Military members spend an average of $5,000 out of pocket without being reimbursed for each Permanent Change of Station (PCS) move, according to data from the Military Family Advisory Network (MFAN). And that’s just one of the reasons having a financial plan going into your PCS is a good idea.
But even if you didn’t plan ahead for your military move, you can still have a financially confident PCS, says Kia McCallister-Young, an Air Force veteran and former military spouse who now leads the nonprofit America Saves program. In this episode, Kia explains ways military members can start planning today for a PCS, even if they’re already in the middle of one.
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The following is an edited transcript of this episode of PCS with Military.com.
Amy Bushatz: We know that PCSing is just one of those inevitable parts of military life. If you're in the military or a military family member, it's probably gonna happen to you. That means it's also something you can plan for financially. Like so many of life's eventualities that require savings -vehicle replacements, kids go into college, major home repairs- it can seem easier to ignore the looming spend and just hope it works out.
And yet, by planning ahead and being intentional, now we know we can lessen the burden of whatever's coming later. Today's guest is an expert in helping military members save for those military life inevitabilities. Kia Young is herself, a veteran and a former military spouse who leads the America Saves program, a nonprofit that supports individuals in saving successfully reducing debt and getting a path to building wealth.
Today, she's going to talk to us about how to be financially smart about a PCS, whether that's something you're doing right now, or you're simply planning for the future. Kia, welcome to PCS with Military.com.
Kia Young: Thank you so much for having me, Amy.
Amy Bushatz: So I'm really excited to talk to you today because this is so in your wheelhouse and something that people really need to learn more about.
So hopefully we can just hit folks with a lot of really great advice and insights, so thank you.
Kia Young: I am excited. Let's hop into it.
Amy Bushatz: So can you first start by telling us how many times do you personally have moved both in and out of the military?
Kia Young: Yes, that number is nine.
Amy Bushatz: That's a big number.
Kia Young: It is a big number. I feel like I am, that is what I am an expert at -- is moving.
Amy Bushatz: Yeah. Yeah. Well, so you've got a lot of street cred to talk about this and through the America Saves program, I know that you are well up on wealth building and finanical savings and making smart military or smart money moves, rather. So this is going to be really awesome.
So you and I have known each other for kind of a ridiculously long amount of time at this point, in those military spouse circles. But can you tell us how you have gotten to be with the America Saves program? And tell us a little bit more about what America Saves is?
Kia Young: Yeah So, funny enough, I actually had my own business where I did a lot of social media marketing and Military Saves, which is a program under America Saves where we focus directly on the military community needed support with social media. So I first joined the team by creating social media for Military Saves, that eventually grew to become director of communications with the full America Saves team. And then recently was appointed the director of the entire organization. And we really focus on giving easy, simple, ready to implement strategies for the communities that we serve. So Military Saves, focuses directly on the military community and we support them using the military life cycle, which is so completely different than our civilian counterparts. So we talk a lot about PCSing and all of those unique opportunities and challenges that come with the military lifestyle.
Amy Bushatz: Yeah, that's so great. First of all, what a wonderful career trajectory we'll have to have you on a PCS with Military.com podcast later to talk about just that career and keeping that going despite those nine moves. But for today, we're going to talk about your current wheelhouse. You know, the podcast episode we're doing right now focuses on that big spend of PCSing.
And it really can actually be a big spend, which I think is something that's really surprising to many military members and spouses who are tackling it for the first time. You kind of walk in maybe with this understanding that this is paid for by the military, but really it's a lot, it can be a lot out of pocket. So can you talk to us first about why it can be such a big spend? What do you hear? And what's your experience?
Kia Young: Every time we talk about PCSing with a civilian, they're like the military just takes care of everything and I'm like, oh no, not quite. And so a lot of, I would say even more so now, depending on the size of your family PCSing can just be an astronomical cost.
Yes, you get some things reimbursed. But there are very kind of like mundane things that people don't talk about. I was just having a conversation with someone the other day about starting your pantry over again and all the spices and the condiments and, you know, no one really accounts for that.
