As soon as Uncle Sam puts his stamp of approval on our PCS orders, we immediately jump online and pull up the current BAH/OHA rates (Basic Allowance for Housing/Overseas Housing Allowance) for our new duty location. Once we have that magical number in hand, we let the house hunting begin! Here are a few ways you can get the most out of your BAH to maximize your military pay.
Don’t Spend All Of Your BAH On Rent
If you can help it, try to keep your monthly rent under your BAH ceiling so you can maximize this entitlement. If you can cover part of your water, electrical, or gas bill, that’s less money coming out of your base pay. Whatever you do, do NOT come out of pocket for rent if you can help it.
Don’t Be Afraid to Negotiate Your Rent
Just because the home you want isn’t the price you want to pay, consider calling to find out if the monthly rent total is negotiable. Stateside landlords might be willing to make exceptions for military families because military member receive regular, salaried pay and you might benefit from the positive stereotype that associates trustworthiness and integrity with military members. If you’re overseas, you might be able to negotiate with your landlord to include additional services to maximize your OHA by including utilities or yard maintenance in your rent amount. OHA is treated as use or lose; if you’re rent is less than your OHA, you will only receive OHA equivalent to the amount of your rent, whereas with BAH you receive the full amount regardless of your monthly rent.
Keep Your Commute in Mind
A commute is no joke with today’s gas prices. You can significantly take a chunk out of your budget by choosing to live farther out from base. If you already have a sizable commute, check out Gasbuddy for the cheapest gas prices in your area. There are always exceptions to each rule, but remember that the further you live away from base, the less likely you are to utilize your Commissary, Exchange, and MWR/ITT benefits. Many might argue that the Exchange and Commissary are not always cheaper, but the Exchange will accept any competitors pricing within 50 miles (with the exception of warehouse stores), and the Commissary definitely has competitive pricing on meats and other foods.
Bigger isn’t Always Better
Just because you can afford rent on a larger home doesn’t mean you should choose to rent it! Remember, larger homes and properties come with bigger utility bills and maintenance costs. It costs more to cool and heat a larger home, and if you live in a air conditioning dependent part of the world, you are going to blow (pun intended) major bucks on electricity. And I don’t know about you, but larger homes means more time spent cleaning, dusting, and vacuuming. I also find that when I have empty spaces in a home, I feel compelled to fill those spaces. The temptation to buy additional furniture, wall art, and other home decor can make a significant impact on your budget.
Found a home with a pool or hot tub? Beware the additional costs of maintaining the luxe life. Keep your life simple and avoid unnecessary out of pocket costs.
Remember, It’s Temporary!
You’re not going to live in one spot forever and you always have the option to continue shopping during your stay. Keep your wits about you and remember to have a sense of humor. You might have to get creative with your living situation and you might have to adjust your standards depending on your location. Make the most of each PCS and don’t trap yourself by overspending on your housing expenses. Housing expenses leave you little to no wiggle room once you’ve cemented your living situation. The more disposable income you have to spend on things other than your shelter, food, and transportation, the more you can put towards savings and enjoying your next military adventure!
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