25 Simple Ways to Cut the Cost of Moving

That truck's not going to fill itself, you know. Photo: Brett Lider
If you’re going to move your own stuff, throw a packing party to recruit helpers. (That truck’s not going to fill itself, you know.) Photo: Brett Lider

Let’s face it: Moving can be a pain in the rear end.

My first few moving experiences were horrific. But after that, I was much more prepared, made arrangements well in advance,  and things went smoothly.

Planning to relocate in the near future? Whether near or far, here are some hacks to streamline the process:

1. Be Flexible

If possible, try to move during non-peak periods. Demand spikes during the summer because children are out of school and parents are scrambling to get into their new place before the new academic year starts. The first and last days of the month — especially around Sept. 1 in a college town — are peak moving periods, too, as leases expire and renters swap apartments.

Can’t move in the fall or winter? At the least, try to avoid holidays, weekends, and the beginning and end of the month to avoid paying a slight premium.

And don’t forget to solicit the services of a sitter for your little ones and furry friends.

2. Do Your Homework

Whether you’re moving yourself or hiring someone, weigh your options and look for promotional offers. But don’t wait until the last minute to shop around or the quotes you receive for both truck rentals and professional movers could be steeper if demand is higher.

3. Do It Yourself

But only if you’re brave enough to embark on an extended journey driving an oversized truck with your belongings in tow. Be sure to avoid rush-hour traffic to decrease fuel costs and anxiety (if you’re not used to driving a vehicle three times the size of your own). And make note of the clearance beneath low underpasses — you don’t want to end up like this guy.

Keep in mind the risk you run when transporting fragile items. If you’re inexperienced, it may be best to transport what you can in a van, since it’s easier to handle, and hire help to take care of everything else.

4. Go Pro

Although it can cost more, going pro decreases the chances of running behind schedule and ending up with broken goods. Once you have your quotes, don’t feel compelled to go for the cheaper option without doing any research. Instead, visit the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s website to gain insight into how to evaluate movers. They have a number of helpful resources, including “Choosing a Reputable Mover,” “Moving Checklist,” and “Tips for a Successful Interstate Move.”

5. Skip the Middle Man

Instead of going through a company that outsources moving jobs, hire a driver on your own. Less overhead equals more money in your pocket. And if you’ve done your research, you can confidently select the best driver to transport your belongings. Take a look at  MovingPlace, Xpress Movers, U-Haul Driver, or U-Pack to learn more.

 6. Purge

When was the last time you used that 20-year-old lamp you got from your great-grandmother? How about those business suits that are two sizes too big (or too small)? Movers charge by the pound and distance covered, so it’s pointless to waste time packing stuff you don’t need and paying extra for space fillers. Besides, purging your stuff can help you save money.

But don’t feel compelled to tidy up as you purge, as the messes will quickly resurface. Wait until all of your goods are hauled away and then do a final clean-up — or even hire a housecleaner. Search Angie’s List or daily deal sites for a coupon on housecleaning services — after all that work packing and moving, the benefit of having someone do the last bit of dirty work can definitely outweigh the cost.

7. Avoid Moving Trash

This can happen if you have garbage bags lying around and your friends or movers mistake them for your belongings. And moving companies sure don’t mind collecting your trash because it increases the weight of your goods, which equates to more money on your bill.

8. Get Organized

Tempted to throw what remains after the purge into boxes and tape them up without giving it much thought? Don’t, or you’ll pull your hair out when searching for those items, such as your favorite fragrance or pearl necklace from your grandmother, that are too costly to replace.

9. Don’t Buy Packing Supplies

With the exception of tape, everything you need to pack can be retrieved for free if you do a little searching.

For boxes, ask your friends, relatives, and employers or look for advertisements on Freecycle or Craigslist. Liquor stores and supermarkets also tend to have plenty of extra boxes on hand — just ask.

And no need to spend your dough on bubble wrap; clothing or towels will suffice, and tubed socks work for protecting glassware. Also, make use of idle containers, such as suitcases, baskets with lids, and plastic bins.

10. Label Your Boxes

Categorize each box and note its final destination (e.g., ‘kitchen’ or ‘master bedroom’) on the label to avoid purchasing duplicate toiletries, cleaners, or other common household products when you arrive (or if unpacking is delayed).

Colored labels also facilitate grouping or unpacking efforts. And don’t forget to number your boxes so you’ll easily know if one was lost or left behind.

Another option: Use clear plastic bins to transport items high on your unpacking priority list.

11. Leave Items in Dresser Drawers

For dressers, use small Ziploc bags to contain the contents and affix Press N’ Seal cling wrap to the drawers to keep them shut during the move.

12. Defrost the Fridge and Freezer

If you’re taking the refrigerator with you, defrost it first. This should be done 24 to 48 hours in advance so movers won’t have to deal with leaky appliances during transport. (You’ll also spare yourself — and your stuff — from the unpleasant aromas.)

