Updated on 06.29.17

The Debt-Free Move

Looking at a big move in your future? Here's how to minimize debt in the process.

No matter how you slice it, moving is expensive. The American Moving and Storage Association estimates that the average in-state move cost around $2,300 (and that number increases to $4,300 for a state-to-state move.) But with careful budgeting, research, and a little elbow grease, it’s possible to execute a move without racking up tons of debt. This guide will help you think through the costs you’ll face and how to minimize them as you plan for your move. We’ll cover when to use professional help, planning for the day-of, getting settled in and avoiding financial pitfalls along the way.

Contents

Planning Your Move
Selling Your Old Stuff
When to Hire Help
U-Haul or…? Options for Bulky Items
Case Study: Baltimore to Chicago
Practical Packing Tips
Moving In

Planning Your Move

You’ll be better able to control expenses if you can begin planning weeks or months in advance. Here are some things to consider as you build a moving checklist.

Negotiate an Employer-Paid Move

If you’re moving for work, ask your employer about covering your relocation expenses. You may also be able to negotiate a reimbursed move if your current employer transfers you to a new city. An employer-sponsored move could include container rental, storage, shipping, travel and petty cash.

Save Receipts for a Tax Deduction

You might be eligible for a tax deduction if you are moving for work but your employer isn’t covering the cost. This could be one of the biggest ways to recoup some of your moving expense. Read more on the IRS website.

Move Off-Season

About 60% of moves occur June through October, according to a US Census report. The cost of movers, rental companies and even housing can increase during this peak season. Move during the cooler months to use the law of supply and demand to your advantage.

Minimize Storage and Time Off

Try to avoid relying on renting storage for your things. While you may need a few days (or weeks) of storage, an early start and a little creativity can help minimize this cost. Be sure to sell, donate and toss the things you won’t keep before moving your stuff into storage.

You will need to take some downtime from work, but a head start can help minimize the cost of those lost wages. Chip away at your pre-move tasks a little at a time. Once you’ve moved, give yourself a couple days to get the basics unpacked in the new place, but get back to work as soon as practical.

Moving While Selling and Moving Quickly

Your priorities might shift depending on your circumstances. It makes more sense to pay for storage if you’re showing your house while preparing for a move. It may also make more sense to pay for professional moving services if you need to move in a hurry.

Consider a Balance Transfer Card

If your move will cost more than the cash you have on-hand, you’ll need a plan to keep that debt from costing you even more in interest. Hopefully a costly move brings better financial prospects. But if you need a little time to pay off your moving debt, you might look into a balance transfer credit card.

Balance transfer cards offer attractive terms for those looking to transfer a balance from another credit card. Balance transfer cards usually have 12-, 15- or even 18-month introductory periods with 0% APR. Some also include cash back or other rewards programs you’ll appreciate even after you’ve paid off your balance.

Subscriptions and Services

Don’t forget to cancel your gym membership, cable and utilities. You can forward your mail online ahead of time, but you’ll also need to update financial accounts, online retail accounts and magazine subscriptions.

Get a Tune-Up

The last thing you need during a big move is an automotive breakdown, which could result in very costly repairs on top of your moving expenses. Make sure your vehicle is up-to-date on regular maintenance: oil, fluids, tire pressure and parts replacement. Be sure you have a spare tire with sufficient air pressure, too.

Include Extra Time and Cash for Emergencies

Don’t plan to move in a half day, especially if you’ve hired movers to load your belongings. It’s bad moving etiquette not to be available for the duration of the work.

Think it’ll take 3 days to move? Give yourself 5. The hardest part of planning a move is the unknown unknowns. Be sure to build in some margin for error. There are bound to be a few wrinkles, and moving is stressful enough without feeling like you’re in a time crunch.

Note that these prices are seasonal and show just one example of how these services might compare. Quotes will vary by provider, moving distance, location, dates, and other factors.

Note that these prices are seasonal and show just one example of how these services might compare. Quotes will vary by provider, moving distance, location, dates, and other factors.

The same is true for the cost of your move—it’s likely to cost more than you expect. Have access to cash in case you need more transport capacity, storage time or another emergency solution. It’s normal for unforeseen expenses to pop up. Count on them ahead of time, and you’ll be able to face them more calmly when they do arise.

Pack a Lunch (and a Tent)

A family can spend hundreds on meals and accommodations during a long move. Fortunately, you can take advantage of the occasion to enjoy a few nice picnics and a night under the stars. Pack a cooler of groceries for your drive: sandwich items, fruits, veggies and bottled water are cheaper, healthier alternatives to highway restaurants.

If you’re not afraid of roughing it, a campground can be less expensive than a hotel. My family always looked for KOA exit signs when traveling cross-country.

