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Life Lessons of a Military Wife (overseas in Europe!): Things to Buy BEFORE Moving/PCSing Overseas

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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Location: United States

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.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Things to Buy BEFORE Moving/PCSing Overseas

It goes against the grain. When moving overseas, you should be getting rid of things, not buying more stuff! Well, I wish I had bought more stuff. I realized this the first day I walked into our PX and was faced with empty shelves, or the store clerk saying, "We don't carry that". I even tried a few German stores, but either the price chased me out the door, or they just didn't have it either. So now what? What gets to me the most right now, is our stupid cat, tracking litter and filth up and down the hallway. We are on our second litterbox....and have again struck out. Only a top entry litterbox will do for him apparently and much to my dismay, every store that sells these Clevercat litterboxes in the States does not ship to the APO because of its large size. I thought about trying the service, but the litterbox is already oversize and items shipped through them must still follow the USPS guidelines. But, this is only an example of one of the many things I wish I had brought over. Here are some more.

  • Our bed. Not the mattresses but the actual bedframe. We got rid of our rickety one right before we moved and thought we would look for one here. One, the German beds are a different size. Two, our selection at our PX furniture store is VERY limited and VERY pricey for beds.
  • Little replacement doodads, clips and hardware. Yes, the PX has the basic supply of nails, screws and such. I've even had success at the German hardware store with some things. But try finding those special clips for my sideboard and entertainment center over here.
  • Sheets, comforters and blankets. If your old ones are raggedy, then plan to buy these on sale before you move. Again, the PX is overpriced with such things and rarely do they go on sale, and I just hate paying all those shipping costs when I don't need to. I won't even begin to go into the poor selection of choices either.
  • Any special pet products you may need. Here they are either not available at the PX or too expensive on the German economy. If your pet takes a prescription, try to get as much of it filled before you come. The onpost vet has very limited space, and you can forget it if your pet has an emergency. Ours books appointments two months out and first come first served. If you need to go to a German vet, you will pay through the nose. Yet another thing to budget for if you are bringing a pet overseas.
  • Your favorite 110v appliance. The PX has a limited supply, and depending on the size and weight of your item, should you buy it while over here, it may be too cost prohibitive to ship or be over the USPS requirements for size and/or weight.
I'd say half of our neighbors traveled over here like minimalists. Most of their things are in storage. Many of them wish most of their things were not in storage. I got rid of all our kids' old bedroom furniture, and thought we would have a shopping spree at IKEA...but up til now, I've only had to buy them a workstation-desktype contraption. The furniture you can borrow from the government, at least where I am, is newer, lighter wood and IKEA-like, so it fit in perfectly with their decor. The only old piece of 1950s dark-wood furniture we have is our loaner coffee table, and it seems to fit in just fine with our antiques. For those living off-post, the biggest furniture hurdle seems to be no closet space. German closets are not built in with the house....neither is the kitchen...but that is another story for another day.

Anyway, those are the hightlights anyway...if I had to do things differently, that's my list. You learn from your experiences...and every one else's if you can.

What do you wish you had brought with you?

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Blogger Marine Wife said...

When we lived in Korea, I had a list as long as my arm of the things I wished I'd bought. As it was, I ended up rebuying things I had in storage. I either passed things along (the PCS inheritance) when we moved back, or ended up with 2 of something.

September 10, 2008 at 4:49 PM  
Anonymous Carol said...

Thanks for the post. We're getting ready to move to Stuttgart this winter and I'm gonna hit the Fall White sales!! I too hate paying so much for sheets from AAFES. Lighter wood government furniture?!? My how things have changed.

September 11, 2008 at 4:25 AM  
Anonymous Jenny said...

We lucked out. We live off post in a house near Tubingen, but our landlord left some of his furniture and is allowing us to use it, including the desk for my computer and a couple of dressers. He also left us his kitchen and our house has closets. But from what I've heard, that's unusual.

We left our guest room bed in the States because it's rickety and we need to replace. We regret that now, since we've already had houseguests who have had to use an air mattress and sometimes it's just nice to have an extra bed. I also wish we'd brought some of our kitchen appliances like our blender, steamer, and mixer. We did buy some extra bedding at AAFES when we first got here and, you're right, it was very expensive! Our bed needs a new feather topper and I doubt we'll find one the right size.

September 11, 2008 at 3:40 PM  
Blogger dyceedo said...

Area rugs! Buy area rugs for every room of your house and stick them in your HHG! Where we were stationed, both on-post and off-post housing had tile or hard wood floors - pretty, but COLD in the winter. The selection at AAFES was horrible and the prices at German stores were shocking.
And yes, we got the newer version of gov't furniture for the kids' rooms - really not bad at all!

September 12, 2008 at 1:27 AM  
Anonymous Alice said...

