What is the most exciting thing for a new military spouse? There could be lots of answers, but I personally think that one of the things I was most excited for was being part of the military community.
One of the best places to find that community and really immerse yourself is by living on post. This is a decision that military families have to make all the time. But, as a new Army wife, I knew right away that I wanted to live on post and was excited to live and learn with other military spouses and get involved in my new community.
So you can imagine my disappointment when I found out that, where we are currently stationed, there is no on-post housing available. I don’t mean the housing was full, I mean housing here literally does not exist. We didn’t even have the opportunity to discuss whether or not we wanted to live on post. That broke my little heart.
Although I really love where we are lucky enough to live, I still find myself missing some pretty big things that I don’t get by living off-post.
CON: For starters, the commissary and exchange are hours away!
Well that is a bit of an exaggeration, but both are still quite far from where we live. Often, going to the commissary becomes an all-afternoon ordeal. We still make the journey when we have big shopping trips every few weeks, because we think the prices are worth it. But, let’s be honest, you go through a lot of stress when you have to speed home from the store before the ice cream has melted. I cannot wait until we live close enough to be able to run to the commissary on a whim.
CON: My husband’s commute is very inconvenient
Technically, it’s our commute since I work on post too, but the long commute affects him more because he’s the one who has to be on post at weird times. It can take anywhere from thirty minutes to an hour to get on post. Who wants to do that every day? Especially when you’re a soldier and you have to drag yourself to work at 6:30. We didn’t realize what we were getting into when we decided on the apartment location that we did, but I’m pretty sure neither of us want to live that far from post ever again. A word of advice: if you’re going to live off-post, at least live close.
CON: It’s hard to take advantage of the benefits the military offers us
The military provides a lot of resources to service members and their families; from recreation, to events, to mentorships on how to navigate life. But, living off post, those things are not as accessible to us. We have to drive quite a ways when we have questions about taxes, or leave paperwork, or when I went through the process of becoming a dependent. It just wasn’t convenient. I also have to drive thirty minutes to go to the free gym on post, which… well, let’s just I’m not fully utilizing that resource.
CON: I feel like I’m missing out on the military spouse community
This is the biggest thing for me right now. Why? Because I am still a new Army wife but I’m not yet exposed to the many things that I could be learning from during this crucial time. I want to be around other wives and families and learn from and with them, but I don’t have as much access to that. My experience is much different from that of the new Army wife who lives on post with all the other wives. Honestly, I feel left out. It really is a lot harder to participate when the activities aren’t right in your front yard.
Yes, living off-post can be frustrating sometimes. There are things that I am missing out on by living so far away from the community I want so badly to be part of. But, I also want to note that there are things that I love about not living on post. Even though it isn’t convenient or close, I think our situation is close to ideal for where we are in our life.
PRO: For example, we save a little money on BAH every month
Every month, soldiers living off-post are paid a basic housing allowance (BAH) to help with rent. This amount varies from soldier to soldier, depending on rank, location, and dependents. The good news is that, sometimes, you can find off-post housing that is a bit cheaper than what you are paid in BAH. What is left over is money in the bank. When we figured out what Connor’s BAH would be, we looked for apartments well under than amount. We were fortunate enough to find one that suited our needs, so the rest of our monthly BAH goes right into our savings. I won’t go into too much detail, but I will say that we are able to save a few hundred dollars a month on BAH alone. That’s super important for young newlyweds saving for a future family.
Note: Like I said, what soldiers are paid in BAH depends on rank, location, and dependents. In some locations, it will be difficult to find suitable off-post housing cheaper than your BAH. If that’s the case, you’ll have to pay the difference, which may not make living off-post worth it financially. It’s just something you have to research with each PCS.
PRO: We got to choose the area we wanted to live, the characteristics of our house, etc.
Because we are living off post, we got be nit-picky about what we wanted our home to have and where we wanted to be located. And, for the most part, we got everything we wanted. When living on-post, there are often very few options, and families can be stuck with whatever is available at the time. We had far more options to choose from when living off-post, and we ended up with something we love.
PRO: We can escape the military lifestyle if we want
I love that my husband is in the Army, and I love the culture that comes along with it. That being said, there is more to our life than Connor’s job title, and sometimes it’s nice to walk around our block without seeing people in uniform or constantly hearing military sounds all night. If we want to leave Army life on post, we can do that. Sometimes I think that is especially nice for Connor. He wants to have a work life and a home life just like anyone else, and living off-post helps with that.
PRO: We get to experience everything that our city has to offer.
From what I’ve heard (and this is only speculation since we’ve only PCS’d to one place so far), it seems that some military posts are so huge that there really isn’t any reason to leave. Other than sight seeing or maybe going to church, everything you need is on post. While that is convenient, that makes it harder to immerse yourself in the culture of the area you are living in. If you are stationed in a great, safe area, it may be worth it to live off-post and experience the area a bit more. That is one thing that we love about living in the civilian community.
I think it’s fairly safe to say that no living situation is perfect. There will be pros and cons with every place you are stationed, and with every living situation that you find yourself in. Obviously, when you make the decision to live on or off post, there is a lot to consider. That decision is unique for every family and every PCS. I hope that my experience has helped you in some small way!
It will be fun to have that conversation about where we will live when we move, and it will be fun to see what living on post is like (I know for a fact that we will be living on post at least once). For now though, I’m content just enjoying our perfect little apartment miles away from the commissary.
Do you live on-post or off-post? What do you love or hate about your situation? I’d love to know!