How To Move Cross-Country on a Budget (2023 Guide)
One of the biggest concerns when relocating to another state is finding the money to finance a cross-country move. There are transportation costs, moving insurance, professional services, and potentially surprise fees to cover. Fortunately, you can do a few things to keep your moving costs down and make the transition as smooth as possible.
We’ve researched the top moving companies across the U.S. and found ways to lower moving costs. Read on to discover our top tips for how to move cross-country on a budget.
How Much Does Moving Cross-Country Cost?
We spoke with representatives from six of the top moving companies in the U.S. about the cost of a cross-country move. We averaged the estimates provided and found that the average partial-service interstate move comes in at $6,988, while the average full-service move is closer to $9,593. That’s not to say your move will be this costly, especially if you use some tips below. Keep in mind that many movers offer discounts, and there’s much you can do yourself to cut costs.
8 Ways To Save Money When Moving
Trying even one of the following tips will help you save money on your move, but you can shave off quite a bit by combining a few of these smart ways to save.
1.Start Planning Well in Advance
Planning ahead is the best way to save money on your long-distance move. Give yourself at least eight weeks, but ideally more, to research your options and make informed decisions about how and when to move. Here are some tips for planning ahead:
- Create a moving budget. Start your moving plan by setting a budget. Determine how much money you can realistically spend, and start setting that aside each paycheck. Plan to pay at the least for a moving container and transportation. At the most, you may need to budget for a professional full-service mover who will pack and load your belongings, drive them to your destination, and unload them. Leave a little room in your budget for surprise expenses, and don’t forget you’ll need to eat and sleep somewhere along the drive.
- Make a list of what needs to be packed. You don’t need a list of everything in your home, but make a list of how many substantial furniture pieces, breakable items, and decorative items are in each room. That way, you’ll be able to see how much stuff you have, how many boxes you’re likely to need, and any specialty packing materials for fragile items. This will be helpful if you need a quote from a moving company since every mover we’ve spoken to uses the amount and type of belongings as a cost factor.
- Book early. If you’re using a moving company, book your moving date at least two months in advance. If you’re renting trucks or storage containers, reserve the equipment as soon as possible. Booking your reservation early will help you secure a lower rate and ensure that the resources you need will be available on your move date. Don’t wait until the last minute when you’re in a bind and at the mercy of whatever rates companies want to charge.
2. Downsize and Declutter
Long-distance movers base their rates on the timing, distance, and difficulty of your move, including the size and weight of your shipment. In other words, the less stuff you have to pack and load, the less expensive your move will be.
The same principle applies when renting equipment for a DIY move because a larger truck or container will cost more than a smaller one. A heavier shipment will also come with higher fuel costs. We recommend doing a major decluttering so you’re only moving the things you definitely want at your new residence.
- Digitize your documents. Rather than packing boxes full of paperwork and documents, digitize them. Scan important documents into your computer and store them electronically to save space.
- Make ditch and donate piles. Go through each room, closet, drawer, shed, etc. and collect things you no longer use or enjoy. Get rid of clothes that don’t fit, toys the kids no longer play with, broken kitchen gadgets, and that breadmaker you never use. Throw away or recycle broken or worn-out items, and donate anything gently used.
- Sell unwanted items. You can make money with this option while saving on moving costs. If you have the time before your move, you can sell your items via a yard sale, consignment store, or online. This is a great way to make extra gas or food money for the trip.
3. Cut the Cost of Moving Materials
Seemingly small moving costs can add up quickly, and packing supplies are one area that might cost more than you expect. However, there are cheap ways to pack. Try the following routes to cut down on supply costs.
- Use what you already have. Instead of buying packing materials, use items you already have around the house. For instance, you can wrap fragile items in towels and blankets. Use newspaper instead of packing paper, and transport clothes and other soft items in garbage bags and laundry baskets. You may even be able to keep your clothes inside your dresser drawers rather than packing them into boxes.
- Ask local businesses. Businesses that regularly receive large shipments may have empty cardboard boxes you can use. Start by asking the manager of your local grocery store. Bookstores, pharmacies, liquor stores, coffee shops, office supply stores, and restaurants may also have large boxes they’ll give you for free.
- Borrow from friends and family. Ask friends, family members, and coworkers if they have empty boxes or spare supplies. If you ask early enough, people may be willing to save you boxes, newspapers, and materials like bubble wrap and tissue paper from their own purchases.