Well, very nice post! We are moving to Stuttgart, and were wondering, should we bring our home computers? Will they work or be ruined by the difference in electrical? I also like to fresh-grind my own wheat/corn/rye grains and juice fresh veggies/fruits with my Champion Juicer. Can I use these there, and will I even be able to buy bulk grains for bread/cereal making, or is this prohibitive?
I was thinking, can I get a good paying job in Stuttgart if I'm not an engineer? I noticed the comment about rugs, and I love to make handmade/crochet/knitted/felted rugs...could I make and sell them there to earn money? I also like to make heavy canvass, hand-painted throw-rugs, and they're great for hard floors,..could I set up my own business in Germany easily and still make some good money?? Sorry for all these questions...but you gals are reall terrific! Thnks!

November 29, 2008 at 1:41 AM  
Blogger ****Veteran Military Wife at Life Lessons of a Military Wife**** said...

I'll try to answer some of your questions. Computers run on 110 and 220, so they should be okay w/either voltage. I know our old monitor had troubles last time we were here running off a transformer...I know someone whose stand mixer was ruined by the "off cycles" and don't bring American electric clocks as they don't run right on transformers. I've never had any problems w/any other appliances.

If you live in housing on post, you'll have both 220 and 110 outlets.

Germans are BIG on "all natural" and'll find bio stores on the economy that sell all the products you need to make your own breads,jams, household products or whatever..but German bakeries are SO good.

We have a craft center here that is toprate with lots of classes and some supplies. Many crafters participate in craft fairs. cannot use your APO address for business purposes, just your German address.

Many wives do have jobs, but they are not high paying for the most part, although I have a few friends who work for contractors who do get paid the big bucks.

November 29, 2008 at 7:09 PM  
Blogger kkindt said...

How is storage on post? Also, how about TV's? One blog said no HD? But will they work at least or be blurry? How is the housing? Moving and would love any help! Thanks.

January 19, 2009 at 10:19 PM  
Blogger ****Veteran Military Wife at Life Lessons of a Military Wife**** said...

Storage will depend on where you are stationed. Most housing is stairwell, ie apartment living, with a storage room in the basement, about as big as a small bedroom...some also have an attic room. If you live off post, it could be anything or nothing. Houses do tend to be smaller and less open off post, although I know quite a few living in larger houses with anything from 5 to 7 bedrooms and inlaw apartments for example in the basement.

We don't have HD TV signals yet...but AFN is looking at it...we're not that far in the Stone Age! Don't you remember "regular tv" before HD? That's the clarity we have over here. Our on post cable has a few dozen channels, and if you get a TV with PAL capability, you can watch all the German channels as well.

This site has photos and even floorplans of many of the Army posts, even overseas (some of our posts over here have brand new duplexes and actual houses with more being built)

January 21, 2009 at 9:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks so much this information has been so helpful. I just had a question about furniture. Half of mine is too old to make the trip to Germany in one piece and the rest is recently new. I currently life in a single story family home with a huge basement so I know I have to seriously downgrade to get into an apartment. I was thinking it would be easier to sell the heavier chucky furniture and then hit up Ikea when we got out there to avoid any claims hassles and breakage. I'd have the money to comfortably furnish our apartment between my savings and the money that I'd get from my current furniture so that's not a problem but I can't decide if it's smart. I have never been out of the US and I can not speak German so I have no idea what shopping at a German Ikea would be like. On the good side I translated the prices and German Ikea is only a few American dollars more for each item than it is here, which is good cause I've heard some countries jack the prices up. Either way I can make it my home as long as i have my little stuff. I guess my question is what would you do?

February 12, 2009 at 5:13 AM  
Blogger ****Veteran Military Wife at Life Lessons of a Military Wife**** said...

IKEA does take VAT forms (where you as an American do not pay the German 19% tax), so that's relief there. Many Germans do speak English, but I would say sign up for one of the many free German classes they have over'll feel more confident navigating off post.

We also have an American furniture store at AAFES, and there are a few Belgian and other furniture stores, mainly near the bases up in Ramstein that sell new and antique furniture.

But as far as regular German stores, remember, their bed sizes are totally different than ours, so if you were to buy a bed, sheets and things in the US later, not to mention mattresses....all would be different.

You can also get govt loaned furniture, which these days is nicer than it used to be...mostly IKEA style, and we have some of that in the apartment. You can get that stuff delivered off post too. I think they only do single and double beds, no queen and king.

We have neighbors who moved w/barely any furniture, so it's not really necessary to bring it.

My suggestion, I was never a big fan of having the whole house, including bedroom furniture all as one set....always thought it was tacky and lazy and does not show creativity when everything looks the same...but that is just my opinion and nothing else. I like to mix things from all over that blend furniture tells a story of where we've been, and every piece has an individual story of how we got it:-)) Lots of antique opportunities over here.

That's how I do it.

And nope, I still did not get my moving claim completely done! I am at a point where I have to get estimates on damages done...a big hassle.

February 13, 2009 at 6:49 AM  
Anonymous excited said...

