Updated on 05.25.07

Planning Ahead For The Big Move – And Hoping To Save Money

Trent Hamm

Our house closes in a little more than a month, so we’re already thinking about moving, and being the frugal types we are, we’re trying to move with minimal expense. Thankfully, we have one big advantage: we are moving locally, which basically means loading up a truck at one point, driving for an hour or so, unloading at another point, then driving back. One big disadvantage: a pregnant wife who can’t lift heavy weights. So what’s a guy to do?

Here’s our tentative plan for moving. Basically, we’re leveraging the fact that we have a lot of help in a short time period and a long lead-up to that period to maximize the usefulness of the big moving day.

First of all, we rented a storage locker about a mile from our expected home for the next two months. Why do this? Well, our current apartment is about 600 square feet and it currently houses two adults, a toddler, and two cats. That means there really is very little room to put boxes as we fill them.

Next, we start filling and clearly labeling boxes, starting with the less essential items. Our first big project is our books, for example, with each of us only actually keeping a few that we’ll read in the next few weeks at the apartment and the rest going into storage. After that, we start cleaning out all the closets and moving everything that can be moved, like my wife’s non-maternity clothes and most of my clothes as well. We eventually progress to the point where there is very little in the apartment as time winds down and things begin to look more and more etched in stone. Obviously, we’ll label the boxes in detail.

Whenever there’s enough for a truck full, I take off to the storage locker and empty the truck. This means that most of the driving is done well in advance of the move and a lot of the items will already be within a mile or so of the new house when we close.

Then, on the big day… My responsibility will be to go to the old apartment and start transporting the remaining items to the new house (three trucks there, one of which is mine and two owned by friends and we work together to load the heavy items). Our other volunteers will just ferry stuff from the storage locker to the house and then help my wife with whatever unpacking duties that she’d like help with.

Do any readers have additional moving advice worth noting? The only other times I’ve moved, I had such a small amount of stuff that I could load it in a single carload, so this is new for me.

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  1. Alyssa says:

    I’m not sure if you need this – but I bought packing tape that was color coded and already labeled: Red with Kitchen, Green with Bedroom 2, etc. (I think I got it at U-Haul). It made our move go faster the movers walked through the new house with us and we told them the color code schemes. I shaved 2 hours off the move time and the movers were very excited (it was a hot, rainy day).

    That’s my best moving tip – but you’re pretty well prepared. Good luck!

  2. limeade says:

    It’s a good thing that you’re going to have everything packed and in boxes before you have others help you move. It makes things so much easier if it’s ready ahead of time. Good luck with your move.


  3. Matt says:

    A couple of tips I’ve picked up in my numerous moves:
    -get free boxes from print shops, most of them will save some for you if you call ahead and pick them up promptly
    -with a dolly, you can stack the boxes 4 high and move them easily by yourself
    -to make labelling easier, grab different coloured scraps of paper and use a colour for each room (ie, green is kitchen, blue is bedroom)
    -keep a box of things you’ll need on moving day separate: markers and paper, tape, phone numbers, rain gear..

  4. Erin says:

    When I moved, I’d lived in my apartment for 8 years and had amassed at least 50 boxes worth of stuff. I moved over the course of a month, but that last day was still a killer. Here’s what I learned:

    Pack a “first to open” box for each of you. It’s the last thing out of the apartment and the first thing into the house. Put them on a counter so nothing gets stacked on top of them. Each box should contain the things that are most important to you like your toothbrush, towel, change of clothes, and a relaxing book. Make sure your son’s favorite toy and comfiest jammies are in his box.

    That way in case something goes wrong, like your most important boxes wind up buried at the bottom of a stack, you at least have your essentials and something soothing.

    You might also consider deciding in advance where you’ll order dinner from that night or buying simple traveling food in advance and putting it in a cooler for a quick and easy dinner that doesn’t require cooking.

  5. Before the move in, do a good deep cleaning so that you are sure things are clean. You may find that the walls really need painting, etc. Do all the messy quick fix things before the house is full of furniture and when those are done, get the carpets cleaned.

    The best packing advice is not only to label what is in the box, but what room it goes in at the new place. This way volunteers do not have to stop and ask where it goes.

    If you have any big pieces of furniture, figure out which door is the best way to get them into the correct room. If there are stairs, etc. This can present a challenge if there are any corners.

    Be prepared for rain. Have something to put on the floor to keep them clean. This is the only drawback to cleaning the carpets before moving day, if you have rain and/or mud.

