Part 2: Enjoying your time while prepping for the future.
By Stacey Faris
Through a three-part series, Moving OCONUS: Before, During and After, PCSgrades is here to help you to navigate the ins and outs of an OCONUS move from the minute your spouse walks in and yells “Kon’nichiwa!” or “Guten Tag!” to the time you land back stateside.
Now that you are settled in your new country, hopefully, you are loving your time there! If you haven’t started taking advantage of what your host country has to offer, get that bucket list out now and start checking items off. What are you waiting for?
As you have a great time in the present, make sure you keep an eye on the future. When it comes to prepping for a move back to the U.S. from an OCONUS location, procrastination is definitely not the way to go!
Long before that first notice of impending orders, there are steps you should be taking to make sure you are ready to say Sayonara, Auf Wiedersehen, Anneyong or Ciao.
Save, Save, Save
If you aren’t already, start saving money. Moving back is going to be expensive! A friend who moved from Japan to North Carolina last year was my inspiration to begin this series. Her family had prepared, but things were still challenging. Her recommendation for a minimum to have saved? $10,000. That’s a lot of cash and a lot of discipline required!
Joe Barry, Army, did a tour in Germany as a single soldier. Fortunately, an NCO told him early on that he needed to start saving $100 to $200 per paycheck. This happened long before any formal briefing would have been offered. Waiting too late into a 2-3 year tour to start saving means little ability to catch up as your tour comes close to an end.
Victoria Gerth, Air Force spouse, specifies, “Save twice what you think you really should or what you have heard. I would start saving a minimum a year out from when you think you might be leaving. DO NOT WAIT until you get orders.”
Will you need a hotel night or two before you fly back to the U.S.? What about when you return stateside? When you arrived overseas, you may have gotten up to 30 days of paid hotel nights. Coming back? Victoria says they were allotted a paltry 10.
For D’Antrese McNeil, Air Force spouse, the return from Yongsan in Korea with, “ … four kids and about 30 pieces of luggage,” was incredibly overwhelming. The departure from Korea was very expensive because they had to stay in a hotel for almost a week and there was no kitchen.
Can you imagine traveling across the world with kids and bags in tow and only having ten days to find your next house? Aaron Duemmel, Army, who returned from Japan with his wife and two children this winter was able to secure a rental property online before coming back, but this appears to be the exception.
Every day in temporary lodging will take a substantial chunk from the money you’ve put aside. Seeking info from PCSgrades.com early and often can help shorten the time you spend in temporary lodging by allowing you to narrow down whether to live on or off base, providing information and even setting you up with realtors to help find the perfect home.
COLA – Cost of Living Adjustment
Joe makes it a point to see his returning service members receive better information than he did, “It is imperative that we make sure junior Soldiers understand they are going to be getting a large pay cut from losing their COLA. I get quite a few Soldiers that still do not realize this when they report.”
Aaron said he knew his COLA would go away and BAH would change, but understanding when this would happen was a lot more confusing than it should have been. The loss of COLA isn’t the only monetary shock.
Victoria Gerth and her family spent $1,700 alone registering and paying fees on a vehicle purchased through the New Car Exchange while living in Japan. If you didn’t buy a car while overseas or leave one in storage when you left the U.S., you probably need to factor a purchase into your expense planning.
Be prepared to also pay cash for utility deposits if you don’t plan to live on base. This can easily run you more than $500. Add this to a deposit on your rental property along with first and maybe even last month’s rent and that savings account is really depleting quickly at this point.
Finally, you will be completely restocking a home when you return, which as Victoria shared, isn’t cheap. Let’s be honest; you aren’t going to pack cleaning supplies and dry goods in your travel bags, so plan to purchase everything during that first commissary trip.
Other Factors to Consider
Status of Force Agreements or SOFAs in some host countries requires that DOD offices be staffed largely from the local population. While knowledgeable in their subject area, there can be language barriers. Make sure you bring your patience when you attend briefings and appointments.
Speaking of meetings, for Victoria and D’Antrese and most everyone I’ve spoken too, mandatory briefings were few if at all. There also wasn’t a push for spouses to attend.
This means that most of what they knew about returning stateside they learned from other families. Victoria told me, “The wisdom I would impart is do your research, heavily. Work hard to get in touch with your sponsor, if you get one.”
Remember in part 1 of this series when we talked about asking questions? The same thing applies here too. Ask early, ask often, and ask again if you need to!
Beyond sadness from no longer receiving COLA, Joe says the next biggest challenge his soldiers face, is the length of time it takes for household goods (HHG) and vehicles to make it back. His suggestion, “Ship early from overseas because they generally still have lending closets to borrow common items whereas not all stateside bases have those.” My girlfriend and her family mentioned above, waited almost three months for their HHG to arrive!
Carla Bushman and Arial Rau, Army spouses, both agree that just as you did for your travels to your host country pack as light as possible. Arial suggests, “It’s best to pack a week’s worth of clothes in a carry on along with your toothbrush and toiletries.” And Carla made a great point, “Make sure you have a moving folder with all pertinent information–birth certificates, copies of IDs, orders, pet vaccinations/health certificates, passports, contact numbers, etc.” Don’t get stuck in an unfamiliar airport with all the kids, luggage and a language barrier only to realize you don’t have your orders printed!
Finally, while not imperative (well, maybe it is!), if you have fallen in love with a food or beverage while overseas, you might want to pack some or ship it ahead of time. The move is certain to try your patience even if you’ve taken all proactive measures available. Having something you’ve grown accustomed to enjoying the last few years, could make the first few days of transition just a bit easier!
PCSgrades Guest Author: Stacey Faris, a military wife of 10+ years, isn’t sure what free time is anymore, but she revels in the chaos of her life. When not busy toting kids all around the desert, scrambling to meet writing deadlines because she is a master procrastinator, or trying to get fit at the gym, she can be found working as the Business Administrator for JCW | A Creative Agency and VolleyballMag.com.