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Life Lessons of a Military Wife (overseas in Europe!): Should We Live On or Off Post?

Life Lessons of a Military Wife (overseas in Europe!)

My goal here is to make your life easier, especially those who are in the unique situation of being a military spouse. Yes...I've been around...but in a good way...and hopefully can share those tips, tricks and shortcuts with you too. I've been on this military bus for over 40 years now. My goals in life are to have a well-run home, few money worries, well adjusted children, money socked away and whatever happiness I can scoop out of life.

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After life as an Army brat, being in the Army myself and marrying a soldier, I can honestly say I have a bucket full of life lessons I can share to help you make your everyday life easier and enlightening. Don't waste your time making unnecessary mistakes and benefit from others who have come before you on your journey through life.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Should We Live On or Off Post?

Before every move, this is something that I ponder. You probably do too. Should we live off post this time? Are we allowed to? Do we have to live on post, as there is plenty of housing or maybe my spouse's job requires it? What are we going to do this time around? I seem to agonize over it more than most. So how do we eventually decide? We use these pros and cons and actually make a list of the positive and the negative and then pick from there. It's worked like a charm every time, and we've never regretted the decision either way.

Let's look at some of the things to think about when living on-post:

  • First of all, is it available? Is there even housing for you WHEN you move and not months later. You may be just fine waiting months (and even a year) for a home to become available on post....and then again, you may not. I'm the kind of person, once we move...that's it, we're not moving again til we vacate the area.
  • Shorter commute. I used to have visions of my husband coming home for lunch and casually getting up in the morning. What we got instead was long hours at the office, cause hey, he's the guy who lives closest...let the guys who live far away go home first...and guess who they call when there is an emergency and need someone immediately?
  • More secure and gated. Since almost all military installations are gated and have security, you at least feel safe. That's not to say you won't have hoodlums running around getting into things, but I still think it's safer than your average neighborhood off post.
  • Save wear and tear on your car and be closer to tax-free shopping. You'll find you're not filling up your gas tank every week, and you're more inclined to shop at the PX and commissary. I know, I know, the PX doesn't have the greatest prices, but they do price match and it IS tax free.
  • You tend to get more involved in on-post activities. I was a member of half of the clubs on post, and my kids participated in all kinds of free and great programs. When we lived off-post, we tended to do our own thing in the area we lived in.
  • You don't pay rent, unless it is privatized housing. Then you'll get a BAH and utility allowance to cover your rent. It personally took me about two years to stop leaving the lights on in every room after we got married. As a military brat we were always in on-post housing, and we tended to not be as careful as we should with energy conservation.
  • Kids can interact with others in similar situations. The kids at school and on the playground can relate to your kid and his daddy being gone all the time. We've been in civilian schools and not only do the kids not have a clue but neither do the teachers. We had some rough waters before we had smooth sailing a few times.
  • Living on post, you can't always pick what you want. They're going to show you a home where others of your husband's rank lives...that can be good or bad...and you'll be limited to the number of bedrooms you're offered, again depending on rank. Most military housing is also smaller and rarely has garage space for even two vehicles. Many posts give you just three chances to refuse a place and then you are placed back at the bottom of the housing waiting list and must wait your turn again. I've been shown some dumps in my lifetime, believe me.
  • You may be living close to people who do not share your values and noise exceptance levels. I've had neighbors let their toddlers run free with no supervision and also loud partying neighbors where we rarely got some sound sleep. You just never know what you are going to get.
  • You'll have to maintain certain levels of cleanliness and tidiness. You'll need to get permission to paint and make "improvements". Someone might even tell you what you can and can't plant in your yard as well as what can be in your yard or driveway, if you even have one. If you're not a tidy person, you may have some problems with the rules. Heck, I am tidy, and I even had a problem with a few of the rules.
  • Everyone will know your business no matter how careful you are. Ahhh, stairwell living. I can tell you how many times a week our neighbors do the deed, flush the toilet, use the toilet, yell at each other...you know, that kind of thing. Even if you are living in duplexes (the Army has a lot of those) or multiplexes (and even more of those), you tend to hear AND see more than you would like of your neighbors.
Now what about living off-post? Think about this:

