Whether you’re moving cross country for a new job opportunity or you’re just ready for a change of scenery, picking up your whole life and transporting it 2500 miles away is a pretty big undertaking. It should come as little surprise that this undertaking can also be quite expensive. From packing supplies and shipping costs to fuel and professional moving companies, expenses can really add up. Consumer Affairs notes that the average cross country move will cost somewhere between $2000 and $5000, but costs can range as high as $15,000 for a full-service moving company.
Your cost will depend on a number of factors including the specific geographical parameters of your move, the size of your household, and—in them most basic terms—the how much stuff you have. Other variables that can impact the overall price of your move will include the always fluctuating cost of fuel and the time of year you decide to move, with costs rising during peak moving seasons (i.e. spring and summer) and shrinking during slower seasons (i.e. fall and winter).
For some idea of what all of these expenses might add up to, check out this handy Moving Calculator from Moving.com. This is a useful tool for determining how much your move could cost. But you should only consider this estimate as a starting point in your research. While you may not be able to control things like the cost of gas, there are actually a lot of factors that you can control. Any combination of the tips below could lower your overall cross country moving expenses at a time when every penny counts.
For tips on lowering the cost of your cross country move, read on…
1. Sell Your Stuff
A big move like this is a great opportunity to purge your life of the things you don’t need and to upgrade your aging possessions. That’s because the single best way to lower the cost of moving your stuff is to have significantly less stuff to move. Obviously you should keep items of personal sentimental value, but when it comes to large, replaceable items like department store furniture, heavy stacks of books you’ve already read, and bulky brand-name decor, the cost of replacement may be roughly the same as the cost of transport.
Post your belongings on eBay, join local online marketplace sites where you can list items for sale to your neighbors, host a few yard sales, and bring your old electronics to a nearby trading post or pawn shop. Be realistic about what your items are worth. Your goal here is two-fold—to unload unneeded possessions and to make just enough cash to help offset the costs of filling, furnishing and fashioning your new house on the other side of the country.
2. Give Away the Rest
Obviously, you won’t be able to sell everything you own. Let’s be honest. You didn’t really expect somebody to pay money for your oddly large collection of celebrity look-alive Beanie Babies. But it is possible that your friends would take them for free and display them ironically at home as a monument to your delightful eccentricity. So what’s a non-awkward way of giving your not-particularly-valuable personal effects to your friends? With drinks and music, of course. An article from GQ advises throwing a “take my stuff” party where your closest friends come over and swipe whatever you don’t want.
As an added bonus, the author points out, this is a great way to empty your snack cupboards and liquor cabinet as well. Don’t sweat it. You can buy more Pirate’s Booty and booze when you get to your new town. And that’s kind of the point. Not specifically the booze and the Pirate’s Booty, but the fact that it is actually more cost effective to buy new things than to move old ones. Presuming that your IKEA Nordmela dresser isn’t overflowing with sentimental value, you’ll be better served by getting something shiny and new upon arrival at your destination. You should also consider donating sturdy furniture, gently-used clothes, loved books, second-hand dish sets and other household items to your local Goodwill drop-off location. By the time you’re done with these first two steps, you should be left only with the things you really need or cherish.
3. Rent a Truck
Now that you’re down to the bare minimum of items, it’s time to figure out how you’ll move your remaining possessions across a dozen state lines. It should go without saying that hiring professional movers will be at once the most hassle-free and expensive way to go. So before you resort to this, consider a few alternatives. The first and most obvious is to rent your own truck. Companies like U-Haul and Ryder are designed for non-commercial drivers with the energy and patiences to do it all by themselves.
Vehicles generally come in all sizes from small cargo vans all the way up to 26 foot trucks. If you followed our advice on the first two steps, you should only require something on the smaller end. Obviously, the smaller the vehicle, the less you’ll spend and the better mileage you’ll get. Of course, taking this approach means that you must make the cross country trek on wheels. Depending on how you feel about long car rides, this could be a pro or con. But if you plan to go this route, stock up on jerky and your caffeinated beverage of choice. It’s time for a road trip!
4. Ship Your Stuff
For some people, driving that far sounds terrible, tedious and tough on the lower back. If you’re one of these people, you could simply ship everything you own and book a flight with a cheapie airline like Spirit or Frontier. You have a few options here.
If you don’t have much in the way of personal items, you can work with a courier like FedEx or UPS to determine the cost of packaging and shipping your own stuff. Another interesting option is available through Greyhound. The bus transit company offers a service called Greyhound Package Express. You can pay Greyhound to load packages of less than 100 pounds into the storage space below the cabin of a bus headed toward your destination. The price is typically much lower than traditional moving, mostly because the bus is already heading in that general direction.
There are also companies that specialize in the service of providing heavy shipping containers and transporting them across long distances. This is a great option if you’ve decided to hold on to some of your furniture and other large items that might make shipping impractical. Companies like PODS will drop a shipping container off in front of your home, give you a few days to fill it, then come back to pick it up for the big move. With any of these options, it’s simply up to you to get yourself cross country. You’ll meet your stuff when you get there. The clear benefit here is that you don’t have to drive a big rig through these grand and sometimes treacherous United States.
