Moving with Minimal Money: Nine Tactics for Frugal Relocation

The process of moving from an apartment to our home in 2007 was a big learning experience. We did some things right with that move – but some things we did quite poorly.

Since then, we’ve had ample time to reflect on our own move as well as help others with their moving experiences and hear their own reflections. Here are nine simple steps you can take that will reduce the costs of a major move.

Make sure the place you’re moving to makes financial sense. This should be the first thing you do any time you move. You need to seriously consider the total cost of ownership of the place you’re moving to. Rent, mortgage payments, insurance, property taxes, property maintenance, energy use, commuting, parking costs – all of those things (and more) play a role in establishing whether or not you can really afford this move.

Take out a piece of paper and make a list of all of those costs, then add two columns comparing the costs of where you live now and where you’re considering moving. Add more columns if you want to compare more places. Then, research those costs and fill in each spot on the chart and total each column. You want to move to the place with the biggest bang for the buck.

Start with a yard sale and a trip to Goodwill. The less you have to take, the less expensive your move will be. So, start the process out with a big yard sale. Sell off as many of your belongings as you can, only retaining stuff you’re sure you want to keep. Take the remaining stuff that you didn’t sell and donate it.

The cash from the yard sale will help with the expenses of moving, plus your expenses (and workload) will be lower because you transported less stuff to your new home.

Never buy a box. Many businesses just toss out unused boxes, so ask them for their leftovers. Grocery stores, bookstores, liquor stores, offices – I’ve even used boxes from comic book shops before. This works best if you happen to be a regular customer at that business.

Just simply go to the front desk – or the customer service counter – and ask about their unused boxes. Many businesses are happy to have someone just take all of the boxes off of their hands. It saves on labor and cuts down on their garbage bills.

Pack and label as much as you possibly can yourself. Yes, there are services that will do this for you. Yes, they make a move more convenient. They’re also pretty expensive for what you get.

The best route is to simply do all of the work yourself over a period of time, accumulating boxes in a spare room. This is a great project to ask your friends to help with (assuming, of course, that you’ll repay the favor in the future). Turn it into a packing party!

Use clothes, towels, and other cloth items as packing materials. Bubble wrap costs money. The clothes and towels you already have can perform the same job for free.

When you pack fragile items, just use your clothes to protect them. It’s still worthwhile to mark packed fragile items and treat them carefully, but you would do that with bubble wrap, too.

Make sure you label the boxes as you go. I usually just label boxes with the destination room – “master bedroom,” “living room,” “kid’s bathroom,” “office” and so on. That way, when you actually move, it’s obvious where the boxes go.

Handle as much of the moving yourself as you can. It’s cheaper to rent a truck and do it all yourself if that’s feasible. If you can rent – or, better, borrow – a large moving truck and pack the whole thing yourself, you’re oging to save money. In our area, there are “moving pod” companies that are also surprisingly inexpensive – they deliver a pod to your yard, you fill it up, then on a planned date, they come and pick up the pod and move it for you. You then unload the pod over a few days and they come and retrieve the pod.

All of those options are far cheaper than hiring a moving company, but even if you need to hire one, you can still save moeny by doing as much as you can without them. Borrow a trailer and load it with boxes on your own and you leave just large items for the moving company, reducing the cost.

Move out of season. Families usually move during the summer, meaning other seasons are very slow for moving companies. Knowing that gives you some room for haggling.

Plan your move for late fall or early spring or even in the winter months, then call various moving companies and negotiate with them. During those seasons, it’s a buyer’s market, so you have some leverage to get a reduced rate or some bonuses on your move.

Keep a detailed list of all moving expenses (with receipts). Why? They’re often tax-deductible, as explained in this IRS document. If you’re moving into a home with a fresh mortgage, it’s likely that you’ll be itemizing anyway, so doing this means a substantial savings when it comes to tax time. You’ll get 25% (or more) of your expenses back at tax time.

Be sure to save all receipts, however. If you get audited, you’ll need that information. The easiest way to do it is to have a manila envelope called “moving expenses” and just stick all receipts in there. You can total them up later.

Carefully plan your utility shutoffs. Have the utilities turned off as quickly as possible so that you’re not stuck paying bills for services you’re not using. I’d consider turning off the power during the final day of your move just so you can be sure that it’s done and so it’s not hanging around for days/weeks costing you money after you’ve already left the home behind.

I suggest having a clear schedule well in advance of the move. Know the day you’re actually moving and get services turned off that day. Don’t wait until you’re moving to make that call.

These simple steps can each cut significant costs off of your move, turning a very painful expense into something quite tolerable.

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

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