- Buy used packing supplies. If all else fails, check online marketplaces before buying brand-new supplies. Check the “Take a Box, Leave a Box” bin at your local U-Haul store or browse the U-Haul Customer Connect site. You may be able to find boxes and packing materials for free or at a significantly reduced price. If your current neighborhood has people regularly moving in, ask them if you can take their boxes off their hands once they’ve unpacked. It will save them time getting rid of them.
4. Time Your Move Strategically
Timing is everything when hiring a moving company. Moving during peak times is typically more expensive, so plan your move accordingly.
We spoke with several moving companies and learned that peak moving season is May through September. You might not have much control over when you move, but if you have some flexibility, aim to move during fall or winter. Since summer is the busiest season for cross-country moving companies due to nicer weather and kids being out of school, moving prices are higher. The only exception to this is major holidays, such as Christmas. If you’re moving on or right before a big holiday, movers may charge you more due to being short-staffed.
Moving during the week rather than on the weekend is also cheaper. It’s understandable to want to move on a weekend to avoid taking off work, but you’ll pay for it. A Monday–Thursday move is almost always cheaper than Friday–Sunday.
If you can’t schedule your move for an off-peak time, remember to book as far in advance as possible. Waiting until the last minute will leave you with fewer options and higher costs.
5. Reach Out to Friends and Family
Moving can be stressful and time-consuming, but you don’t have to do it alone. Enlisting the help of friends and family can make the process more enjoyable and save you money. Here are some ways the people around you can help cut costs:
- Packing. Don’t assume no one is willing to help you with labor. Incentivize a couple of friends or family members to have a packing party with you by providing dinner, drinks, or gift cards. Getting a few pizzas or a couple of coffee gift cards for your helpers will be far cheaper than hiring a professional packer.
- Loading: Tell your burliest friends to skip the gym and get a workout by helping you load some boxes. Offer a small gift for whoever loads the most.
- Transportation. If you have a friend or family member with a truck or van, ask to borrow it for your move if you don’t have many items. This is a more cost-effective option than hiring a professional moving company or renting a moving van, especially if you have some help loading it. Plus, you’ll have more control over the pace and timing of the move, and you can make sure your belongings are packed and transported safely.
- Pet sitting: Some people find having their pets at home while packing and loading up too overwhelming or even dangerous since the door may be propped open to allow loaders to come and go. Instead of pet boarding, ask a friend or family member if you can leave your pets with them for a few days.
6. Do Some of the Labor Yourself
Handling the necessary moving labor without the help of professionals can save you a lot of money. Movers charge most for these services:
- Packing and unpacking: Having a full-service mover pack and label all your boxes is convenient but also costly. As mentioned above, you’ll save money if you or your friends and family can handle the packing and unpacking.
- Loading and unloading: Getting all your boxes and furniture on and off the truck isn’t fun, but if you and a few helpers can get it done, that’s one expense you won’t be charged for.
- Driving: Most of the cost of hiring a professional mover is the vehicle and fuel charges. If you don’t have that much to move, renting a small moving container and driving yourself is cheaper than having a company drive for you. You’ll still have to pay for your own gas, of course, but you’ll save on labor charges for a professional driver as well as the inflated fuel expense a company may impose. Learn more about renting a moving container below.
We spoke with Nancy Zafrani, General Manager of Oz Moving & Storage, about how to minimize packing costs. “If you are trying to cut costs, I recommend packing yourself. The key to this is giving yourself enough time to do it right, and do it completely. Otherwise, you’re not saving as much.” She pointed out, “A costly mistake people often make is not being packed or prepared when the movers arrive, so they end up incurring the added costs of packing and supplies. Another mistake is having more property/boxes than expected. Don’t underestimate how much you have to move. If you tell your movers you have four rooms of furniture and it turns out to be six, some companies will charge a premium cost for additional, unexpected property being moved.”
7. Consider Alternative Moving Methods
Although hiring a full-service moving company can save you a lot of hassle, you need to weigh the convenience against the cost. To save money, consider alternative moving methods, such as renting a truck or using a freight trailer service. These options rank among the cheapest ways to move and may offer greater flexibility in scheduling and logistics.
Rent a Moving Truck
Companies such as U-Haul, Budget, and Penske rent moving trucks and trailers in various sizes. With this option, you’re in charge of loading, driving, and unloading the truck. These companies also sell moving boxes, packing supplies, and everything else you need to safely pack and store your belongings if you prefer. They even rent equipment that will make lifting, carrying, and securing heavy items easier. This includes hand trucks, furniture dollies, ratchet straps, and lifting straps.