  6. Beth says:

    Don’t worry too much about labeling the boxes in a detailed manner – “kitchen #1” should suffice, because then you will have a separate sheet of paper headed “kitchen #1.” Then you’ll list as much as you can what goes into that box. Not so important for books (though you could rough-sort by author last name, or subject, or something else meaningful), but if you desperately need to find your turkey baster, you can read the lists and find out it’s in “kitchen #15.”

    Ideally of course you’ll at least type up the list so you can just search for the word. This is also a great inventory to have for home insurance purposes.

    Also, use this move as a chance to get rid of stuff. If it’s something you don’t use, you’re already handling it, may as well get rid of it rather than store it just because you can.

    Good luck! I’ve moved nine times in the last 14 years (and two of the moves were long-distance) but I’m still always dismayed at the sheer volume of my stuff.

    Also – ask around for boxes. I was astonished at how much they charge for new ones.

  7. Brandon Wood says:

    My wife and I bought our first house last year (although we moved 800 miles, so your move is a bit easier), and one thing that we were able to save lots of money on is boxes. Buying new cardboard boxes is ridiculously expensive, and unless you’re going to store them until the next time you move, you’ll only use them once.

    Lots of stores or even the library will usually give you their old boxes for free if you just ask – otherwise they’re just going to throw them away. They might not be the highest quality boxes, but they are usually good enough for the 95% of your stuff that isn’t super-fragile. The only boxes that we paid money for were a couple of the heavy-duty double-walled dish boxes.

  8. Jennie says:

    My best advice – pack a plastic tote bin or something similar with a box of stuff you’re going to need right away – a roll of toilet paper and paper towels, paper plates and cups, maybe some all-purpose cleaner, some scissors to cut the tape on boxes – label it well and keep it separate from everything else so you can get to it right away. The closer you get to moving day, the more stuff you’ll think of to put in it.

    When we move, we put all the boxes into the garage, organized by room. We bring one in at a time to unpack – that way, you aren’t tripping over boxes all the time trying to put stuff away.

    Also, keep a cooler full of drinks and snacks handy…we always order pizza, but if you’re trying to save, you could make up some sandwiches or something to feed all the friends that are helping you out.

  9. Kevin says:

    I’ve moved many times in the last few years, and the biggest expenses tend to be the moving vehicle and the cost of food while you’re still unpacking.

    My advice for the vehicle is to borrow some if you can, but if you can’t, rent a pickup or minivan from a car rental agency instead of a moving van company. Car rentals are generally a lot cheaper when you factor in the mileage costs and extra insurance. Also there are horror stories about moving van companies losing reservations, but car rental places tend to be more reliable.

    As far as food is concerned, the worst-case scenario is that all your kitchen supplies are packed away in boxes that are hard to access, so you can’t cook anything until you’re done unpacking a week later. In the mean time you’ll have little choice but to eat out for every meal, which adds up very fast. My suggestion is to pack a designated box with a barebones kitchen kit, so you can still prepare simple meals like spaghetti or hot dogs (or whatever) while you’re unpacking. Set this box aside and move it yourself after all the volunteers have scattered. This way you’ll know exactly where it is, and it won’t end up at the bottom of some pile.

  10. Lissa says:

    I suggest a “dinner box” for the first night. In it should be plates, cups and silverware (plastic or paper if you use them), together with something quick and easy to heat and eat. You might also want to add soap, dish soap, a few towels for dishes and people, wash cloths and other essentials that you will need for the first night and morning in the new place.

    For our last move, I put all of our sheets, pillows and towels in one box that I carried in my car. The first order of moving business was to have beds set up. Once the beds are made and the basics of food and bathroom needs are covered, everything else just seems to go so much easier!

  11. I think you’re pretty much set. Packing and getting everything ready will be huge for your friends when they come to help. I’ve helped some friends before who did not even start packing until the morning of their move. Suffice it to say that the move took all day and we were all pretty annoyed.

  12. paula says:

    If you have help on the unpacking end, you might like this idea:

    A friend of mine had labeled all the drawers and cabinets in the new kitchen according to what she wanted put in them. When the items were packed into boxes, they were packed according to their future drawer or cabinet and inventoried. This way, her friends were able to help her with the move, unpacking the boxes and setting the kitchen in great working order immediately. Since your wife’s health is “delicate,” she might especially appreciate the extra hands.

    This might work best with the most important items rather than with the entire kitchen, since things never fit quite as envisioned. The rest of the kitchen can be unpacked more slowly.

    Also, for those items to be used quickly, wrap them in dishtowels, bath towels, anything clean, rather than in newsprint. That way the dishes don’t have to be washed before using. (That also saves paper–always a noble goal.)

