Moving is not what I would consider a fun experience. It’s better described as downright stressful—and expensive. And that’s just for a local move. Moving cross country is all of the above times a hundred. I’ve had the pleasure of doing it no less than five times myself, thanks to some time in the military and an apparent inability to stay rooted in one place after that. Luckily, there are some ways to make the process easier and to save some money along the way.
The most important thing when it comes to saving money on a cross country move is to plan ahead. Having to make decisions at the last minute will almost always come along with increased costs. Planning ahead allows you to research your options to find the best value for your money, it avoids surcharges for rush or expedited services and goods, and it allows you to make decisions while you’re calm and not stressed.
One of the first decisions you need to make is when to move. In many situations, this might be something you don’t have a lot of control over. For example, when you’re on military orders, you might have no choice but to go exactly when they say. But if you do have control over the timing of the move, this is an opportunity to save some money. Summer is considered peak moving season, with associated cost increases and lack of availability with moving providers, while winter is going to be the cheapest time of the year to move.
Even if you don’t have any say over what time of year you move, you might be able to control which day you move. Movers are more in demand on weekends, when people have more free time, so you might be able to save money by utilizing them on a weekday. In addition, consider how the timing of your move will affect things like your rent or hotel stays. One of my cross country moves, I had to stay in town for work until the fourth of the month, but my landlords would only allow me to end my lease on the last day of the month. My choices were either to pay an entire extra month’s rent for an apartment I’d only be living in for an four days, or to move out at the end of the month and stay in a hotel for four days. Either way, that’s a lot of extra money! I would have been able to save much more if I had planned ahead and timed the move to coincide with the end of my lease.
Alongside deciding when you’re going to move, it’s important to decide how you are going to move. This is a big decision for saving money when moving across the country. You can have it be a do-it-yourself move, or you can hire movers. You can also combine these options in various ways. Rent your own van or hire movers that have a van? Drive the van yourself or hire someone to drive? Pack all your own belongings or hire someone to pack? Load the van yourself or hire movers to load the van? In almost every case, you can save money by choosing the DIY option. However, there are some other items to consider.
For example, if you’re moving large or fragile items and you don’t have the right materials or experience to pack and load those items, you could be costing yourself much more money if they break during the move. If you don’t feel comfortable driving a large moving truck, you could end up costing yourself money if you get into any scrapes or accidents in the truck. Also, depending on why you’re moving, you might be able to get your employer to cover some of the moving costs, which makes hiring movers a more economical option.
When comparing costs of hiring versus DIY, make sure you are considering all the costs! You’ll be paying more than just the price of reserving a rental van. Additional costs for gas for the rental vehicle, a tow trailer for your own vehicle, tolls, hotels, and food while driving can really add up. One option to look into is to ship your own vehicle rather than tow it. I did this one year when moving and was able to save myself money and the inconvenience of towing a vehicle!
If you do decide to hire professionals, it’s important to remember that these are still your belongings! While most movers are trustworthy individuals, you can never be too careful. Don’t allow movers to pack your stuff unsupervised, and take any really valuable items with you personally. Also, most movers provide insurance of the items they are moving, but it’s up to you to declare the value of your belongings. Movers likely will have a typical set price per pound, and you can list items that are worth more than that price. This may seem like an annoyance, but if something goes wrong you will absolutely be costing yourself money. In one cross country move, using movers paid for by my boyfriend’s employer, the contents of the movers’ truck caught on fire. That included about half of our stuff! We had only opted for the standard price per pound coverage from their insurance, and we quickly learned that when you have to replace everything you own, that is not sufficient. Of course this was a very rare occurrence, but the potential for saving money is very high if something bad does happen. Take the time to provide a proper accounting of the value of your items.
If you’re moving yourself, your property would usually be covered under your renters insurance policy. Double check your policy before moving and be aware of what your coverage and responsibilities are. This can seem unimportant when you have so many other things to do in the process of moving thousands of miles, but it could end up costing you a lot of money.
