With the shortage of moving company capacity this summer, an untold number of military members are deciding to move their household goods to their next duty station themselves.
If you are one of those do-it-yourself types, the government provides financial incentives, but the amount of money you pocket will depend on how organized and resourceful you are, and how much sweat equity you put into the process. If you’re able to pack, load, unload and unpack yourself without hiring help to do it, you can pocket the most money.
This year, even more financial incentives are sweetening the pot for those who do these moves, which are now called Personally Procured Moves, and were previously known as Do-It-Yourself, or DITY, moves.
In essence, DoD is reimbursing you for 103 percent of what the government would pay a commercial mover to move your household goods. Besides increasing the baseline reimbursement from 95 to 100 percent in January, defense officials increased the incentive in April to pay service members an extra 3 percent of the government’s cost.
For example, if the government’s calculated cost — called the Government Constructive Cost — would be $10,000, the “PPM variable” would be an extra $300.
The amount you receive is based on the actual weight you move, and the costs are calculated based on that weight — within your weight allowance for household goods moves. It’s not based on your actual cost. So depending on your costs during the move, you might make money or you might pay out of pocket. Your best bet is to go to your transportation office to get a reliable estimate before you start a PPM move.
You can arrange to move all your household goods in a PPM, or do a partial PPM move combined with a government move. A partial PPM move could be as basic as loading some stuff in your personal vehicle and getting paid to move those items — with the proper weight tickets.
U.S. Transportation Command officials acknowledge that there is even less than usual capacity in the moving industry, and note that some service members are having to wait four to six weeks for moving crews if the government is arranging their move. There’s also a shortage of rental trucks in many areas for those who want to move themselves.
While officials note that PPM moves are an option for service members, they emphasize that in no case should a service member feel compelled to do a Personally Procured Move, nor should they feel compelled to leave family members behind to conduct a PPM move on their own.
We’ve collected some tips from various sources, including an Army family who made a PPM move last summer.
One family’s experience
When Sarah Lynne Kline and her husband, Army Capt. Jon Kline, decided to move themselves from Fort Stewart, Georgia, to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, in the summer of 2020, they had their reasons.
They had requested a crated shipment — with their household goods sealed in wooden crates, but that wasn’t available through a government-arranged company within their time frame. And they didn’t want to wait: “We were afraid his orders would be canceled or changed, because it was in the midst of COVID,” she said, and they wanted to get settled and get their triplets situated in school.
With careful planning and research on their part, plenty of purging, resourcefulness and hard work, and the help of friends and family, their move was a success, she said. It was their seventh move, with two other PPM moves, she noted.
“This was probably my least stressful move. We had only one table scratch,” she said. “We did it on our own timeline, and it was less stressful. But without friends and family, it would have been hard to do.”
Friends helped her pack her kitchen; friends and family helped them unload the truck; and she paid for her father, Michael Durbin, to fly to Georgia so he could drive the U-Haul from Fort Stewart to Fort Sill.
“I owe a lot to my dad,” she said.
Know the rules. Get those weight tickets.
Request your PPM move through Move.mil, and consult with your local personal property office. These counselors will help you take the right steps for a smooth move and ensure you do what is necessary to get the proper amount of compensation for the move. They will estimate how much money you might receive, based on an accurate estimated weight of what will be shipped. Many factors go into the personal property office’s calculation of the estimated incentive/compensation for your PPM move. The Government Constructive Cost for shipping includes a number of factors, ranging from the number of miles to linehaul charges, a term used by the moving industry to describe basic charges for long distance moves calculated by mileage and weight of total shipment.
Remember: This incentive is based on the household goods weight you actually transport, not to exceed your authorized weight allowance. You must get weight tickets from authorized locations for the empty truck/portable storage container/etc., and then weight tickets of the loaded truck and/or container.
Defense Department regulations set the amount of weight allowances service members can ship at government expense, based on rank and whether there are dependents. That applies to the incentive paid for PPM moves, too. And while DoD Joint Travel Regulations set the definitive policy for household goods moves, to include PPMs, service members should talk with their transportation office to make sure they understand the documentation required by their service branch when they file for reimbursement once the PPM is completed, according to officials with U.S. Transportation Command.
Who will do the work?
Whether you’re hiring a moving company to do all or part of your work, or arranging for your own equipment and materials, give yourself plenty of time.
Do your research, and be resourceful. Kline priced some commercial moving companies, but the company she wanted to hire wasn’t available. As it turned out, her landscapers had previously worked for a moving company that did business on Fort Stewart. “They helped us move, and did a great job, and I was more comfortable with people I knew,” especially during the pandemic, she said. The most difficult aspect, she said, was deciding how much to pay them. The Klines paid a flat rate of $900, which averaged out to about $15 an hour for the workers. “I would encourage anyone to do a flat rate,” she said.
She estimates they saved about 30 percent compared to a commercial moving company, and probably an overall 60 percent because they packed 95 percent of their items themselves.
If you’re hiring a local moving company to do all or part of the work, first visit the government’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration website, at https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/protect-your-move. You can download the checklist and follow steps to ensure your mover is legitimate. Also check the registered movers database to ensure the mover is properly licensed and insured to move your household goods. It also lists some red flags to watch for, such as the moving company demanding cash or a large deposit before the move.
