Moving on a Budget

Moving on a Budget

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Moving can be a pain, but with a little bit of finesse you can make it happen for less!  Take it from me, a regular moving expert – I’m currently on move #20 and have packed my life into boxes enough times to know a few tips and tricks to keep costs low.

Location, Location, Location

There are essentially two types of moves; in town and out of town, and each of them has their own challenges and benefits.  Moving “in town” means you’re staying in the same metro area, but relocating to a different home.  Moving out of town requires a bit more planning, but has the added benefit of doing the move all in one shot.

For an “in town” move all you probably need is some boxes, a pick up and a couple of friends, but the temptation is to do a little at a time since the new location is so close.  My first piece of advice is to treat it as an out of town move, and do the whole thing all at once – the longer you have stuff at both locations, the more tempted you’ll be to eat out and buy things you already have.  Knocking out the entire move in a day or a weekend keeps your momentum up, and will leave you enough energy to actually unpack those boxes, so I highly recommend setting aside a weekend rather than taking things over one trip at a time after work.


Another benefit of moving in town is the “free” labor; if you have friends offering to help, take them up on it – moving is no one’s favorite way to spend a weekend, but paying your friends in pizza and beer is usually a good way to recruit.  Moving with only two people takes forever and gets frustrating when trying to muscle a couch up the stairs, so put the word out and get your buddies to come by, even if just for a few hours – you’ll be amazed at how quickly things go, and at the very least you can move the big stuff while you have all hands on deck.

For out of town moves, the first step is to figure out how much room you’re going to need for all of your stuff – are we talking about a little trailer or a full on moving truck?  Figure out what’s worth bringing with you and what you can afford to leave behind; if you’re planning to buy a new couch when you arrive anyway, consider selling the old one before you move – you’ll pay less in square footage for the trailer or truck and have some extra cash in your pocket for the move.

Now that you know how much room you need, research rates for different types of moving vehicles; Uhaul is my go-to for most small to medium size moves, but I’ve heard good things about the pod storage containers that get shipped for you as well.  Try not to get anything bigger than what you need; I personally enjoy playing “Tetris” when moving, and seeing what I can actually fit into a trailer or car by moving things around.  If hauling a trailer, make sure to put the heaviest stuff at the front; back-loading the trailer will cause it to fish-tail on the highway and can be extremely dangerous, so keep that in mind while you’re packing.


If the drive will take you more than a day, it’s time to plan out your road trip; keep in mind that most moving trucks can only go 55 on the highway, and the same goes for towing a trailer, so this is going to take longer than your usual drive.  When choosing hotels, keep in mind that you’ll be leaving all your possessions in a parking lot overnight, so picking the cheapest option is not always best here – better to pay a few extra bucks for a hotel in a decent part of town than wake up to discover all of your belongings missing.  If you have kids or pets, make sure to plan ahead for any additional costs as well – some hotels don’t allow pets, and those that do usually require an additional fee.

Once you’ve factored in food, gas, hotels, and the moving vehicle, these costs can pile up; most people underestimate how much it truly costs to move.  Be prepared by planning ahead, and make sure you have roadside assistance and any tools on hand you might need – the chance of a flat or mechanical problem increases when you’re towing a heavy trailer, so be ready for something to go wrong before it happens.


Before you can move you need to pack, and before you can pack you need to throw stuff away – save yourself the time and energy of packing unwanted things by doing a thorough inventory and getting rid of what you don’t need.  If you discover that you have 17 sets of mismatched sheets and pillow cases, toss them – donating or discarding these items now means less packing, less unpacking, and less room you’re taking up during your move, which means less money.  Anything you can do to minimize the amount of stuff you’re taking with you will mean less space you need to move it, as well as keeping your new home free of clutter.


One of my favorite packing tips is to pack a suitcase for yourself as if you were going on a trip, even if you’re only moving across town – rather than digging through boxes to find your shampoo, pack yourself some clothes and toiletries so that you can quickly access the stuff you use every day.  I also like to pack a bag of essentials – toilet paper, paper towels, tin foil, some silverware, etc. – things you’re going to need when you move in but might have otherwise packed away somewhere.  This will save you time, a headache, and some money; rather than running down the street to buy the essentials you can’t find, keep them where they’re easily accessible until you can get unpacked.

Another packing tip I’ve picked up over the years is to label your boxes with as much detail as possible – later on when you’re looking for a spatula and you have 20 boxes marked “Kitchen”, you’ll wish you’d taken an extra couple of seconds to write “Cooking Utensils & Ziplocs” on there as well.  Use large boxes to pack light items like blankets and towels, and small boxes for heavy things like books; save your back on moving day and make unpacking a lot less daunting by keeping your boxes organized in this way.


One of the hidden costs of moving lies in the overlap between your old place and the new one; while it’s nice to leave yourself lots of time to get moved in, keep in mind that the longer you extend the transition the more you will pay.  Many rentals allow for pro-rating, but minimizing the time you’re paying for two locations will help to keep costs low and will speed up any damage deposits you may have coming your way to offset your moving expenses.  While you certainly want to give yourself enough time for the transition, setting a deadline can also keep you motivated to get completely moved into your new home sooner than later.

In addition to paying double in your rent or mortgage, utilities can add up quickly as well.  Most companies will work with you to set up service at your new location starting on a specific day, and the same goes for terminating service at the old location.  I usually like to give myself a few days to a week of overlap; don’t make the mistake of shutting off the electricity to your old place if you aren’t done moving – you might miss the lights when you go back to clean or make another trip at night.  The difference between a week and a month of overlapping bills is significant, so be sure to factor this into your moving budget when deciding on your timeline.


Another hidden expense of moving is forgetting to switch over to your new address properly; if you have bills coming to your old house and you miss a due date, you’ll be feeling the sting when it finally makes it to you, now with late fees and penalties.  Most people know that you have to fill out a change of address with the US Postal Service, but you should also notify your bank, DMV, work, student loans, and any other bills or statements that come to the house.  You can do most of these online now within a matter of minutes, and it saves you the hassle of wondering a few weeks too late whether you paid something or not.  Be sure to notify any old jobs as well that you have a new address for your W-2 so that you aren’t waiting on it come tax season.

Moving can be stressful but by planning ahead you can mitigate most of the headaches; taking the time to budget for a move beforehand will save you time, money, and a whole lot of frustration – and you can use all that extra energy settling into your new home!

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