Renting a moving truck is significantly cheaper than hiring a full-service mover, but there are a few things to keep in mind. In addition to the rental fee, which is based on the anticipated mileage and demand, you’re responsible for the cost of fuel and tolls. You may also be liable for any damage to the truck and your belongings unless you pay for a damage waiver or cargo protection insurance.
Rent a Portable Moving Container
A portable moving container is a great alternative to a traditional moving truck. Container companies such as PODS and U-Pack will drop off a container at your home and give you a set amount of time to load it with your belongings. Once it’s packed, the moving company will pick up the container and transport it to your new location or a storage facility.
Remember that there are certain items moving companies will not move. These restrictions generally apply to moving container companies and freight services as well. PODS, for instance, notes on its FAQ page that hazardous materials and illegal items cannot be placed in PODS containers. The company also recommends not packing heirlooms, important documents, and other irreplaceable items in its containers.
Use a Freight Trailer Service
Using a freight trailer service is similar to renting a portable moving container. The company will drop off a trailer at your home and give you a set amount of time to load it with your belongings. Once the trailer is fully packed, the company transports it to your new home, where you will unload it.
With a freight trailer service, you only pay for the space you use. The company may choose to combine your shipment with those of other customers, which can result in lower transportation costs. The biggest downside is that the timing may not be as flexible as other moving options.
Ship Your Belongings
If you don’t have a lot of belongings to move, you may be able to ship them to your new address. Many shipping companies offer flat-rate boxes that can be used for most household items, including clothing and electronics. You can purchase insurance to protect your items during shipping and track your shipment online.
This can be a cost-effective option if you don’t need to move large or heavy items, such as furniture. You may even be able to schedule pickup of your items, eliminating the need to drop them off at a shipping facility. Shipping your belongings can take longer than other moving methods, however.
8. Look for Sales and Discounts
Every penny counts when moving cross-country on a budget. Many moving companies have sales or offer discounts for certain groups. Here are some tips for finding the best deals:
- Look for sales on moving supplies. Take some time to research sales on packing materials before you start packing. Check online retailers and big-box stores for discounts on boxes, packing tape, and other supplies.
- Search for online promo codes. If you’re booking a rental truck or container online, search for promo codes before you check out. Websites like RetailMeNot and Coupons.com may have promo codes for moving-related services. You might also be able to sign up for email newsletters from moving companies to receive exclusive discounts and promotions.
- Check for discounts. Many companies offer discounts for AAA members, military personnel, veterans, students, seniors, and those with disabilities. International Van Lines, for example, has up to a 20% discount for students and teachers. 1-800-PACK-RAT offers 10% off for seniors.
More Moving Tips To Save Money
Here are some more tips to help you save money when moving long-distance:
- Get quotes from at least three moving companies to compare pricing. You can do this on the company’s website or by calling.
- Look for price-matching programs. Some moving companies will match the price of another, so get as many quotes as possible to negotiate rates.
- Only get moving insurance for expensive items. You don’t need to pay to insure your box of toiletries or T-shirts.
- Split the transportation cost with another mover. Some interstate movers have load-sharing programs that let you share a truck and split the rental and fuel costs with a fellow relocator.
- Cancel utilities and subscriptions such as your internet or cable service for the last day you need them and start fresh in your new residence. You don’t need these while en route, so don’t pay for them or risk being responsible for two residences’ bills. Signing up for new companies in your new location once you get there is also a great way to shop for that area’s best deals and get new-member discounts.
- Opt for partial-service instead of full if you need to enlist a professional mover. A full-service mover will handle every aspect of your move, but there are likely some aspects you can do yourself and only use the pros for the parts you truly need help with.
- Make a grocery trip specifically for the move. Many people plan to just order fast food once their kitchen items are packed, but this can add up quickly. Get snacks and foods that don’t need to be cooked for your home and while traveling so you don’t have to rack up restaurant or delivery fees.
- Check-in with your employer if you’re moving for work. Companies sometimes pay for all or part of the move if you’re relocating to work for them.
We got a few more tips from Matt Woodley, the founder of Mover Focus. “Check with your current home or renters insurance to see if it covers items during a move. This could save you from purchasing additional insurance from the moving company.”