13. Have a Garage Sale

Not only will it put money in your pocket, but you’ll have fewer items to move. This should be done several weeks in advance, as you’ll have bigger fish to fry as the big day nears. Donate whatever remains to get it out of your hair. Just be sure to give helpers first dibs on the items up for grabs.

14. Have a Packing Party

Packing your things can be overwhelming, especially if you have a large family or a ton of belongings, so don’t go it alone. Solicit the assistance of family and friends, but sweeten the deal by emphasizing there will be food and drinks for helpers (just don’t offer too much booze until the move is complete). Treat them right and they’ll be more than willing to lend a helping hand the next time around.

15. Pack Strategically

A few tips to keep in mind:

  • Stackable plates often shatter when stacked, so pack them vertically.
  • Saran wrap works wonders for toiletries with unsecured lids.
  • Clothes on hangers can be grouped and placed in large trash bags.
  • All small tools and assembly pieces should be placed in Ziploc bags.
  • As larger electronics are broken down, take a snapshot of the setup and email it to yourself in case you need to jog your memory in your new place (when the manuals are probably long gone).

For additional guidance or strategic packing, visit the websites of U-Haul or Mayflower.

16. Drive Your Own Car

Unless you’re moving thousands of miles away, doing so will enable you to eliminate the cost of airfare from your long list of expenses. Load up your car with moving boxes or plastic storage bins containing essentials and valuables, since you’ll be inclined to unpack these things as soon as you reach your destination.

If the trip calls for an overnight stay, select a hotel with secured parking to minimize the chances of theft (and don’t leave your jewelry box or laptop in the car). But if you have to ship your car, take a look at ShipAnyCar.com.

17. Ship Your Books

Through the Postal Service’s media mail, you can ship books containing eight pages or more at a much lower rate, since the pricing is based on weight and size instead of distance. But delivery usually takes longer.

18. Allocate Funds for Service Providers

Set aside funds for final bills and new service charges for your electric, gas, cable TV, and Internet providers. The key here is to shut off and activate in a synchronized manner to avoid incurring charges in two locations.

If you’re a first-time customer or have less than perfect credit, service providers may require a deposit. Inquire about costs in advance and go with bundle deals if possible to get the best bang for your buck.

19. Evaluate Insurance Options

In addition to conducting an inventory of your belongings, you’ll need to understand your coverage options. Movers are mandated to extend either full-value or released-value liability coverage, according to ProtectYourMove.gov. The latter only covers 60 cents per pound, but it’s free. Regardless of your selection, keep the following in mind:

Do not sign a delivery receipt for your household goods if it contains any language about releasing or discharging your mover or its agents from liability. By law, you have nine months to file a written claim. Strike out this kind of language or refuse delivery until a proper receipt is provided.

20. Prepare for the Unknown

Stash some cash in case things take a turn for the worse. Recently, a relative was set to close on a house but the date got pushed back by three weeks to resolve interior issues. She wasn’t prepared and had nowhere to go, since her old place was already occupied by new tenants, so she incurred over $1,000 in lodging and storage unit expenses.

21. Tax Implications

Don’t toss those receipts yet; your expenses may be deductible. You’ll need to check IRS Publication 521 to determine if you qualify. The guidance states you can deduct your moving expenses if your move is closely related to the start of work, and you meet the IRS distance and time test requirements.

22. Pack a Suitcase

When your belongings finally arrive, there’s a strong chance you’ll be too tired to dig through boxes to retrieve clean clothes and toiletries. And if you’re heading to work or have an important appointment the following day, the last thing you want to do is forfeit a good night’s rest to search for the perfect outfit.

23. Don’t Forget to Forward the Mail

You can do so by visiting this link from the U.S. Postal Service, but don’t forget to follow suit for other mail services, such as the UPS store. Don’t hesitate to ask the occupants of your old residence to forward any mail. And as it comes in, contact the senders to update your address.

24. Inspect the Old Unit

It’s easy to quickly make your previous residence a memory once you’re all settled into your new place, so it’s best to take care of minor issues before leaving the old place. Retrieve the original move-in condition checklist to determine what items need attention. If the carpets are stained, rent a rug doctor or hire a professional company to come in. Ask the leasing office about paint shades to fix scratches on the wall (if they assess a fee for that), and fill nail holes with spackle, toothpaste, or small pieces of white soap.

25. Don’t Try to Pack and Move Simultaneously

I took this approach in college and it was an absolute nightmare. I’d spent most of my time in the last few weeks of the semester preparing for finals without remembering I had to be out within 24 hours of the last exam. I was snatching items from all corners of the room and throwing them into boxes and plastic storage bins. I can’t remember how many trips I made to Target or how much money I spent, but I definitely regretted not preparing beforehand.

Even if you’re crunched for time, plan your move weeks in advance and pack little by little each week until everything is all set.

Most importantly, keep calm and the process will be over in no time. I know folks who move at least once a year, and they’ve all managed to survive. I’m confident you have what it takes to master your upcoming move and live to tell the story. Good luck!