank, with the DMV, magazines, favorite catalogs.
32. Stop auto payments. Cancel memberships such as the gym. Close local accounts.
33. Use up items on the do-not-pack list (list on PCS Prepper). No liquids, no cleaning supplies, batteries, light bulbs, flammable items. Bequeath them to a friend. If you have a full bar to get rid of, consider having a party, using up all the alcohol and giving everyone a parting gift of batteries, light bulbs or lighter fluid.
34. Collect school records.
35. Collect medical records or have them forwarded to your new duty station. If you see a civilian dentist, request a copy of your dental records to take with you.
36. Speaking of medical and dental—anything that requires an appointment—schedule your last ones now. Get your hair done at your favorite salon—it might take awhile to find a new one. Schedule eye checks, dental checks and checks with your physician. If your kids need any type of school physical, see if you can get the form ahead of time and have your current physician do it. It is so much easier to do all of these things in familiar places BEFORE you PCS than it is to do it on the other side. You’ll find all of your places…eventually. But why worry about them when you need to be unpacking, getting settled in or getting over jet lag?
37. Do you have travel dates yet? Plane tickets?
38. Check in one more time with your moving company. They’ll likely send a representative to your home a week or so before the move, so be sure to point out any items that might need special crating, such as your enormous flat-screen TV, baby grand piano, or grandfather clock. Make sure you get this person’s name and phone number and put it in your PCS binder in case of emergency.
39. Designate a “do not pack” closet or room. Make a VERY LARGE SIGN to put on the door. Into this room, put everything you do not want the movers to pack. If you can lock the door, please do so. I highly recommend locking valuables and your purse in your car on move day. Don’t take a chance.
40. Labeling your boxes–to label or not to label? It’s completely up to you. Some suggestions: First–identifying your boxes in case of loss. My favorite answer in that category is to get a self-inking stamp from somewhere like Vistaprint and stamp each box–if you make sure the information on the stamp is not overly specialized, you should be able to use the stamp for more than one PCS. Suggested info: AD member’s last name, first initial. Branch of service. E-mail address–either AD’s military e-mail or an address that won’t change by locality. Good contact number–maybe not your cell if it’s going to change–someone suggested a Google Voice phone number, for example, or maybe a parent’s number. How about identifying those boxes by room? Putting colored labels or tape on them to making moving in a breeze? Different colors of duct tape for each room (be sure to keep a key–ie: what color tape goes with which room!)–wrap the tape all the way around the box so that it’s easy to see no matter how the mover brings it in/stacks it (so front to back, not top to bottom as they’ll likely be stacked). Put a corresponding piece of tape on the door or doorframe of the room in which it belongs for easy move-in.
a. Wear comfortable shoes. You’ll be standing around. A lot.
b. Send the kids to daycare or get a sitter OUTSIDE the house. Same goes for the dog/cat. The less distractions, the better.
c. Have a cooler full of water for the movers, at the very least. Two 12-packs of Coke/Dt Coke go a long way. If you want to go crazy, make them coffee.
d. You do NOT have to feed them, but I personally don’t mess around with the people who are handling my HHGs. Think outside pizza and fast food. Feeding 4-5 people on a moving crew shouldn’t cost you a ton of money. How about a package of buns and a crockpot full of BBQ? Throw in some potato chips and everyone is happy.
e. IF you have a dispute with the movers or don’t feel they’re listening to you or handling your possessions properly, DO NOT ARGUE with them. Call the rep at the Personal Property Office and tell them what’s going on.
f. Generally, the first day is for packing and subsequent day(s) are for loading, depending on how much stuff you have. Having eyes on the movers is important, but don’t hover. Be covert about it. Again, call PPO if you spy anything amiss.
g. If you have items that are special to you and that you feel require special packing (not crates), feel free to nicely point out to them which items—after all, they have no idea what’s valuable or special to you.
h. Be nice. Be very nice.
i. Have a bathroom available.
j. To tip or not to tip?
42. Hotel living—how to survive an extended hotel stay.
43. OCONUS—culture shock, jet lag and working through emotions. Return to CONUS and reverse culture shock—yes, it’s a real thing.
44. Oh, the emotions.
45. Unpacking—there is a methodology.
a. Request the packers to unpack you? They will unpack but won’t organize.
b. One time placement of furniture.
c. Assembly of furniture.
d. If you requested it, they are meant to come back and pick up the boxes. If not, give them away on Craigslist or yard sale sites.
46. Getting settled in—finding your way around, finding your “places”, getting registered for school, meeting the neighbors, etc. Get out and learn about your new duty station…get out of your comfort zone and try some new things to meet people. Find your tribe. Remember: bloom where you’re planted.
47. Finding work—whether paid or volunteer.
48. Making your rental your own—I so strongly believe in making your rental or base home YOURS. You’ll be there for a couple of years, you should invest the time to make it a place you love, not merely tolerate for 24 months. There are so many fantastic sites, I have a Pinterest page and many fabulous military spouses have blogs and FB pages dedicated to helping you find affordable and non-lease breaking ways to make that dwelling YOURS.
49. Sit back and relax—you just PCSed like a boss.