  • If you are lucky enough to have your rent and utilities LESS than what the military gives you for BAH, you can pocket the difference. Alternatively, if it's the other way around, you'll have to come up with the shortfall. Here is Germany, I know a few folks who were making money, only to see oil heating costs shoot through the roof, literally, and now they are paying out of pocket and their BAH does not cover their expenses.
  • You obviously have more choices of what kind of home you will live in. You have the opportunity for a bigger or nicer yard, more square footage, more bedrooms and any of the other things on your wish list.
  • It's easier to separate your family life from your job. You can "turn it off" more than someone living on-post.
  • You get to interact with others more who are outside the military. Some of our best duty stations were those where we lived off post. We have some great civilian friends who we still keep in touch with today.
  • You get to decide whether you want to rent or buy. Let me caution you, that if you are looking at buying, you'd better make sure you have enough time to build up enough equity in the house, so you won't lose money when you have to sell. With today's housing market, this is easier said than done. If you rent, make sure your lease has a military clause, should your spouse get orders and have to move. This'll get you out of the lease early. If your post has a housing office, go through them before you sign anything.
And now that you've looked at some of the pros and cons, here are a few other tidbits to consider:

  • Absolutely look at the credentials and scores of the school and school district of the home you are considering. If you have kids, you want to have them in the best possible school district. Be sure to look at bus rides and how long it'll take them to get to school in the morning and back home. If you are buying and don't have kids, you'd still better look at school districts, because it'll increase the resale value of your home. When we lived in Colorado Springs, our neighborhood's homes routinely went for $50-75k more than the one right next to us. Why? Because the other school district next door was that bad.
  • Visit the neighborhood your home is in at different times of the day. It may be peaceful now, but watch out later. You also want to drive there during rush hour or end of day commute. Get a better feel of what it would be like to live there. Also, take a walk through the neighborhood! I am amazed at what I see and hear. You'll never catch that stuff...both good and bad, driving through.
  • If you're looking on-post, has the housing been renovated, how thin are the walls? Take another walk and look around and talk to people hanging outside. People tend to be very honest when you ask them how they like it there.
My favorite sites in researching places to live are listed below:

  • Zillow. This is a good all around site to see what houses are valued at (not always accurate depending on what data they use for that county), but it also shows you what's for sale and the best part...is the maps and bird's eye view. Look to see what the area looks like from above and see that water treatment plant or railroad track not to far from where you are looking.
  • OneStop Army Mil. This site supposedly lists all the on-post housing. I say supposedly, because sometimes you don't get a full representation of what is available. For example, here in Stuttgart, there are houses and apartments anywhere from under 1000 sq ft to just over 2500 sq ft. You don't see them all listed on the site. But, you do get a general idea and sometimes even photos of the inside and outside of the homes. It's worth a visit.
Do you have any tips to share on housing and how you choose?

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14 Comments:

Blogger Nicole said...

Hi there - my first comment but I've been reading your blog for a while (and I also used to live on Patch from 98-01 so you've given me some fun memories.)

One of the other things to consider when you live on post is the maintenance issue. I love to be able to call housing when I have a household maintenance issue and know that I don't have to cough up $50 an hour for a plumber or whatever. Especially with a husband who deploys often, this is one of the major factors I count in the "plus" side for on-post housing. (That and the fact that my husband DOES make it home for lunch most days!)

September 9, 2008 at 2:22 PM  
Anonymous Jenny said...

Hey! My husband works on Patch, too. We live in a little town south of Stuttgart near Tubingen and love it. Before we moved here, we lived on Fort Belvoir for almost four years. The first three years, we lived in a single family "old" house. We had frequent power outages, plumbing problems, and occasional neighbor issues. But we loved that house because it had a fireplace, a big yard, and privacy. Then, we lived in "new" housing for seven months. It had a two car garage, better infrastructure, and a fenced yard, but we didn't like it as much.

You've definitely brought up some excellent points here. We were thrilled to get housing on Belvoir because it meant getting out of a nasty apartment. But now that we're in Germany, we love living off post and certainly wouldn't trade it for stairwell living!

September 10, 2008 at 9:35 AM  
Blogger Marine Wife said...

You make some great points, but I'd point out that living on base, whether privatized or not, is not rent-free. When you opt for housing, you lose BAH, i.e. the rent, from the paycheck, regardless.

September 10, 2008 at 4:55 PM  
Anonymous kirsten said...