For those looking to save money while moving across the country, the DIY option is usually popular. There are lots of opportunities to reduce costs when you do the work yourself. First of all, you’ll need to pack up all of your belongings. When moving such a long way, it’s important to pack really well, as the items will be in the truck or van for a long period of time and likely a wide variety of conditions. One of the best ways to save money is to downsize before you move. A lot of times, when unpacking at a new place, you’ll realize you don’t really need some of the things you brought with you. If you get rid of those things before moving, you can save the expenses of packing and moving them. You might want to donate clothes you don’t wear anymore or that won’t be needed in the climate you are moving to (I got rid of a lot of sweaters when I moved from Maryland to southern California!). Even bigger potential savings on deciding things like which furniture won’t be suited to your new home. I had a dining room table that I didn’t really enjoy, and I knew I would want to get a new one after moving. I sold the dining room table and chairs on Craigslist before I moved—a double benefit of saving on moving costs and the income from the sale!
Once you’ve winnowed your belongings into the items you truly want to take all the way across the country with them, you’ll need boxes to pack them in. Buying new boxes can be expensive and wasteful, as you’ll likely end up recycling them as soon as you unpack at your destination. Used boxes are a great way to save money. You can get them from friends and family that have moved recently, or check on Craigslist, Nextdoor, or other local postings. You can also ask businesses, particularly grocery and liquor stores, for any extra boxes they have. Also, as soon as you know you might move, start saving all the boxes you get. I was able to save quite a few large Amazon boxes and food delivery boxes that cut down on the amount of new boxes I needed. If all of these options fail and you have to buy new boxes, make sure you are getting the best possible deal. Buying boxes online can be much cheaper, but you’ll need to plan ahead so they get there in time. If you do end up buying boxes, see if you can save them at your destination! This will save you money the next time you need to move.
Packing the boxes properly is important to make sure all of your belongings make it to your new home intact. But packing material can be expensive. Get creative and use items you already own as packing material! Some things that I have done include wrapping photos in towels, putting pillows into boxes with empty space, and using socks to protect glassware. Also, while you are saving boxes that you receive, save the packing material in them as well! Those plastic air bubble can be reused, and they’ve been given to you for free already.
You’ll need a truck or van to put all of those boxes onto. When renting a moving vehicle, make sure you get the smallest truck necessary to fit your stuff. A bigger truck just means more gas money and more empty space (which is more chance for your items to shift and break, or else more packing material to hold it in place). If you reserve a small truck, and they try to give you a bigger one as a “free upgrade,” you should complain. This happened to me, because they ran out of the size I had reserved, despite the fact that I made a reservation weeks ahead of time. I didn’t have any choice but to take the larger truck, but I called the corporate headquarters and complained. I was able to get a small amount of compensation due to the last minute change on their part.
Once you have your moving vehicle, you can load it up with your belongings. To me, this is the hardest part of the move. Try to enlist your friends and family to help. Don’t try to save money by skimping on your appreciation for them—helping someone move is not fun, and pizza and beer is the least you can do. If you don’t have anyone available, this is a great place to hire someone out. If you have everything packed and ready to go in your home, you will likely only need a couple of hours of professional help. When I rented a U-Haul truck for one move, they included an option to hire local loaders at a very reasonable price. I only needed two hours of their time, and the truck got loaded way better than I could have done on my own.
Now you’re all ready to go! When driving your rental vehicle across the country, there are more opportunities to keep costs down. If you can share driving duties with someone else, that means more time driving every day and fewer days to make the trip. That’s less money on hotels, fewer days to pay for the rental vehicle, and the sooner you’ll be moved into your new home! If you can make a route that includes places you have friends or family, you can save on hotels and get in some quality visiting time. During one cross country move, I was able to stay with my sister one night and an old college friend another night, leaving only one night in a hotel to pay for, and it was great to catch up with people I hadn’t seen in a while.
While driving, keep your speed reasonable to save on gas. Don’t try to make the same speed going uphill as down, and try to avoid braking as much as possible. Avoid major cities during rush hours, as the stop-and-go traffic is terrible for the gas mileage of a big rental truck, not to mention that it can be very stressful if you’re not used to driving a large vehicle. Pack meals from a grocery store as much as possible to reduce spending on expensive and unhealthy fast food or packaged snack foods.
Moving may not be the most fun thing to do, especially cross country, but it doesn’t have to break the bank if you plan ahead, make careful decisions, and do as much of it as possible yourself. I hope that I don’t have too many more cross country moves in my future, but if I do, at least I’ve learned enough lessons from my past mistakes and successes to make it a smooth and frugal experience.