  13. Mardee says:

    You might want to do a little mini plan on graph paper of where the furniture is going to go, if you have access to the house’s floor plans (or a basic idea). I did that on my last move when I moved from an apartment to a house, and it helped a lot. I just stuck the plans on the doors (or hallway) of each room, and anyone carrying in furniture knew where it went immediately.

    Also, see if you can do a walk-through right before the move (are you moving right after the closing?). That way you can check to make sure the previous owners cleaned everything to your liking.

  14. Cindy says:

    Sounds like a REALLY good plan. 3 suggestions:

    1) It’s nice and much less disruptive if you can have the kid’s room set up more or less like it was at your old place for the first night in the new place. Make sure his favorite toys are there.

    2) I don’t know if you’ve mentioned this or not, but if you have any major repairs/remodelling/painting to do, it’s MUCH easier to do this when you have no furniture or kids in the house. We bought our first little place Sept. of last year, and waited 3 weeks before actually moving in so we could modernize the kitchen.

    3) One more thing to keep in mind, is that things can happen on closing day, and you may not get the keys that day. Sometimes you’re waiting for the funds to clear, sometimes you’re waiting for escrow to give the okay. Occasionally in your contract, it might be specified that you get the keys several days after closing. Double check with your real estate agent to make that crystal clear a week or two before closing, and be prepared for a day or more delay.

    Since I haven’t said it before, congrats! I look forward to hearing more about the move!!

  15. Amanda says:

    Don’t pay for boxes. In larger cities you can search on Craigslist, though this might be less effective where you live. If you go by some stores around 6am (i.e. when they’re throwing away the boxes they unpacked during the night’s stocking) you can get a mess of them. You might also try Wal-Mart between 11-12pm – they do a lot of stocking then, and will usually give you their boxes.

    I definitely agree with the simple box labelling/detailed inventory and “dinner box” (make sure you put in paper plates and something for breakfast the next morning) ideas. Those have saved me a lot of hassle during the 6 moves (3 cross country) I’ve made in the last 6 years. During each successive move I’ve filtered down my possessions so much that everything I own now fits in 3 suitcases and 4 medium size boxes. (The first time I moved I more than filled out the largest-sized U-haul.)

    Oh, and face it: you’re not going to want to cook on the night of your move, and you probably won’t have much stuff unpacked to do it with anyway. Do a little research and scope out a cheap but good takeout place, and plan on getting takeout food for the people (some people usually drift off after most of the stuff is moved, so this is usually less expensive than you’d think) who helped you do the heavy lifting.

  16. phoenix says:

    The diner box idea is great–make one set of plates, cups and silverware the last thing you pack at the old place, and the first thing you unpacke at the new. Include snacks and drinks as well, and one thing almost everyone forgets when moving: toilet paper:) Make sure that a supply of toilet paper is in the absolute first load arriving at the new house (especially with a pregnant woman), but leave some at the old place too. An extra roll or two isn’t that expensive to leave behind, but when you need it it’s priceless!

  17. Stef says:

    A friend gave me a great tip for some free moving boxes. Go check the recycling bin at your apartment complex. We have hit up a few different ones and made out with some excellent boxes. Hope this helps!

  18. David says:

    We moved with the help of a crew of wonderful friends. They were all very eager to put stuff where it belonged. The more precisely that boxes are labeled, the more precisely your (hopefully) eager friends will drop them in the right place.
    I suggest dividing the boxes into two groups: those that have to be dropped in the correct place, and those that can be stacked somewhere for sorting (e.g. books).
    Regarding first-night dinner, we found a local takeout joint and ordered food for all our friends. Depending on their needs, you might want to grab a couple of six-packs too. No need for plates, etc. as everyone will be fine with the plastic utensils that come with the takeout.
    Finally, and most importantly, make the time to help any of the folks you ask to help when they have to move. Karma’s important!

  19. Bryan says:

    A friend of mine recently moved his family. They didn’t want to make a lot of trips moving so they came up with a rule. If they hadn’t touched an item within the last 6 months, they didn’t need it. You may be able to adopt a similar policy, it removes a lot of junk you think you need, but don’t really need. Some of your books could probably be sold on amazon.com to make up for transportation expenses.

    I don’t know if they have these stores in other states, but in PA there are state owned liquor stores. These are excellent places to get a lot of boxes. Egg crates at grocery stores are also a nice touch.

  20. phoenix says:

    Thought of this after I posted before–a great place to get free boxes is your local liquor store. They usually give thiem away free, they’re built tough, and they are a perfect size for heavy and compact items–like books:)

  21. Rob in Madrid says:

    I wouldn’t bother much with organizing lists, upstairs bedroom kitchen should be enough.

    Let us know how the truck rental goes, usally the posted rate ins’t any near the end cost.

