Moving can be expensive, but it can also be an excellent opportunity to pocket a little extra cash from your PCS travel allowance. The military does not make any travel arrangements for you, but they do pay you a per diem allowance for each family member. The service member gets 100% of the per diem rate, while also receiving 75% of the rate for each dependent, (50% if they are under age 12). When you add up the allowance for all family members and multiply it by the number of allotted travel days, this should be enough to cover lodging, food, and gas for your PCS move. 

Since per diem is paid as a flat rate, you can pocket any of the payment that you don’t spend on your trip. With some preplanning and willingness to scrimp a little on luxury, you can make this work. 

Saving money on food when you PCS

This year, per diem shook out to $461.50 per day for my family of 5. This is intended for us to pay for lodging, food, and any other incidentals. I’m not sure about your family, but that is definitely enough to pay for a night in a hotel and three meals each, even if you eat out every meal.

Well, I have a toddler, and so you can imagine how much I dislike eating in a restaurant. But, when you’re moving across the country, or even just across a few states, it’s really hard to avoid eating out.

And as my older children started to eat more, and my total at Chik-Fil-a went from $25 to $35 to feed my family, I knew that eating out constantly while moving and waiting for our house would not be the best option–not only financially nor for my mental well-being.

So I put together some ideas on saving money on food while PCSing .

• Travel with your Instant Pot. Don’t have one? Ok. Pre-move …. Buy one!
• Load your instant pot (or crock pot) with some great must-have tools. I talked about these earlier on PCSgrades over our last move, and I stand by them. I’d add to the list: corkscrew, pizza cutter, and a dish towel.
Plan meals that can be done quickly and easily, with minimal prep. 
 Be realistic. You’re not going to cook every night in the hotel. You’re just not going to. So don’t worry if you still order pizza twice in a week. It’s ok.

Let’s break this down a little more.

Saving money on breakfast

Stay in hotels which offer a free breakfast. My favorites include LaQuinta and Home2 Suites by Hilton. It’s really that simple. Do yourself a favor and ask a few spouses at your gaining installation about the hotels there. Some are great (Fort Huachuca has a really nice Candlewood Suites), and some are not so great (we’re talking about you, Stinson Hall at Fort Gordon). Or check out our recommendations for what to look for in a hotel during a PCS move.

Saving money on lunch

This is the time I wish I liked peanut butter and jelly. Because the rest of my family, including the toddler, would eat this every day for lunch. Some other options are prepackaged salads, yogurts, or even deli meat for sandwiches. If you’re on the road driving, then pack lunch into a cooler to enjoy along the route. If you’re spending the day in a hotel, fill up the mini-fridge so you don’t have to visit the hotel restaurant.

Saving money on dinner

Here’s where you’re going to save the most money: by not eating out at dinner! Even if you bought those pricey, preassembled crockpot meals at the store every night, you wouldn’t spend as much as taking the family out to a restaurant. My favorite meals to throw in the Instant Pot are taco salad, any soup, sausage and potatoes, or spaghetti with meat sauce. Over this last move, I even cooked those P.F. Chang’s frozen skillet meals in my Instant Pot. You can really cook anything in it.

If you’re staying in a hotel room with a kitchenette, they typically include basic pots, pans, and cooking utensils. So if you didn’t bring an Instant Pot, you can easily cook something in the oven or use a frying pan on the stove top. But if you have a basic hotel room, the only cooking supplies will be a microwave. That’s why having your own Instant Pot makes such a difference, and it cooks many meals in just 15 minutes!

Saving money on snacks

I like to grab a box of granola bars, a bag of clementines, a bunch of bananas, and some Goldfish crackers. This makes almost everyone happy with snacks, especially on long car rides.  I add protein bars to my snack box because I need the extra protein while we’re traveling. Snacks are also the best time to go out and get something because it can be combined with an exploring trip and they aren’t that expensive.

How do you plan on saving money on your next military move? Let us know your great hotel-room recipes!

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Rebecca Alwine is a freelance writer, army wife, and mother of three. She’s also a contributing writer for ARMY Magazine, a regular contributor for several publications including to Homefront United Network, PCSgrades, ESME, and has also been published in Ms. Magazine and The Atlantic.