Military family life is filled with both opportunities and challenges, and that is never more evident than during moves/PCS season.

Families who participated in the 2017 Military Family Support Programming Survey told their stories of dealing with the stresses of moves. They shared great information with us about the number of times they have moved, ways to improve support during moves, why they may live apart, and their military housing experiences.

Let’s see what they had to say!

Moving

The most common number of moves military families make is three to five (31 percent). While 20 percent of participants have moved one to two times, 16 percent have made no moves, and 15 percent of families have moved six to eight times. Only 6 percent of respondents have made 12 or more moves.

How often do these moves occur? More than half of respondents, 54 percent, have moved in the last two years due to military orders.

Ways to Improve Support During Moves

All this moving causes stress, especially financially. Nearly 80 percent of respondents said moving caused high financial stress. As one respondent explains, “It tightens things even more. Each house needs new things, new vehicle registration, different climates require different types of equipment.”

Not surprisingly given these results, 28 percent of respondents said the most important support they could have during a move is financial help. One participant shared what would be most helpful, “More money in advance to be able to deal better with the relocation expenses. The only way to go through a relocation process with no stress is if you have enough savings to pay out of your pocket for your relocations.” The second most common response as far as needed support was more information (16 percent). This included the desire for a consolidated location for all moving information.

Respondents also said they want more logistical support, including physical assistance such as carrying boxes and packing or unpacking. In addition, families reported difficulty dealing with moving companies and said they would like more general support when moving. One participant said, “The moving support system quality has significantly degraded over time. Low-wage unskilled workers are entrusted with our personal belongings so I wish better quality labor were available.”

Living Apart

Living apart is a reality many military families have to deal with, and we explored the reasons why as well as how frequently this happens within the military community. At some point, 43 percent of families have chosen to live apart. The most common reason for doing so is for the continuity of children’s education (21 percent).

The second most common response was spouse employment (15 percent). These families chose to focus on both the spouse’s and military member’s careers to retain financial security or for reasons related to career development. One spouse explains the reasoning for living apart: “The necessity that we both be fully employed, coupled with the limits of my professional license; so, I stayed put and he moved.”

Other common reasons for living apart were unaccompanied orders, deployment, or dual military. Further, some respondents said they wouldn’t be able to afford a move. One noted, “A family shouldn’t have to have a mansion, but they should be able to have a safe home with a decent school.”

Although respondents gave several reasons for living apart, the theme of the responses was the need for family unit stability.

Housing

With all these moves, ending up in military housing is at times unavoidable. We asked respondents their reasons for living or not living in military housing as well as their overall military housing experiences. Most respondents, 78 percent, chose not to live in military housing. Most said this was because of personal issues (42 percent), including already owning a home or needing more space. Other explanations given include military-related reasons, issues with the military housing offered, financial concerns, and dissatisfaction with the location of housing. The main military-related reason for not living in military housing is that military status and branch of service can affect eligibility and availability. Issues with housing included trouble finding housing, rejection of the housing conditions, and a wanting not to live near people in the same unit.

For the small percentage of respondents who chose to live in military housing (22%), the main reason was financial, as it is usually more affordable. Other respondents said they like the amenities, such as the safety of the base as well as proximity to good schools and to services provided on base.

We found that negative military housing experiences outweighed the positive ones. Most respondents (32.5%) answered in positive terms, such as “it’s great,” but when asked to elaborate, they listed complaints. The most common negative responses — 22 percent reported negative experiences — were related to lack of maintenance. As one respondent explains, “Our house is constantly falling apart and we don’t get assistance with issues until months later. Our utility charges aren’t consistent or [don’t] make sense, even after an energy audit.”

Another common complaint was unfair fees and costs. This included questionable utility charges (as the respondent just above touched on), excessive moving fees, and high costs for a place that is not well-maintained. One participant said, “It’s awful. Houses are built so cheaply there is no insulation, lowest quality windows, etc. then charged premium for the rent and electricity for a house that you can’t do anything to improve.”

Recommendation

We recommend exploring the financial strain related to moving that military families are experiencing. Moving is expensive, but it is often necessary in the military, so there is likely no getting away from it entirely. To reduce the burden, families should be educated on moving and should receive the proper financial information to lessen that strain and make moving easier overall.

Looking for more on military family life? Our next blog will be all about education! If you are interested in children’s education, adult education, or what support programs our respondents appreciate the most, be sure to check it out.

Can’t wait for the next blog post? You can read the full survey report here.