And it, you know, all of that, those, you know, few dollars here and there, it really, really adds up. And the amount that it takes just to even if you do have the military, come in and pack you up and move you, you know, eating while you're on the road and depending on how far your PCSing and you could be going to a different climate than what you had, so you're buying new clothes for yourself and your children. There are just so many unexpected surprise expenses that you feel like shouldn't be a surprise, but even, whether it was the first PCS or the ninth PCS I still felt like, oh my gosh, I wasn't expecting it to cost just this much.
And now we're dealing with so much inflation right now. So I feel, you know, and that has been steadily something that we've dealt with for, for several years now. But you know, really right now with gas prices and all, like you can't account for things like that. So there's all the little things add up in the reimbursement. Our families situation, we had three kids, it didn't cover everything we came out of pocket, I calculated at our last PCS over five grand.
Amy Bushatz: Wow. Well, yeah, I mean, going back to what you were saying about the spices, anyone who's ever had the bright idea to clean out their spice cabinet and get out anything that is expired, because how often do you use whatever that thing you bought for that one recipe is, and then you go to the store to replace those things that, I mean, that pain, but like your whole cabinet during a PCS. And that clothing, I mean, we moved up here to Alaska and I just had no concept. Even though I wanted to be here and it wasn't a PCS it was a purposeful move after my husband got out of active duty, I didn't understand that we really did need all of the jackets, not just one, all of them. And that when somebody told me- I had this moment, somebody told me that my kids needed shoes to leave at school. And then of course shoes to have at home, you might want a second pair of snow pants to leave at school. I was like, I'm sorry. I'm like doing the math. That's like four pairs of shoes for one season and several different pairs of snow pants, and those suckers are not cheap. It just, it blew my mind. And this is what military families are dealing with when they move, particularly to a colder climate where you just need more stuff. Um, in the South, just take stuff off, but, but in the, in the Northern climates, that is, that's a big consideration and it's hard to utterly understand just how much that's gonna cost. If you, especially, if you've never done that kind of a move before.
Kia Young: Yeah, it's and that's just the tip of the iceberg there's just, if something's going to surprise you on your PCS even if it's just the amount of food that you guys eat while you're on the road there's always going to be some type of unexpected expense. And decorating- like you get a new home, you might have extra rooms to fill or furniture to get rid of or things that don't fit. So, so yeah. There's so many different things that you're not expecting to come up.
Amy Bushatz: Yeah. I mean the best laid plans where you squirrel away every single curtain you've ever used in hopes that it's going to go to fit a window of the future, just sometimes that just does not work out. They do not fit. You have to get another one if you want a curtain, it's just how it is.
Yeah, so, Going back to this idea that civilians have about military families, that if the military is going to send you there, they should pay, I think it's surprising to military families as well, that that's not the reality. What is it about our system or our understanding of the system that makes it surprising? What is our misunderstanding with our own lives that makes that out of left field.
Kia Young: I honestly don't think it's our misunderstanding to, to a certain extent, I think it's the, the military and the DOD, they're kind of rigid in their thinking and they're trying to kind of embrace such widely varying situations down into one situation. And we are all unique individuals with unique needs. And so there is, I think more than, you know, there's a disconnect on that side of like how much it actually takes. And what is actually, you know, what is actually needed to get people from point a to point b. And I think that it's been a while since it's actually been looked at um, this PCSing. You know, they look at BAH every year. They look at BAS every year. And you may know more about this than me, but I don't feel like there's been a lot of changes in like the way the PCS system works. And that's where the disconnect is. It's like, is everyone taking into account that gas is like astronomical right now? And are they going to, you know, give these soldiers in their families additional funds to, to cover that?
No. That hasn't been our um, our situation just yet. So I think that's where the disconnect is, unfortunately. And maybe one day that will change, but it hasn't so far.
Amy Bushatz: So I find that the DoD does say that they're addressing these things, but it's just like, it's such a big, slow boat.
And to turn it around is not an immediate thing. So they have this thing, like the moving contract, that's going to outsource moving to a private contractor and they have advisory committees and they say that aware of the inflation costs and that kind of thing, but it's just takes so long to make change. So that it's almost like by the time anyone really has the ability to make a change regarding the cost of inflation it's down.
