When I was pregnant with my first child, my husband was gone for training most of the time. He arrived the day before we moved across the country from Washington to Virginia for our first PCS (Permanent Change of Station). Imagine my face (not happy, if you’re having trouble picturing it) when I realized I’d be in charge of selling our current home, finding a home on the other side of the country (sight unseen, mind you) and moving all our possessions, all while 7 months pregnant! I had a choice to make. Should I go with a full Do-It-Yourself (DITY) move, also called a Personal Procured Move (PPM), or leave it to the military to move our personal property?

You might think this choice was a no-brainer. After all, the cards were stacked against any chance of my sanity being intact if I chose a DITY move; however, there really were a lot of factors to consider, particularly in regards to the financial aspect of the move. So, if you find yourself in the situation of having to PCS from one duty station to another (CONUS – within the continental USA), let me break down the pros and cons of each.

Advantages of the DITY/PPM move

At first glance, the PPM Program may seem like more trouble than it’s worth. Trust me, I thought so too. No part of me really wanted to take care of our own moving arrangements and expenses instead of having the government do it for us. However, after speaking to a lot of seasoned Navy spouses, I was able to see how a PPM move can offer some significant advantages. Here are my top three:

1. Total and complete control

I have a Type A personality. The idea of someone else touching my items, being in charge of moving my personal belongings and having ultimate control of the schedule was a hard pill for me to swallow. With a DITY/PPM move, you’re in control every step of the way! You can start the packing way in advance, building towers of boxes with walking trails in between for days or weeks before your moving date, or wait until the night before you load the truck and turn into a packing zombie, reliving your college days while pulling an all-nighter. You decide if you will pack every box yourself or hire someone to help load/unload boxes, as well as which specific moving company to use.

2. Making extra money

With a DITY/PPM move, you receive a government payment of 95 percent of what it would cost the government to move you. In addition, you receive the standard travel allowances for you and your family. (So hypothetically, if it would cost the government $20,000 to move you, you’d be allocated $19,000 to move your own belongings. If you end up spending less than that, say $10,000, then you keep the rest!) Although this isn’t easy, there are lots of discounts available with moving companies that can provide you the opportunity to save big.

3. Taking your time

When PCS orders are written, there’s a certain amount of TDY (Temporary Duty), or travel time, allotted in order to take care of all the moving arrangements. This is usually 10 days. However, a lot of people with PPM receive additional TDY to handle their move — time that can be used to relax if you’re efficient about planning your move. Who wouldn’t want to sightsee along the way to your new home? (Grand Canyon, anyone?)

Disadvantages of the DITY/PPM move:

1. Work

So. Much. Work. Packing every single item in the house, loading/unloading the truck, hauling everything to your new location and then unpacking everything and getting rid of the packing materials is simply a lot of physical labor. And even if you choose to hire out, the amount of time and energy it takes to gather referrals, call around, get quotes, schedule, reschedule, direct, plan, etc. is enough to make me want to take a long nap.

2. Stress

Directly related to the amount of work (a lot) is the added stress and responsibility. It takes a lot of organizational skills to coordinate moving a family. If you’re not an organized person to begin with, the process can take a real toll. Imagine realizing you packed all your winter clothes and boots when you’re being transferred to Michigan in December and you have 20+ boxes labeled “clothes”. Oh boy…

3. Budget

In most cases you’ll be fronting the cost of the move yourself, with the government reimbursing you at a later date. All the receipts have to be meticulously kept in order to get your full reimbursement. This involves planning ahead of time, budgeting and having the money in place to fund your move (so you don’t go into debt to finance it).

Now looking at the list above, it may seem like the advantages easily outweigh the disadvantages. But before you come to that conclusion, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of a Government-Contracted (GC) move – in other words, the moving option where the military takes over most of the grunt work for you.

Advantages of the GC move:

While the idea of a stranger coming into your home and touching your items may seem like something only burglars do, there are definitely some real positives to having the military do most of the legwork when you are PCSing.

1. Less physical work

I choose to do a GC move from Washington to Virginia
simply because I was 7 months pregnant and didn’t have the strength or energy to schedule, pack and coordinate a major move. Plus, I was alone most of the time as my husband was away in another state and unavailable for most things I needed. So I went to the Travel Office on base, had someone walk me through the paperwork, waited for the carrier company to call and schedule dates and took it from there. In regards to packing, all I had to do was make sure we had the essentials for the long drive and the few days we’d be without our furniture on the other end (along with our valuables and any necessary paperwork).

2. They are professionals

These people are moving maestros and they have all the special equipment and materials needed to get your personal items from Point A to Point B safely. We have a 110-year-old piano that was custom-made for my great-grandmother, which has been passed down to me. It is extremely heavy, priceless and needs to be crated in order to be moved. There is no possible way I would have been able to move it myself, or even known who to contact to get it moved safely! Instead, I just expressed by needs to my TMO (Travel Management Office) contact and they sent out specialized companies able to disassemble, ship and reassemble my piano.

3. You can get settled faster

With GC moves, the movers also are paid to unpack your items. This means they’ll unpack each box, put the items on a flat surface (table, counter, floor, etc.) and remove all the packing materials, including boxes and papers. This can be a real win, because then you’re able to immediately see if any of the items are broken/missing, as well as start putting items away. The movers will also reassemble furniture and place it in the designated spot of your choosing. With some pre-planning, you can have your new home set up very quickly.

Disadvantages of the GC move:

1. Not as much moolah

When you PCS, even with a GC move (You’re down with the military acronyms/lingo now!), you get reimbursed with a fixed rate (per day/miles) to transport your vehicles when you drive them to your new destination. In addition, there’s a per diem rate for lodging/food, depending on your branch. If you travel quickly, stay with friends and family along the way and pack your food on the cheap (PB&J sandwiches, anyone?), there are ways to make some money with this type of move. However, it will NOT be as much as with a DITY move.

2. Things break/disappear

If you ask around, you’ll hear some horror stories about things being broken, stolen or lost during GC moves. And it isn’t always the expensive items either! One Navy spouse I know reported her decorative lawn flamingos and garden frogs being swiped in one of her moves! Some people report these unfortunate events taking place with each move, while others have never encountered moving losses or damage. Personally, this happened during one of our moves and it wasn’t a nice experience, particularly as it involved an important item that couldn’t be replaced.

When you really look at the advantages and disadvantages of each type of move, you realize there isn’t always a simple right or wrong way to go. With our first cross country move, we chose the GC option due to time constraints, stress levels and other contributing factors given our family situation at the time. With our upcoming move, as our children are a little bit older, a DITY move may make more sense, especially financially. (Who doesn’t need extra cash when you have kids?!). When you’ve got your orders in hand, take the time to really look at your life circumstances, needs and desires to make the decision that works best for your family.