“Like other areas of commerce, there are criminals who pose as moving companies, and you should be aware of their tactics,” said Dan Bradley, director of government and military relations for the International Association of Movers. He suggested checking to see if your state has a state moving association, which often has resources to help find a reputable moving company.
What do you need?
Everyone’s needs will be different, depending on how they move, what they’re moving, and how much they’re moving. Kline reserved the largest truck available from U-Haul. Given the current shortage of rental trucks, making this reservation should be your first step. She also arranged for temporary storage at their destination. Service members are authorized up to 90 days of temporary storage at their destination in a PPM move.
Kline also arranged for four U-Boxes , which are large, portable storage containers. These containers are available from various companies such as PODS, and allow you to pack and store items on a flexible schedule. The company will truck them to the new location. Again: Make sure you get empty and full weight tickets for each of the containers and for the trucks.
The Klines decided early on what they would load into the truck to take with them, and what would go into those U-Boxes that they wouldn’t need immediately; the U-Boxes take a little longer to be delivered to the destination.
She ordered their packing materials from an online website that moving companies use to purchase their materials. It was delivered to their house on a pallet, nicely wrapped, within a week. She spent about $1,300 on packing materials, but notes she could have spent less because she overestimated how much she needed. She was able to get a wide variety of boxes, from file boxes, mirror boxes, boxes for TVs, to dish boxes, wardrobe boxes and others. You can find information on how to estimate the types and number of boxes you’ll need on websites such as U-Haul and Penske. She ordered tape labels for the boxes to indicate where the boxes would be placed on arrival.
She also ordered desicant packets to put in every box to absorb any moisture, and put leftover packets with their household goods in their temporary storage facility when they arrived at Fort Sill.
Check with your insurance company to make sure your policy covers your household goods during the move.
Purge. Then purge more. Sell, donate and throw away. Packing up stuff that you don’t want or need at your next location is wasted time, effort and money. The Klines previously had problems with mold, and although the items affected had been professionally cleaned, they didn’t want to move those items into a home that they planned to buy. They got rid of some bedroom sets, bookshelves, couches, kitchenware and mattresses. They gave away some items, and discarded most of the rest. It was a difficult process, she acknowledged.
Plan, start early and stay organized
“We had a solid plan for everything worked out prior to starting the process of packing,” Kline said. “We knew exactly what was next. We knew what was going into the truck, when to expect it, and who was driving it. We had the storage facility worked out,” she said.
The Klines put out a call to friends and family to help them unload the truck when they arrived, and had a great mix of people, some of whom had never met each other, she said. When the U-Boxes arrived about 12 days later, the Klines unloaded them into their storage facility and were able to organize items so they could get them easily as they needed them. They lived in an RV until they were able to find the house they wanted to buy.
One advantage the Klines found to doing their own move was the ability to move at their own pace. They packed boxes about two hours a day, a week and a half before the actual move-out day of July 30, 2020. Friends helped pack up the kitchen.
Save every receipt
The Klines took pictures of every receipt and weight ticket and immediately stashed them in a file folder in their car. Keep your paperwork from the personal property office with those receipts, too.
The service branches have various policies when it comes to submitting paperwork. But even if you don’t need to submit a receipt for PPM reimbursement purposes, keep all receipts for tax purposes; much of military members’ unreimbursed out-of-pocket moving expenses are tax deductible.
Be safe: Don’t skimp on hotels
Kline was careful about where they stayed along the route with their rental truck. Service members making a PCS move get per diem allowances for lodging, meals and incidental expenses, and the Klines were able to stay within their per diem. “Spring for a better hotel,” Kline said. “I knew we had to be careful with our U-Haul, staying overnight, so we parked it sideways in the parking spaces and sandwiched it in with our cars” to prevent theft. “We had ground floor hotel rooms to help keep an eye on it.”
The financial upshot
The Army calculated the Klines’ PPM gross incentive as $12,609.48. Their operating expenses totaled $7,006.54, which is excluded from federal taxes. The rest — their profit — was $5,602.94, which was taxed at 22 percent, or $1,232.65. That adds up to $4,370, but doesn’t include her father’s travel expenses, the $900 for loading that she didn’t submit, and some other expenses.
|Klines’ financial upshot
|Gross PPM incentive $12,609.48 paid to Klines, minus $1,232.65 taxes on their $5,602.94 profit
|Moving expenses paid by the Klines
|Klines’ profit after taxes*
|* Does not include a variety of other expenses not covered for reimbursement.
Source: Sarah Lynne Kline
The claims process wasn’t too difficult, Kline said. “I’d encourage spouses to go in together.”
‘You will get to the other side’
While Kline says this was her least stressful PCS move, that doesn’t mean there was no stress. She urges spouses “to really dive in and talk things through with the service member. If two people are all in, it makes it a lot easier,” she said.
“Also, we had a conversation about 10 days before the movers came. We know we’re not going to like each other in this process. But it will be okay once it’s all complete.
“I don’t know that anyone can do a PPM move and not have it be stressful,” she said.
“You will get to the other side. All of your things will get put into a home.
“This isn’t forever.”
Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.