Kia Young: Right. Or it's even more than that.
Amy Bushatz: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. Maybe I'm an optimist. I think it's going to go away, I don't know. And then, the other side of this, I think it's always important to remember when we talk about DoD regulations, is that a lot of the people who are making them are also moving, they're also experiencing this.
And so I think back to one particular time, I interviewed a guy who was a leader at TRANSCOM several years ago. And he talked about his own problems with military movers and frustrations. And it really made me remember, you know, this isn't just me out here in the wilderness. It's not just you, it's not just military families. The people who are making decisions are also laboring under the same problems. But again, the boat is humungous and slow.
Kia Young: It's the titanic.
Amy Bushatz: Planning financially ahead is important. We, you, and I know that, but it's easy to dismiss. As I said, in the introduction it's can be a kick the can down the road kind of thing. So let's talk about that. Why shouldn't people simply just use those many, many resources that make it so easy to not have to have a firm plan ahead financially. I'm thinking credit cards, loans, military programs like AER these sort of catch all programs or tools that can be seen as a way to avoid having to plan ahead.
Kia Young: Yeah. So I would say that it's not that you should avoid them it's that you should leverage them and not have to rely on them. So we like to say at Military Saves that we want you to be financially confident and financially confident doesn't mean that you have a certain amount in your bank account, because again, we're all, we have very different lived experiences and scenarios. And what works for me may not necessarily work for your family, Amy, and vice versa, but being financially confident means that you are aware of the resources that are available to you. And that you are confident enough to actually use them. Now, that being said, there is something to be said for saving for any type of emergency. And if you are in the military, chances are 99%, chances are, you're going to be moving within the next couple of years, if you are active duty and not about to retire, right or separate. So, planning for those things are great, but, because we have these surprise expenses that come up or things that, and just different abilities, right? You may have a one income family versus a two income family, so you're not able to save as much and you need to use those resources.
The biggest thing is knowing what's coming planning ahead, like you said. Being in the best position possible for your family so that you are good to go. Because listen, these resources are available, but you may not be able to get as much as you actually need. There still may be out of pocket expenses.
There could be where you can't get a credit card or your credit card gets your limit. You can't go over a certain limit and you don't have those funds. So the onus is on you to make sure that you are good to go, but also knowing what resources are available to you and using those as a last resort versus the first resort when you're PCSing.
Amy Bushatz: Here at PCS with Military.com, we love to be practical. We all know, also know that talking about planning ahead is well and good, except so many people are just kind of in the thick of it right now. So maybe talking about planning ahead to not, not super useful today, although maybe useful for next time. What are some ways that people can be financially sound with their PCS if it's happening right now and they didn't plan ahead.
Kia Young: Yeah. So the very first thing I always say before you get ready to make any major financial decisions is to sit down and get a clear view of your finances. And what I mean by that is knowing exactly what you have coming in, exactly what's going out, when things are due, if there's anything, and then looking to see what you can adjust, right? If there's some things that you can cut out, some things that you can change or, we have a lot of subscriptions and things now that you could stop while you're doing that PCS, and make sure that you have some some additional income there and, you know, having kind of like a budget for your PCS or your transition.
So I think that's the first thing to do, is to sit down and get a really clear view, not just wing it because that is easy to do. I call it the ostrich where, because you're stressed financially, you want to not look at it so you put your head in the sand. You can't do that. Not when we're PCSing, not when we're just living our daily lives.
So the first thing to do is get clear on your finances, knowing how much is available. And while you're doing that, you'll be able to see what's available for credit? How fast can we pay that off so we're not paying a ton of, of interest if that's something that you have to do? And then looking in, in just really understanding what it's going to do to you financially, if you have to use credit cards or get a loan while you're getting that clear view of your finances, you'll be able to kind of prepare yourself for okay, we're going to have to get this loan, that's taking X, Y, and Z out of our monthly discretionary income. So I think that's the first step to help you go into this PCS and transition with a clear view of what you're going to have to do to get there. And what's going to happen after you've actually used those resources because you're in the thick of it.