Selling Your Old Stuff

Start unloading unwanted items by selling online. Sell high-quality clothing at a consignment store or used clothing boutique. Sell or trade in unwanted books at a used bookstore. Use your imagination.

Don’t overlook your own friend base when selling your stuff. Use social media to post about your moving sale and any big items you’re looking to part with. Sell other items in a moving sale that you can promote with signs, social media and a Craigslist ad.

eBay is a great tool for selling small, high-value specialty items. Think of what might not find a fair price on Craigslist—electronics, musical instruments, hobby gear, specialty clothing, or accessories—and list those things.

Of course, there will be some items that don’t sell. Save the unwanted clothes; they’re handy for use as cleaning rags or packing materials when you move out. But donate other items to a thrift store. (Tip: be sure to fill out your donation receipt so you can take a tax deduction on the value of your charitable donation.)

When to Hire Help

How Much Stuff Do You Have?

The scope of the job, the time required, the number of large items, and the type of vehicle needed will all depend on the size of your household. If you’re moving with a lot of stuff – especially several big-ticket items – hiring professionals to transport your belongings safely can pay off.

A DIY Move Isn’t Free

It’s also important to remember that a DIY move isn’t free. You may face fewer out-of-pocket costs, but you’ll still have to spend your own time moving. You’ll have to pay for packing materials, fuel and rentals separately. When you do the work yourself, you also take on the risk of property damage—or worse—injury.

If you plan to enlist friends to help you move, you’ll probably want to at least feed them lunch as a courtesy for their help. Pizza might cost less than the $120–$200 per hour you’ll pay a four-person moving team, but it’s not free.

You Have Options—Hire Professionals for Packing, Loading or Transport

You can hire professionals for packing, loading, transport, or any combination of the three. Professional movers will pay for (or have insurance that will cover) broken items that they packed, loaded and shipped. (See the section on movers insurance below for more information.)

What If Something Gets Broken?

Renter’s insurance may cover damage when moving. It’s worth checking your coverage if you have it. Professional movers usually have a base level of insurance, but it might not be enough to cover damages to big-ticket items. If you’re concerned about loss, consider buying additional movers insurance. (The best insurance, though, is proper packing.)

U-Haul or…? Options for Bulky Items

Sell It!

If you ask a frequent mover how they move cheaply, there is one tip they’re almost sure to share: sell as much of your furniture as possible and replace it in your new city. Only ship furniture and bulky items with sentimental value. Sell and rebuy items from discount retailers like IKEA—they’re cheaper to rebuy than to haul, and they might break in transit.

Friend with a Truck

Let’s say you’re moving a short distance. If you’re like me, your first thought is, “Who do I know that has a pickup truck?” These people are born helpers, bless their hearts. I know pickup drivers who really enjoy helping people move, even if they do get asked a lot. So go for it! Just know there are other options if your truck-owning friends turn you down.

Rent a Pickup

You can rent a flat-bed pickup truck from a home improvement store for less than $30 a day. That’s less than a few cases of limited-edition craft beer you might buy to bribe a buddy. A rental’s truck bed is more spacious than the average pickup, too. A pickup rental is a great option for a one-day, in-town move.

Strap It on Top

I’ve moved mattresses, bed frames, bookshelves and dressers with nothing more than a midsize sedan, a moving blanket and some hauling straps. A set of 4 straps is about $10, and they’ll come in handy for years after your move.

Make sure you know how to use your straps. Get that item tightly secured, and give a couple tugs to make sure it can’t slide backward. Mattresses like to bend upward when they catch wind. To avoid this, strap them down near the front through your front windows and towards the back through your rear windows. (Then you get to hop in through the window like Mario Andretti.)

Rent a Moving Truck

If you do have a lot of furniture that you’d like to hold on to, a rental moving truck might be your default option. Shipping or truck rental is likely to be your single greatest moving expense, so do some comparison shopping before you choose. Factor in the fuel you’ll buy (with mileage as low as 6 mpg highway) and any per-mile cost the provider charges. It is usually possible to tow a car behind a moving truck if you’re moving solo.

Ship a Moving Container

Services like PODS, U-Box and U-Pack are transportation-included moving solutions that deliver a container that you pack. Pricing varies based on the packing volume needed and the distance you’re moving. These services tend to land in a price range at, or above, that of a moving truck rental (see case study below). But you might find that they hit the sweet spot for a small load of furniture that wouldn’t fill a moving truck. Container shippers do include fuel cost in the price. They also tend to offer storage, which might be helpful if you’re dealing with tricky logistics.

Ship with Amtrak

If you’re willing to try an adventurous method to save on moving, consider using Amtrak. You can ship up to 500 pounds of stuff per day, and it costs about 50 cents per pound. That could be a significant savings over traditional methods, but there are guidelines and some damage risk.