He also told us, “If you’re moving for work-related reasons, some of your moving expenses might be tax-deductible. Consult with a tax professional to see if you qualify.”
When To Hire a Professional Mover vs. DIY
We want you to save money, but we also want you to be safe and have a manageable move. When creating your moving budget, it may be helpful to think about value regarding cost. Saving every penny you can may help your wallet, but the value you lose by cutting every expense may not be worth it.
We recommend hiring a professional mover if you:
- Have health issues or limited mobility that would be compromised by physical labor
- Are too busy or overwhelmed to handle all the to-dos, such as packing or loading
- Have many expensive or fragile items you’d be devastated to lose or break (many professionals offer specialty services for these items, such as extra wrapping, crating, and temperature-controlled transporting)
But there are certainly financial benefits to a self-service move if you don’t fall under these criteria. Nick Valentino, VP of Market Operations at Bellhop, recommended this: “Drive yourself. Much of the cost of cross-country moves comes from labor. Professional drivers will spend a lot of expensive hours moving your stuff. If you feel comfortable spending a long time behind the wheel, you can save hundreds of dollars in moving costs, especially if you don’t have to stop overnight.”
Cross-Country Moving Checklist
Aside from sticking to your budget, there are plenty of other things to remember when moving cross-country. Add these to your list if they’re not on your mind already:
- Have a plan for the kids and pets while you’re in the packing phase and traveling.
- Don’t forget to leave out necessary items such as toilet paper, toothbrushes, pajamas, phone chargers, etc. You’ll need them before, during, and after your move, and you don’t want to go tearing open your boxes.
- Change your address with your bank, utility and subscription providers, DMV, etc., and contact your local post office to set up mail forwarding.
- If your fridge and freezer are coming with you, remember to empty, clean, and defrost roughly 48 hours before loading.
- Verify that any moving company you hire has the proper credentials. Look for the USDOT number on its website. You can also use the Federal Motor Carrier Administration site to search if your mover is authorized. Checking to see if your mover belongs to organizations such as the American Moving and Storage Association or International Association of Movers isn’t required, but it does show that the company cares about upholding standards.
- Keep an inventory of all boxes and items that go onto the moving truck to ensure you get everything on the other side of your move.
- Don’t forget about storage. Make sure to include storage fees in your moving budget if your moving schedule requires putting some belongings in storage before or after your relocation. However, some companies offer around a month of free storage in their rate, such as Safeway Moving.
Moving cross-country is manageable if you plan thoughtfully and stick to your budget. We recommend Moving APT if you want to hire a professional mover. Moving APT is a moving broker with hundreds of partners nationwide that can help you find the right services within your budget. The company offers a price-matching program to help you get the most affordable rate. We suggest looking at U-Pack, a budget-friendly self-service mover, if you prefer to handle your move more on your own.
Remember to get quotes from at least three companies before agreeing to a rate, and plan your move out as early in advance as you can so you have more options and can be more in charge.
FAQ About Moving Cross-Country on a Budget
How much does it cost to move cross-country?
How much it costs to move cross-country depends on several factors, including the size and distance of your move. According to Moving APT, a DIY cross-country move with a rental truck can cost anywhere from $1,600 to $5,200. Using a moving container service can cost $2,000 to 8,200, and hiring a moving company can cost $2,200 to $16,650. We got quotes from several top moving companies and received an average quote of $6,988 for a partial-service move and $9,593 for a full-service move.
What is the cheapest month to move cross-country?
Because most people move during summer, the cheapest time to move cross-country is typically from October to April. You can also save money by avoiding holidays, school breaks, and long weekends. Instead, opt for a mid-week move during an off-peak month.
What are the best ways to save money on a move?
Here are the best ways to save money on a move:
- Ask about discounts and promotions.
- Book early and compare prices.
- Declutter and downsize before packing.
- Enlist the help of friends and family.
- Rent a moving truck or moving container.
- Time your move strategically.
- Use free or low-cost packing materials.
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The This Old House Reviews Team backs up our moving company ratings and recommendations with a detailed rating methodology to objectively score each company. We conduct research by reading through the company websites, analyzing customer reviews, conducting consumer surveys, requesting quotes, and speaking with customer representatives. We then score each moving company against our review standards for services, contents coverage, scheduling options, additional benefits and custom service options, and reputation among customers to arrive at a final score on a 5-point rating scale.
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