Let’s talk about all the challenges of PCSing during the holidays. Our guest this week is Megan Harless, PCS reform advocate and expert.

DoD Updates: The DoD announced the 2021 BAH rates. The DoD calculator is now updated so you can check it for your upcoming move. Most places are seeing an increase, but if the BAH goes down in your area, you will be grandfathered in and receive no change unless you get demoted, do a PCS move, or change dependent status. Read more BAH FAQ’s posted here

Why are people even PCSing during the holidays, and what causes that to happen?

If your report date is right before or after Christmas, then you are going to have things packed up and possibly be in an empty home, in a hotel, or with family during the season. People have to PCS by their report dates.

For those arriving at a new duty station during the holidays and don’t have their Household Goods yet, what can they do?

You play it the best you can, especially if you have children. Some people pick up a little tree or minimal decorations to put in their hotel room or empty house. You can always donate an extra tree afterwards to a military unit to use next year. Find what brings joy and cheer to your family. For presents, try to mail stuff ahead of time–either get a sponsor at the next unit, or ask your Realtor to pick up packages and put them inside for you, or consider mailing things to family if that makes sense. Budgeting during PCS is difficult, but spending just a small amount on decorations can really help keep you happy. Make something simple you can take around with you. 

If you are arriving at your duty station right after the holidays, what should you do?

It all depends on what stage of PCSing you are doing during the holidays, whether you are actively driving during Christmas or staying with family. Think about opening presents at family houses, but instead of trying to shove it into your vehicle then mail it to your next location. For kids, you can personalize a Santa letter for “Other Arrangements” to let kids know that even if moving or deployment is changing your holiday plans, it lets Santa know you want to celebrate it another day. This gives kids hope that the magic isn’t canceled this year! It’s always okay to adjust holidays for your military family. This is also a good incentive to help kids stay encouraged through the PCS!

What are good ways to handle packing up around the holidays to protect everything?

When you are opening all these brand new items and gifts, think about how you want those things to be transported. If you don’t have the space, consider shipping them ahead of time. New toys aren’t a big deal on an inventory, but if it’s a giant Lego set, maybe put it on the high-value list. If it is an electronic that you have to pack: 1) write down the serial number, 2) put it on the high-value list, and 3) make sure it is listed on the inventory sheet, and 4) take photos or videos of it being packed so it doesn’t “wander off.” Nintendo lets you set parental controls to limit the play time to zero, and can help you recover the item if it is plugged in. If you get a large item and don’t want to fully unpack it, make sure the inventory says “New in Box” so there is proof that it was never opened or tampered with. You can also keep a folder with you for receipts of your new gifts!

How can you make the PCS easier for the kids?

All kids handle things differently, but it is usually best to discuss it with them ahead of time and help them prepare so it is not a surprise. Make moving as fun as possible–talk about it as an adventure, or a vacation. Find something fun along the route to do: a zoo, aquarium, fun park, etc. Talk to them about their room. Kids get really excited about a new room. Help them pick out furniture, choose how to decorate, where to put their bed, etc. Maybe Santa can bring them new bedding or a new wall art for the next room. This helps keep the excitement.

If they are concerned about Santa not knowing their new house, have them write a letter and include the new address (or the hotel) and reassure their concerns. Focus on making the transition easier for them! 

You can use the NORAD Santa tracker to track him arriving at your new area. There’s also a North Pole reindeer cam and a Yankee Candle Santa Workshop Live feed you can watch from your hotel room, or tune in to a YouTube channel with a crackling fire to add a little more spirit to your empty home. 

How can families make this time special and less stressful?

Try to set realistic expectations. It won’t be like any holiday you are used to, so this is the time to take it low-key and keep things simple. 

If you see someone moving in or out on your street, ask them if they have plans for the holidays. Military spouses understand better than anyone else the need for being flexible and welcoming during the holidays! Just go and chat with them and leave them with a good impression of their duty station before they leave or as they arrive. Use technology to connect with other spouses and find the support you need!

Christmas decorations are one of the top 5 things that go missing during a move. What can families do about this?

Christmas items are lost often because people often don’t start looking for those boxes and decorations until the time of year when they need them. If you are PCSing, open up all the boxes and verify that your holiday decor did arrive. We often shove those boxes into a corner and forget about them. Verify that everything is there, and that nothing is broken, so you know right away and can make the damage claim. When you pack up your decorations after Christmas, verify that it is all together.

When you are unpacking, check off the inventory numbers as they come off the truck so you know exactly what boxes are missing. You don’t have to unpack everything, but make sure all the boxes arrive and the inventory has them listed as “ornaments” or “decorations” and not just the word Christmas.