Recently I saw a post in one of the military spouse pages I am part of that sparked my interest. It was something I had some experience with so I thought it would make a good topic for this week’s post. The post asked a few questions but overall she wanted insight on waiting for bootcamp to be over, moving to your first duty station and what it was like trying to find a house. Now, technically this is my husband’s second duty station. Our experience at the last was a little different since he was in the barracks the majority of the time he was there because we were not married and once we were they had a house on base that we moved into. With that being said, even though this is his second duty station it was the first time for both of us having to do many of the things that go along with moving to your first duty station.
I won’t spend a whole lot of time on the waiting part because the bottom line is, it sucks. You wait for months, or years in our case, and you spend all of that time thinking about moving in together, decorating your home, starting your life…it makes the time drag but then it starts to get closer. You start to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
When the hard copies of orders are finally in hand it hits you that this is really happening and in that moment there is a split second of panic followed by the feeling that you have no clue what you are doing. In my opinion, that feeling never really goes away you just get better at rolling with it. It is a lot to take in all at once and the hardest mountain to climb also happens to be the most important one, finding a house. I mentioned above that we lived on base for a short time at his last duty station but at this duty station we are living off base. Largely the decision to live on or off base is yours but, depending on where you go, you may have to do one over the other.
I loved living on base but at this duty station the wait list to live on base is twelve to fourteen months long so that was not an option for us. When you live on base your landlord is the base housing company. When it comes to BAH this basically means it all comes out of the paycheck and covers rent and utilities. The upside here is that you always know exactly how much those numbers will be but the downside is, if you don’t actually need that much money to pay for your utilities you lose the extra money. Technically it goes into a credit that covers you if you go over what is covered one month but you don’t have the extra money to spend where you need it if something comes up.
Living on base also means you use the base housing maintenance company. You don’t pay for the maintenance to be done however that does sometimes mean that it can take longer than would be preferred for things to get done but for the most part things get done in a timely manner. The other nice thing about base housing maintenance is you can give them permission to come in while you are not home unlike other maintenance companies. This may not be for everyone but I will say that it absolutely came in handy when we had a huge leak in our kitchen and neither one of us were able to get out of work in time to be home for someone to come fix it. My husband and I never had a problem with maintenance but we did have friends who had to wait weeks for some of their housing problems to get fixed.
When it comes to pets base housing does have restrictions but they are by breed not by size which is what you typically get if you are living off base. The most common breeds that they don’t allow in base housing are Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, wolf hybrids, and other breed with dominant aggressive traits. For the dog lovers who have these breeds unfortunately you will not be able to live on base with your furry family members but if your pup is not one of those breeds you shouldn’t have a problem as long as they are registered with the base and up to date on all their shots.
I would say living on base is like living in a city with a gate around it that only certain people can get into. You don’t have to leave for anything, except maybe work depending on where you find a job or a nice dinner out, if you don’t want to. You have gas stations, the commissary, the Nex/PX/MCX, a few fast food restaurants, a gym, a hospital, typically you also have a clinic, there are daycares, just about everything you need for everyday life. This changes from duty station to duty station but you get the general idea. I think living on base is a great idea for young couples who are just getting on their feet. It takes big bill stressors, like budgeting to paying rent and utilities, out of the question and you can really focus on getting yourself on the right track and starting your life with your spouse.
However, living on base is not for everyone. If you choose to live off base you have to buy a house or rent a house/apartment. I would recommend renting since odds are you will be PCSing in about two or three years. If you really want to buy you can use that house as a rental property for extra income when you do PCS but that is not something I would recommend taking on this early in life. Once you decide though you still have to find a house and it is not as easy as it sounds. It is not as simple as looking online, finding one you like, and saying “we want it,” signing papers, and moving in. My husband and I tried to get into three different houses before finally getting into the house we are renting now. There were other people who signed papers or had the down payments faster than we did on the others so we missed out, and that happens, a lot.
If you are off base you also have to consider things like how far away from base it is and if they allow pets. The pets thing is typically the hardest because a lot of landlords don’t want the risk that comes with allowing pets in the home and if they are willing to allow pets be ready for a pet deposit that is usually non refundable. If you find a home that does allow pets then you run into the problem of size. Many landlords will allow small breeds but not large breeds; large breeds typically being things like German Shepards, Huskies, Great Danes, etc. If not size then it is the animal itself. Some may only allow dogs or only allow cats and some may even limit the number of animals you can have in the home. So, if you are like us and have a large breed dog and a cat it takes a lot of looking.
Apart from all of that the most obvious difference, other than you are not on a military installation, is that you have to divide your BAH out to rent and utilities and that those numbers (other than your rent) are probably not fixed numbers. After a few months you will probably have an idea of what the bill will be every month but it still varies. However, if you don’t need all of your BAH to cover rent and utilities that extra money goes in your pocket to be used however you want or need. I am fortunate enough that my husband is very good with making and following a budget but if you are not, I highly recommend sitting down with someone who can help you find a budget that works for you and your spouse so that you are not constantly on edge about if you have enough money for bills, food, gas, etc.
You also may have to pay for home repairs. If you buy a house you absolutely will but if you are renting there are somethings that will be taken care of by your landlord but there are also things you will have to pay for yourself. The easiest example I can come up with for this is if your AC goes out your landlord will often cover that expense because it is essential to the property but if your cat destroys your flooring that is an expense you will have to pay to fix. In line with this you will also need to have homeowners or renters insurance to cover damages that may come from any natural disasters such as tornados or in our case hurricanes.
If you like to go out and explore a lot I would say off base might be a better option for you because you are closer to the stores and restaurants and attractions around you off base. You also get a little more choice in your location. We are lucky enough to be in just about the perfect spot that is close to the things we need like the grocery store, my work, base, gas; but, is also out of the way enough that we have a little taste of the country as well. That is not something you get living on base as most base homes are built into subdivisions. If that is something you are alright with and like the idea of being inside a gated area that has almost everything you need right there in on base living might be perfect for you. Overall, there are a lot of factors to consider when you are deciding to live on or off base and it will change for each family. If you have kids the school district zoning may become a big factor. If you have family that lives close by you may want to live closer to them. It will be different for everyone but when you make the decision really take time to think about it. This will be where you are living for the next two or three years and you want to be happy with the choice you make.
It can be very stressful so my tip to you is: make a pros and cons list. We have been told to weigh the pros and cons of our choices our whole lives and we are all probably very tired of hearing it but it is great advice. Sit down with your spouse and make a list of pros and cons for both on and off base at the duty station you are PCSing to. It make take some time but it will be worth it. You have to make the best of each duty station but being happy in your home is the first step to a great experience no matter where you are.