Here’s how living on- or off-base will affect your wallet
(Photo: U.S. Marine Corps, Sgt. Michael Thorn/Released)

By Julie Provost

You have just received orders for your new duty station. PCSing often feels overwhelming; there are a lot of decisions to make. Living on- or off-base is one of them. Some people love to live on-base and don’t even think about living anywhere else. Others want the space and distance that off-base living provides. How do the costs compare? Can you save a lot of money by living on-base? Does it even make financial sense to live off-base?

1. Paying rent or mortgage

house from Flickr via Wylio
© 2009 deovolenti, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

Off base: You will have to pay a monthly rent or mortgage payment if you choose to live off-base. This amount could be less than your BAH and you would be able to save that difference or use the money in another section of your budget. However, your BAH may not always cover everything. This is especially true if you choose to live in a higher cost area.

On base: When you are on-base, you would receive $0 in BAH in exchange for housing. While not having a rent or mortgage payment every month can be a good way to save money, you could lose money if your BAH is a lot higher than the cost of local off-base housing. For example, if you were to qualify for $1000 in BAH for your rank and could find a two bedroom apartment for $500 off base, you would not see that extra $500 by opting to live on-base for the same sized home.

2. Gas

Gas Pump from Flickr via Wylio
© 2009 Nick Trippe, Flickr | CC-BY-ND | via Wylio

Off base: You will have to spend more on gas as the service member will have to drive farther to get to work. You will also have to drive on base every time you want to be there. You will also more wear and tear on your car and would most likely need to have two cars. These expenses can add up over time.

On base: You won’t have to drive as far to get to work or other on-base events. You might even be able to walk to work or to events depending on where you live and how big of a military installation you are on. You would likely put less miles on your car and could probably get away with being a one-car family.

3. Utilities

Connection from Flickr via Wylio
© 2005 Victoria Catterson, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

Off base: You will need to pay for all of your utilities. If your BAH is enough, you can use part of BAH for these expenses. You also might have to pay for parking, HOA fees if you live in one, and laundry as you might not have a washer and dryer in your home. In most cases, you will be paying more for utilities than those who live on base, and that should be a part of your decision-making process.

On base: A lot of your utilities will be taken care of as long as you use a reasonable amount. Based on the Resident Energy Conservation Program, if you go over 10% of the average energy usage you will have to pay and if you are under 10% of the average you will receive a credit. (Although, in recent days there have been inquiries into the RECP.) If you can be good about your energy usage, you will save quite a bit of money by not having to pay for your utilities.

4. The commissary

Commissary from Flickr via Wylio
© 2011 USAG Livorno PAO, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

Off base: Anyone with a military ID can access the commissary. If you are off-base, you will be farther from the Commissary and might end up at other grocery stores for convenience.

On base: The commissary will be closer and easier to access and you will probably go there more often. You will be able to take advantage of the cost savings that a lot of commissaries give you.

5. Upkeep of your home

IMG_1713 from Flickr via Wylio
© 2006 Daren, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

Off base: If you decide to buy a home off-base, you will have the expense of keeping up the repairs on your home. These expenses add up, especially if you have a big project or an emergency. If you are renting, you will have your rental company to call for these types of issues.

On base: You might have to take care of your lawn and other smaller projects that come up while you are in housing, but you will not have to pay for bigger issues if you did not cause them. Housing will take care of that and can save you money.

6. Work day

Somebunny I love has Autism - an Autism Awareness Message lunch from Flickr via Wylio
© 2013 Melissa, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

Off base: Living off-base could mean that it just doesn’t work to come home for lunch. The service member will either need to bring a food, eat in the DFAC, or go to a restaurant for meals during their work schedule. These costs can lead to extra expenses each week.

On base: Being on-base means a higher likelihood of being able to come home for lunch as the service member will be closer to where he or she works. Not only can this save you a bit of money but the service member can spend more time with their family, which is priceless.

Julie Provost is an associate editor at Military One Click and a National Guard spouse. She can be reached at