  22. Sandgroper14 says:

    We moved 3 months ago after 16yrs in the same house, to a location some 200 miles away. I blogged about the move, and specifically the ‘lessons learned’ (http://sandgroper14.wordpress.com/2007/03/04/lessons-learned-from-the-move/)

    Good luck!

  23. Jeanne says:

    My husband’s company paid for professional movers and packers. We got a list of tips from theme (look at any major van line website). One key one is have last on / first off boxes. This should contain the afforementioned toilet paper and anything else you’ll need the first 24 hours. (For folks with kids, essential to have this with favorite toys, etc. Let the kids pack it.) Bedding, toothbrushes & toiletries, coffee maker & coffee if you’ll want that, etc.

    When the movers were moving stuff, my husband and I just stayed in the kitchen and unpacked every kitchen box so that when day was done our kitchen was set up. Maybe your wife could do this. To have an unpacked kitchen and sheets on the beds felt good on the first night.

  24. Rob in Madrid says:

    As well Packing tape (at least over here) is unbelievably expensive. Keep an eye on on the dollar stores and stock up on it when you see it.

  25. Heh. I got halfway through a comment about liquor boxes, and then saw that Phoenix already covered it. Anyway, it’s a great tip for stuff like books.

  26. Jim in Sherman says:

    At your new house, use one room as the staging area for all boxes. Divide the staging room into quadrants (kitchen, bedroom 1, etc). Put the low priority boxes for each quadrant in first. Do this until all boxes have arrived before you start unpacking.

    And since you are packing in advance, take a digital picture of inside the boxes as you work and keep these pics on your laptop so they are handy a month from now when you ask yourself “where did I put the one of a kind thing-a-ma-jiggy?”

  27. Thursday says:

    Two things:
    First off, I’ve always tried to pack dishes and other breakables in my towels and clothes because I absolutely *hate* having to wash them again when I unpack.
    Second, I saw a couple of previous comments about finding used boxes. I gotta warn you — used boxes can cost a heck of a lot more in the long run. If you aren’t careful where they come from, they can bring all sorts of bugs along.

  28. Patricia says:

    When you get to the new house, unpack everything the first day and get rid of the boxes as soon as possilbe. It is a lot easier to have boxes lying around waiting to be unpacked. Noone likes a lot of clutter lying around – you will put everything away a lot faster (from a vet of 8 moves including 2 overseas – one with 2 kids and a dog).

  29. Amy says:

    Get the bedroom furniture set up FIRST on moving day, and make the bed. Then, no matter what state the rest of the house is in, you can go lie down when you need to!

    Move furniture first before you start bringing boxes. It’s much easier to figure out where to put furniture if you don’t have to move a stack of boxes first. If you have a room you don’t have furniture for yet, use that room for all boxes, sorted by final destination. Once the furniture is in place, then boxes can be carried too their final destination and unpacked.

    Congratulations and good luck!

  30. Viva says:

    I recently heard about http://www.usedcardboardboxes.com/ from a friend, and it sounds like a good frugal way to get cardboard boxes (if you can’t get enough from the liquor store).

  31. Susan says:

    Another idea for a cheap move –

    I’m in the middle of a move right now and the best thing I did was go to Wal Mart for boxes. They are always re-stocking shelves and were more than willing to give us the boxes for free. Try the cleaning supplies section for the small ones. Tape was $0.97 per roll.

    Anyone have ideas for a cheap move across country? Right now we are looking at renting an ABF truck so they can drive the stuff for us. We load and unload at either end. For some reason it was $100 cheaper when we signed up (and another $25 off for signing up on-line) – maybe because we requested a move on a Tuesday.

  32. Steve says:

    I was reading up on habit tracker… and ended up at this site. I saw this moving list and remembered reading your moving article earlier in the day. Get what you think can help from this link: http://www.timemanaged.com/moving.php
    Good luck!

  33. schroedinger says:

    When you get close to move-in day pack essentials into small boxes. I always have an “Office Supplies” box, a “Bathroom Essentials” box, a “Bedding” box, etc. And make sure plates and utensils are packed away from all the other kitchen gear. After a long day of moving the last thing you want to do is dig through boxes looking for forks.

    The fact that you are packing so early will make moving a breeze. This cannot be underestimated. I have friends whose apartments were messes–and not from packing–two days before they needed to leave. What a nightmare.

  34. RazzBari says:

    If possible, board the cats or take them to the new house and put them in a small room with the door taped shut – don’t want them getting underfoot or escaping!

    Also, if they’re used to going outside, keep them in for at least 2 weeks before letting them explore the new neighborhood, so they have a sense of where their new home is.

    Happy moving!

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