And also it's really important to not feel shame around that. I mean, you are where you are and you always, once you have that clear view of your finances you can make better informed decisions for your family based on what's coming. So, there's a lot of shame that comes from your financial scenarios and the truth is we're just all out here trying to make it.
None of us are, none of us are millionaires in the military. And so, do what you have to do, but then kind of take control of what's to come in the future and be able to be in a position where you can make the best informed decisions so that, that you won't be in that position again, kind of learning from it.
Amy Bushatz: It feels like this is the same as starting any sort of new habit where the answer seems like it could always be I'll do that next Monday or I'll start that on the first of the month, regardless of it could be the second of the month and the first a month sounds like a super good future date to do this on.
But the truth is that if this is indeed like those, like any other habit you could start, right now maybe your PCS drive, this is something you already doing and you're riding shotgun while listening to this. It is not too late to get an idea of, what of those subscriptions you could stop as you mentioned, and what sort of plans you could have from, five minutes from now forward. It's not too late for that. You can start that right now. Is that kind of what you're saying?
Kia Young: Absolutely. We have a tool, we call it the spinning and savings plan at Military Saves that will take you through the entire process. So if you are in the car listening and you're, you got the you're on the passenger side or the Uhaul is behind you, you literally can go and start filling that out now, looking back at your last six months of, of bank statements to see what you've been paying out, what changes you can make. And it's not just about income and debt and expenses also, like what are the values you want for your family? Is it that you want to be able to give more? How can you set your spending and savings plan so you're able to give to whatever it is that you want to donate to, or you know, build in some fun things for you and your family that like a trip that you guys want to take. So it's not just all about like how much money you're making and how much money you have to pay off debt. It's also about building the actual lifestyle that you want and that you can afford and with clarity. So there's that.
Amy Bushatz: So we have the plan ahead people, or the maybe next time I can do that people. Okay. So what's the best advice for getting financially ready for a future PCS? So we're not in the car, we're in our houses, we're thinking about three years from now. What's the, what's the best advice there.
Kia Young: So we always say the easiest way to save is to save automatically. So you know, whether the income in your family is from your active duty service member. You can set up an allottment, um a certain amount once you've gotten that clear view of your finances, you know exactly how much money you have left over in the month. You can look to see how much you want to put into savings to start your own what we call a transition fund and just have it automatically deposited. If you are a military spouse or you have a second income in your family you can use direct deposit, if you have direct deposit, you can split your direct deposit. So go talk to your HR or admin to see how to have a portion of your paycheck go directly into savings. It's the easiest way to save, you can set it and forget it. And before you know it, whether it's $10 a month or a hundred thousand or a hundred, not a hundred thousand, just a hundred, hundred dollars a month. You know, that's going to contribute well to your next transition. So, it doesn't, we say start small and think big, so whatever you can do, do it, but set it up to automatically go into your savings. Whether it's using direct deposit, split deposit, like an allotment, or you can also talk to your financial institution and have them set up, once or twice a month to have a certain amount of funds transfer automatically directly to your savings account. So we say that's the easiest way to save, save automatically.
Amy Bushatz: Yeah, the, what I like about that is it's almost the, it's not the ostrich method of savings because you set this up on a practical level, but it is set and forget, like you don't have to think about it.
It's is easy in a lot of ways as mindlessly spending five bucks on Starbucks, except you're mindlessly putting it in something for the future that will help you later. Um, the other thing I like about doing that for myself is that let's say the PCS doesn't materialize or the fund has grown beyond what you really need in it for PCS because it got delayed or whatever. In my house, we call that the new hot tub fund.
Kia Young: I love that. And every family can choose what their thing is. I know for my family, it would probably be Disney. So.
Amy Bushatz: But there's no like law that if you put this money in a savings account for a transition fund or for PCS fund, and then the PCS doesn't happen, or you have more in there than you need that you can't reallocate for another savings or another type of spend. The point is like, you're putting it aside you're not raiding your retirement account or anything else to, or your emergency fund or any of these other sorts of savings accounts that people have in put a lot of thought into, to go to Disney or to have your new hot tub. But you are being purposeful about how you're spending your money and how your saving your money.