I am soooo thankful for your blog!! We are AF and stationed in Dc. We just recieved orders yesterday to Sembach air base. Do you know anything about that area. Our no later than date is July 31. So far I haven't found much about it online. I am so anxious. Thank you for the list of what to buy before PSCing. That will help ALOT!!!

April 29, 2009 at 12:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am soooo thankful for your blog!! We are AF and stationed in Dc. We just recieved orders yesterday to Sembach air base. Do you know anything about that area. Our no later than date is July 31. So far I haven't found much about it online. I am so anxious. Thank you for the list of what to buy before PSCing. That will help ALOT!!!

April 29, 2009 at 12:58 AM  
Anonymous Maria said...

Oh, I am so glad I read this blog! We were stationed in Ansbach over 14 years ago, at the time we had nothing newly weds. So now after 19years in service we ae being stationed somewhere in Germany.Yes, we still dont know, we have more then a house full of furniture,I was seriously considering not taking anything. But I guess we should. I am so excited but I am still worried about schools for my teen girls. DOD schools? Any suggestions? I am a paraprofessional in the school district here, does anyone know if there are paraprofessionals in the DOD schools.

October 22, 2009 at 5:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I sure wish someone could some of my 230V lamps over for me in their household goods. (I'm near Kaiserslautern. I missed the chance to ship them in HHG and they're just too darn big to be mailed.

November 25, 2009 at 1:58 AM  
Blogger Katelyn said...

This is a wonderful blog. I am in a strange situation - my husband is due to report in Stuttgart on 1Sept. At that point, I will be about 8 months pregnant. Saddled with airline restrictions on flying in the third trimester, I am considering moving to Stuttgart ahead of my husband in order to settle in, find housing, and establish a relationship with my doctor. Do you see any show-stoppers with me showing up a month or so early? I am wondering if I will be able to use the military's housing resources before my husband detaches from his command in San Diego. I'm completely lost so anyone who can advise me on this would make my day. Thanks for the informative blog!

February 6, 2010 at 6:09 AM  
Blogger ****Veteran Military Wife at Life Lessons of a Military Wife**** said...

Wow, that is unusual! I am afraid to recommend this, as you won't like it, but let me suggest doing it the other way won't be able to get any housing support (ie finding a home or getting on the housing list) without your husband signing into his unit and the community...and even best case scenario, you'll be either in a hotel and/or temp housing for up to 60 days.

And then what do you plan to do all by yourself over here, with no friends or husband, or car (or USAREUR driver's license) and not speaking the language (as there is no military hospital in Stuttgart) and you'd have to see a German provider off post, and what would your TRICARE situation be, being overseas while your husband is still attached to his stateside command....too many unknowns, even for me!

If I were in your shoes, I would stay where I have some kind of support system and join my husband later...I think it's the safest thing (and most supportive) for you and your baby.

February 7, 2010 at 8:41 PM  
Blogger Katelyn said...

You're right - your advice is not EXACTLY what I had hoped for, being the uber-independent and headstrong person that I am. :) But I am glad I asked and that you answered.

For starters, I had not realized that there wasn't a military hospital in Stuttgart. That does change the game a bit. It is also good to know that I would not get any traction in the housing office or with Tricare without my husband in tow. Our next step is to discuss our situation with the CO and detailer to see if there's any flexibility in our orders (of which we don't even have hard copies yet). Phew - what an adventure this is turning out to be! :) Thanks again for the good advice. If you'd like, I can let you know how it shakes out.

February 8, 2010 at 5:00 PM  
Blogger ****Veteran Military Wife at Life Lessons of a Military Wife**** said...

I think as long as your husband is not fitting a critical or command position, he MAY be able to delay his orders. We see most times, they want you sooner rather than later, so they can let the "old guy" go on to his can be like a stack of dominoes! If your hubby is lower enlisted, better chance of delaying your move.

A new baby is easy to travel with...although I think doctors recommend they be at least 2 to 2-1/2 months old?

There are some families that come to Stuttgart after their husbands can be stressful in a hotel, without transportation or anything to do (and many hotels have no kitchen/refrigerator capabilities) in a foreign language..most days alone because your husband will be at work. We were in the hotel for about 30 days ourselves, and we already had designated quarters!

Yes, please report back (send an email), and we can make an article out of it:-))

February 8, 2010 at 7:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

... Or one could live for a couple of years with a different sort of mattress, a dfferent kind of wardrobe, etc. OMG, what a tragedy that would be! It would be slightly different from the one one had back home in Alabama! And regarding the higher prices on the economy, that is what COLA is for (not for you to pocket - greedy).

October 2, 2010 at 11:33 AM  
Blogger ****Veteran Military Wife at Life Lessons of a Military Wife**** said...

That's an option too of course...and, if you have lots of basic furniture with lots of storage, chances are high you can sell it again when you PCS. Here in Belgium, there are tons of second hand stores with this type of modern furniture at super low prices, and I plan to sell it for less and possibly a bit more (if we go at the height of PCS seasoon), than what I paid for it....a win-win situation!

October 2, 2010 at 5:29 PM  

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