One thing I noticed when living on base-kids kids and more kids! We had a playground close by every where we lived, and loads of kids around to play with.

When we moved there wasn't really base housing (Pentagon), and it was weird how few kids were in our development. The spouse walks to Metro and our rent is well below BAH, but I also miss the Housing Maintenance folks. And no playgrounds except at school. Fabulous school though, and over the past few years the amount of kids has grown as residents have moved and been replaced with young families. But when I drive on the posts and bases in the area I am again struck by how many kids there are.

September 13, 2008 at 2:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Heres a poll and discussion on it

http://forums.armywives.com/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=107837

September 15, 2008 at 7:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great info about moving overseas...but I wanted to amend one of your statements about pocketing extra BAH in Germany. We moved to Stuttgart last month and were told that you do not "pocket the difference" here, you are only paid the amount listed on your lease for your housing allowance. Luckily we were told this before we picked a cheaper house and counted on keeping the extra cash. I don't know if this is a new policy in Germany, but it's the first time we have run into it in 16 years in the AF. Also, the housing in the Stuttgart area is pretty limited right now so be sure to ask the housing office about getting a real estate agent (at the govt's expense) if you cant find a house on the "official" housing list.

September 15, 2008 at 9:28 AM  
Blogger ****Veteran Military Wife at Life Lessons of a Military Wife**** said...

Are you saying that your BAH fluctuates every month? I can see where your rent is the same every month, but technically, BAH is supposed to cover your utility costs as well. With the way heating oil fluctuates over here, I've seen folks get more some months and then also on the flipside, have to dip in their pockets to make up the difference.

September 15, 2008 at 2:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The BAH and Utilities allowances are separate allotments. If your BAH is 2000 Euro, but your rent is only 1800 Euro, you will only get the 1800. Your utilities allowance (from the way it was explained to me) is the same set amount every month regardless of your utilities costs. So you can pocket the extra utilities allowance (if there is anything left!) but you may as well go for the best house you can find, even if it is for your total HOUSING allowance. I hope that makes sense--sorry if it was confusing!

September 16, 2008 at 2:49 PM  
Blogger GG said...

Jenny, or anyone else. My husband has gotten a job offer to work on Patch, but we will have to live off-post (he's a contractor now), what kind of living accommodations can I expect? How much is rent? What area's are better to live in. He says he wants to ride his bike to work, so we can't live to far away. I want to finish my degree, are there schools on base that allow for that, or will I have to do it online? What are some of the things that I will need to bring? What are the monthly bills like? We have to handle our own shipping, no TMO anymore. We are coming from Quantico, VA, but we already live off-post and have a LOT of stuff to store or get rid of. I am spinning with questions, so any help would be great, thanks.
Cindy

September 18, 2008 at 7:51 PM  
Blogger ****Veteran Military Wife at Life Lessons of a Military Wife**** said...

GG, lots of good questions. Visit the expat site below and read and ask questions...lots of contractors and expats moving to Stuttgart post there.

http://www.toytowngermany.com/forum/index.php?showforum=98

I have friends who rent anywhere from 1500 to 2200 Euro a month...the closer in, the more expensive, unless you are really willing to live in something pretty small.

September 18, 2008 at 8:38 PM  
Anonymous vmi76 said...

Jenny said: "We live in a little town south of Stuttgart near Tubingen and love it." We are looking at renting in Tubingen also. Can anyone give us an idea how long (time wise and traffic) the drive is to and from Kelly Barracks? Not knowing what traffic is like is a concern. Thanks

September 29, 2008 at 4:58 PM  
Blogger ****Veteran Military Wife at Life Lessons of a Military Wife**** said...

It is quite a haul from Tuebingen, not so much because of the distance...think it is only about 40 km....but because of the traffic and the constant staus (traffic jams). The only way to see if you can live with being far out, is to drive it at night (it gets dark here EARLY in the winter) and preferably during rush hour. If you have kids, realize that they won't be that involved in sports and school events unless you want to live out of your car...also take the long busrides into consideration (about an hour one way is not unusual for many of the kids off post in outlying areas). And lastly, the weather here is milder than let's say in Baumholder or Grafenwoehr, but we still get quite a bit of snow...how's your wintertime/snow driving? All things to think about and consider....BUT, the Tuebingen area is beautiful!

September 30, 2008 at 9:27 AM  
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