Kia Young: Yeah. And you know what, when you get the kids in on the conversation, especially if you're like, I'm sure your boys are excited about the hot tub. My kids would be excited about the Disney, whatever, when you have the kids' buy-in they actually help. They want to do certain things like, oh, mom, we don't necessarily need to go to McDonald's twice this week, we can put that into whatever the fund is. And so that's a great way, having like a thing that the family is saving for is a great way to get the kids involved and get them thinking like a saver from a young age.
Amy Bushatz: Yeah, no one's more excited about the hot tub than I am. But Kia, I know in your house no one is more excited about Disney than you are.
Kia Young: Yeah you got a point.
Amy Bushatz: Don't play that, because I know, I know that's true.
Um, okay, so let's talk about maybe the people who are in a pickle right now. Okay. So they did their sheet brought in the drive, they've realized that maybe planning ahead would have been a good idea, but that ship has sailed and now they need some cash help. What are our resources that they can look into? Because of course there are better and worse resources there's for example, payday loans, maybe not so good. And then there's Army Emergency Relief or the other services' organizations like that, probably better. So that's a big spread. What are some other resources?
Kia Young: Yeah I would say there's no probably, stay away from payday loans. You get into a cycle that you, it is so hard to get out of the amount of interest that you're paying. It feels good in the moment , but there are so many other resources available to military. Please do not do the military loans. I honestly, you know, when you think about the interest of the things that you have to pay back, I really do feel like your best option is the relief funds at each branch especially when it comes to a PCS or any kind of other major emergency, the way that they allow you to pay it back, the, either zero or very low interest fees, you can't really beat. And so I would say that's your best option. You know, even your credit card, your APR interest rates when your credit cards are going to be higher than having to pay that loan back.
And, you know, a lot of people you mentioned earlier going into your retirement fund or your TSP, if you can avoid that, please do,. Please avoid it because there are ramifications from that. Tax ramifications, some things that you'll have to pay that you weren't thinking of. So, really, I would say, look at those relief funds.
And then in addition to the branches, your community may have resources. Your community may have food bank that has a lot of those spices and condiments and things like that, that you can get without having to come out of your own pocket for.
So we like to say that that's part of being financially confident is having, knowing what resources are available in your community.
One way to do that is to connect with AFCPE, which is an organization that has accredited financial coaches or counselors. And they have several military spouses who are AFCs. And when you are connected to an AFC in your area, they have what all those local community resources are for you that can support you outside of just your branch's relief fund. So that may be, and they're free to reach out to. So that may be another way that you can find out what those community resources are in your new town.
Amy Bushatz: And that's the Association for Financial Counseling and Planning. I had to look it up because I didn't know what the acronym stood for either in case people are wondering, and I want to circle real fast back to payday loans. Not to beat that poor horse, but Kia you're absolutely right. There is no, maybe about it. And for those who don't know the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which is a part of the federal government, has actually issued countless warnings about payday lenders and really penalized them for their predatory practices, specifically on military families and military members.
You know, you see these places right outside the gate. They do have a cash now kind of vibe and it can be similar to the rent to own furniture companies and they're charging huge interest rates and really taking advantage of people who are in a sort of a desperate situation and don't know what those resources are, as you've mentioned.
And on that vein, I want to shout out the specific relief associations so that anyone listening to this knows where to go to. We've mentioned Army Emergency Relief several times. That's because Kia and I both have an Army background. The other, the other organizations are the Navy and Marine Corps Relief Society.
As the title suggests serves the Navy and Marine Corps, then we have the Air Force Aid Society. And then the Coast Guard has one, too. It is the Coast Guard Mutual Assistance program. So all of these organizations do very similar things.
They do a very low interest or no interest loans. They do grants. So you can actually apply for money for a need and they will grant you the money. So that means you do not need to pay it back. They work with you to do paybacks through your paycheck, through your military paycheck. So it's functionally that setting aside of money that you were mentioning earlier, except you're paying back your no interest loan to the relief organization.