Amtrak’s basic shipping guidelines require shipments be in boxes 3′ X 3′ or smaller that weigh 50 pounds or less. Amtrak also ships bicycles, and some stations can ship fully-packed palettes and other large items.

Case Study: Baltimore to Chicago

Here are some quotes from container and truck rental providers for a hypothetical move from Baltimore to Chicago, a state-to-state move of 700 miles. These are summertime prices (peak season) quoted a week out from the beginning of a weekend move (peak days and non-ideal lead time). Bear in mind that this is a worst-case scenario in terms of pricing. Since each container is a different size, estimates are based on enough storage for a 3-bedroom house as defined by each company.

Averages are for illustrative purposes only, based on data from the American Moving & Storage Association Industry Fact Sheet using an average household moving load of 7400 pounds. Costs for all services will vary by location, service provider, size of household and season.

Averages are for illustrative purposes only, based on data from the American Moving & Storage Association Industry Fact Sheet using an average household moving load of 7400 pounds. Costs for all services will vary by location, service provider, size of household and season.

Details

PODS – $2791
(8′ X 8′ X 16′ box; includes transit and 30-day storage)

U-Pack Trailer – $1775
(using 17 linear feet X 8′ X 9′)

U-Box – $2350
(5 boxes; 7’6″ X 8′ X 5′)

U-Haul 26′ Truck – $2443 total ($2009 for Sunday pickup)
(maximum length, 26′ X 7’3″ X 6’10”)
$2170 (but down to $1736 for a Sunday pickup)
+ $273 Gas (6 mpg at $2.40/gal)

Penske 26′ Truck – $2195 total ($1964 AAA rate)
(maximum length, 26′ X 8′ X 8′)
$1922 ($1691 with 12% AAA discount)
+ $273 Gas (6 mpg at $2.40/gal)

Practical Packing Tips

You’ll set yourself back if you have to replace furniture you didn’t take the time to disassemble, glassware you didn’t pad, or a flat-screen TV you loaded loose into a shipping vessel.

Collect used boxes from a grocery store to save on packing material, but ensure each box is strong enough for its contents. Save unwanted clothes and gather newspaper for padding.

There are some packing materials you shouldn’t skimp on. Stock up on furniture pads, moving blankets, and stretch wrap. Get more than you think you’ll need. These tools are a physical insurance policy for your belongings—the short-term expense will prevent expensive replacement costs later.

Don’t wait until the last minute to start packing. Sort through and organize your possessions in the weeks leading up to your move. You’ll have less to pack and load if you can eliminate unused possessions by selling or donating them. You can also ease the days before your move by packing rarely-used items early. Check your attic, basement, shed, and closets to see what you can do without for a couple weeks.

Make sure you fit belongings securely into your truck and within each container. Jostling can cause objects to shift, fall or crush in transit. Bundle items in large groups. First pad with moving blankets or furniture pads between objects and on the outside of the bundle, then fasten everything together with stretch wrap. Secure packing is particularly important if you’re using Amtrak or a container service like U-Pack or U-Box.

Moving In and Paying Off

The job isn’t over as soon as you pull in to your new place, and neither are the expenses. Take these steps to make your new life on the other side of your move as affordable as possible.

Ask Around

Your realtor is a great resource in shopping for all the services you’ll need in your new place: TV, electricity, doctors, etc. They’ll be familiar with the area and can probably give you a rundown of popular options.

While you’re at it, make friends with your new coworkers and neighbors. They can point you to the best value at stores, gyms, nightlife and other pastimes in your new neighborhood. Maybe there’s a great park or dollar theater out there. Find out by asking around.

Unpack ASAP

There are a couple of reasons to get your new place set up quickly. For one, you’ll be less tempted to eat out if you have a fully stocked kitchen and a comfortable place to eat. For another, you won’t end up re-buying household items that are tucked away in boxes stacked in your garage.

Re-Buy Housewares and Furnishings on the Cheap

New home, new stuff, right? Maybe not. You can save money on the tail end of your move by shopping judiciously for the things you’ll need. Look for essentials at dollar stores and thrift stores. Check Craigslist for furniture before you visit retail stores. You can always add the bigger, nicer items later.

Space out Home Improvement Projects

No home really feels like home until you’ve added your own personal touch, but the cost of home improvement projects can add up quickly. The key is to prioritize what needs to be done immediately and what can wait. By all means, fix that roof leak to prevent greater expense in the future. The covered patio, however, should probably wait until you’ve paid off the cost of the move itself.

Think through your move ahead of time. Lighten your load by selling and donating possessions. A little creativity and comparison shopping can go a long way to save you money.

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