5. Enlist Your Friends
The big catch with any of the methods cited above is that it’s pretty much on you to do all the work. From disassembling, boxing, and labeling to heaving, hoisting, and pivoting, moving is quite simply one of the most demanding things you’ll ever do. Once you really get into the process, the temptation may be pretty high to outsource the heavy lifting.
But before you do…remember a few weeks back when you invited all your friends over and let them rifle through your personal belongings? They owe you…big time. Just kidding. Your free-stuff giveaway came from the heart, and with no strings attached. But it’s probably not a bad thing for your nearest and dearest to have your recent generosity at the top of mind when you call and ask them to help you carry your favorite fold-out recliner down a spiraling three-flight walk up. And you know what’s much cheaper than hiring movers? Pizza, beer and a thousand thank-yous. Get your most energetic, stout, and cheerful friends to help, and reward them for putting in the sweat.
6. Vet Movers Thoroughly
It’s possible that you simply must hire movers. Again, moving is difficult and demanding. Whether you lack the time, support, or physical ability to do these things yourself, hiring movers really is much easier than taking the DIY approach. But again, this is the most expensive way to go. That said, moving costs can range pretty widely depending on the company you hire and the range of services you decide to pay for.
Most cross country moving companies charge based on a combination of hours and mileage. This means that the less time your movers spend packaging and moving your items, the less it will cost. But you have a lot of options when it comes to moving companies and service packages. There are companies that will do everything from emptying your drawers and boxing up your clothes to labeling crates and arranging the furniture in your new home. On the other end of the spectrum, you could do all the boxing, prepping, and labeling yourself so that all your movers have to do is get your items on and off the truck.
Figure out what you need, and seek your moving company based on the best fit for your required services. But be sure that you shop around and read online reviews. Look for movers that are reputable, experienced, and transparent about how they estimate the cost of your move. GQ advises that you should be skeptical of anybody who offers you a “locked-in estimate” without actually seeing your space. Most moving companies will quote a rate based on determinant factors, but can only really provide the final cost when the work is completed.
That said, you should most assuredly shop around for the most competitive rates among reputable moving companies. Moving.com offers a Free Quote Tool where you can receive competitive quotes from movers who specialize in long-distance moving. But you’ll want to start this process as early as possible. Depending on the time of year, the demand for movers can be high. The further in advance you seek to book your movers, the better luck you’ll have at shopping for competing offers. Moving.com suggests booking your movers at least six to eight weeks out. If you wait until the last minute, your only options may also be the most expensive options.
7. Move During Off-Peak Season
It’s not just about who you hire but also when you hire them. The cost of your moving service will be directly impacted by the time of year. Consumer Affairs points out that you could do a lot better by booking your move at an off-peak point in the year. In the simplest terms, the warmer the weather, the more expensive the move. According to Consumer Affairs, “Summer is the most expensive time to move because families are getting settled before the new school year starts. Leases tend to expire towards the end of the month, so you’ll have more people booking moving companies the last week of the month than the first or second. Try to move at a different time of the year, in the middle of the month or on a weekday when there’s less competition for movers.” And while it may not be pleasant to carry your things outside in the cold, moving in the dead of winter may be your cheapest option. If you have the freedom and flexibility, do your best to time your move in a way that minimizes costs.
8. Find Out If Your Company Pays Moving Expenses
It’s possible that your company will be willing to offset some portion of your moving costs, even fully fund your cross-country expedition. Obviously, having somebody else pay for your moving expenses is a really great way to save your own money. Some companies have well-established policies on this benefit. If you have a human resources department, you should inquire. If no such policy exists, you’ll need to make a shrewd judgment call based on your relationship with your employers. If you feel you have a positive, long-term relationship, that your contributions are valued, and that your company is in a financial position to support this move, it may be worth asking.
9. Find Out If You Qualify For Discounts
No matter how you handle this move, you’ll be paying somebody for something. You may be buying packaging materials, stopping frequently at gas stations, renting a vehicle, dining at truck-stop convenience stores, shipping possessions, or paying movers. Don’t be shy about seeing what discounts you might qualify for. Many companies—especially nationally recognized brands—will provide special rates and discount opportunities for military service-members and veterans, senior citizens, students, disabled persons, and more. Find out if your membership in an organization like the AARP or Veterans Association, or your enrollment in an institution of higher learning, might help offset some of your moving costs. See if your employer or payroll company offers access to any benefits clubs or discount programs that might shave a few dollars off of the final cost of moving.
10. Insure Your Valuables
This final tip is actually the only one that requires you to spend more money. But the preventative value could be pretty high. If you’ve sold or donated everything that you consider unnecessary or replaceable, it means that everything you have left is something you feel has value. But of course, accidents happen, whether you’re paying movers, shipping your possessions, or carrying them cross country yourself. Insure valuable electronics, collectibles, jewelry, antiques, artwork and anything else with monetary value that can’t simply be replaced at a local big-box store. You’ll pay more up front for this security, but it could save you thousands of dollars if something goes wrong during the ride.
And if you’re interested in strategies for living a more economically and environmentally conscientious lifestyle once you get to your new home, check out these 5 Ways You Can Save Money and Help the Environment.