The relief organizations are funded by donations from other military members. So there's that it is a community organization because it is supported by other members of your service for this purpose. And they also do scholarships. So if you're looking for money for school, that's sort of out of the realm of what we're talking about here today, but you can hit those up and they have scholarship programs to help both military spouses and military kids in those specific branches.
Sometimes even also veteran kids or Guard and Reserve families with costs of living and different emergency help. So they're really very, very great resources. The Army Emergency Relief even has a fund to help pay for car seats if you get in a car accident. They, what they do is super, super wide-ranging.
Kia Young: Yeah, two, two quick things that I thought about where you were thinking about that. In some instances that military spouses that are working, they maybe you might work with a company where you get to actually just transfer. They may have an option where they have employee loans or a program to support their employees.
So that is another option outside of the the branch's relief funds and societies. And if you get into a situation where you're paying back a loan, whether it's from the relief funds or from an employee program, after you've paid it off, wouldn't it be cool for you to just continue to miss that money and put it right into savings? So that is one of the things that we talk about is once you're paying things off, kind of reallocating that those funds to savings. And that's what a lot of employee loans and often employers are starting to do is after you've paid your loans back directing those funds directly to your savings accounts.
So, that's become a very popular thing to do and something that you can consider, if you have to leverage any of those different type of employer or employee loan programs as you're PCSing.
Amy Bushatz: That's a really great hack. And, you know, and in that vein, I want to say again, there's no shame in needing to use the resources that we have, that's why they exist. So, use this, all of this discussion as inspiration for the future, which again can start right now, but don't be beating yourself up for past decisions. I'm not even going to use the word mistakes, past decisions that are maybe something that you're thinking through again today, because honestly you don't know what you don't know.
And we were all younger at one time and had, didn't know the resources or were in a stressful situation and didn't make the best financial decisions. I can immediately think of several examples for myself that were not things that I, they're things I wish didn't happen, but I don't feel shame about those decisions now because I was young and I just didn't know. And that's just how life works.
Kia Young: We hear those stories all the time from our savers at Military Saves and America Saves. And just like you say it, there's no shame about it. You make the best choice that you thought was right for you and your family in that moment. And there is no shame in that. And the best thing about it is you get to have a different option next time. So, so no shame about that whatsoever.
Amy Bushatz: Yeah. Yeah. And I finally, I want to, you mentioned food banks. On the shame subject, we all need financial help at some point. And so these resources are there for you to use when you need them. And we should use them because if we all sit here and think that we don't deserve to use a resource no one will use the resource and then it'll go away. But if you are in a situation where you need help, you do deserve to use a resource and you should use it.
Kia Young: Yeah, that's what financial confidence is about. It's not about how much money is in your bank account. It's knowing what's available to you and doing what you and your family needs in that moment for you to get by. And so that goes toward food banks and churches and whatever else local resources that you need for you to be secure.
Amy Bushatz: I love that definition that you just gave, because when I think about financial confidence, I, that's not immediately what I think about. I think about, you know, rolling down the street in my Tesla or whatever. Sort of American visions of wealth that if you are financially confident, you have stuff, you have a lot of money in the bank. Not simply that you understand the resources and make the right decisions. So I'm wondering if you can then maybe twist that idea and give us as a final thing for this episode, in the context of PCSing, what does financial confidence look like?
Kia Young: Financial confidence looks like you knowing exactly what you have to contribute to your PCS, knowing if there's any gap in between what you have to contribute and what you will need and going into your PCS knowing that you can get from point a to point b with a safe, happy family all in one piece and all your things, hopefully in one piece as well, but you can't see me, but my fingers and toes and all the things are crossed, all your things getting there safely, but it truly is. It's just getting from point a to point b with no tears, not a bunch of debts and feeling good about how you get from point a to point b, even if that means getting help and support. And that you have a plan going forward, and not a bunch of stress. It's a stressful situation already moving into a new place and having to learn a new town and get new hairdressers. And all of those things are stressful. And so we want money to be one of those things that you are not stressing about.
Amy Bushatz: Absolutely. Kia, thank you so much for joining us today talk about America Saves, talk about Military Saves and share your tips with PCS with Military.com. We're honored to have you.
Kia Young: Thanks for having me.