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How To Create a Moving Budget

Budgeting to move is no easy task. Our guide to creating a moving budget outlines the process from start to finish.

Author Icon By Shane Sentelle Updated 01/10/2024

Moving is expensive, but a well-thought-out budget can help you anticipate and prepare for the cost. As you research average costs and create your moving budget, you can determine how much you’ll need to put aside and identify opportunities to save money.

Although budgeting is vital, it can also seem like a daunting task. To demystify the process, the This Old House Reviews Team has compiled this detailed guide to creating a moving budget and hire the best moving company for your move.

Take Inventory of Your Belongings

The first step in creating a moving budget is to inventory your belongings. Start by taking pictures or a video of your belongings before you pack. You should document any valuable items, such as fine art or jewelry, in case you need to file a claim. Keep photos, videos, and documents safe and accessible by uploading them to a cloud-based storage solution.

Next, create an inventory list. This can be done while packing. Develop a system to keep track of what is in each box. You can also color-code boxes to denote which room they belong in. The more detailed and organized your moving inventory, the easier it will be to calculate the approximate weight, size, and value of your belongings. Here are the details you should include with each item you add to your list:

  • Weight: While local movers typically charge a flat hourly rate, long-distance moving companies factor in the weight of your belongings. Several moving websites feature online calculators that list the average weight of furniture, appliances, and other household items.
  • Size: If you plan to rent a moving truck or a portable container, you will need to estimate how many cubic feet of space your belongings require. That will determine what size truck or container you need, which determines the price. Self-service moving companies often post guides on their websites to help with this.
  • Value: The more valuable your belongings, the more they will cost to insure. If you have several fragile or high-value items, that might give you more reason to hire professional movers. Moving companies often employ specially trained and certified movers to handle these items and minimize the risk of damage.

To streamline the moving process and cut costs, take the time to purge as you pack. You can sell items you no longer need at a yard sale or through online marketplaces, such as eBay or Facebook Marketplace. Alternatively, you can donate gently used items to The Salvation Army, Goodwill, or a local nonprofit. Remember, the less stuff you have to move, the less you will pay.

Research Average Moving Costs

You can research average moving costs with a quick Google search or use the free moving calculators offered by companies such as International Van Lines and Moving APT. Costs can vary widely based on the location, distance, weight, and size of your move. Expenses will also differ depending on whether you plan a DIY move or hire a full-service mover.

Common costs associated with moving include moving insurance, fuel, equipment rental fees, packing supplies, taxes, tolls, and specialty packing services. We’ve separated these and other costs into three categories below.

DIY Moving Costs

When most people talk about a DIY move, they mean renting a moving truck. According to 2021 survey data collected by the This Old House Reviews Team, most DIY moves cost less than $500. Another option is to rent a mobile moving-and-storage container from a self-service moving company. Our survey indicated that this typically costs $500–$1,500.

DIY moving costs are typically broken down into the following categories:

  • Truck or container rental fees
  • Transportation costs (fuel, mileage, tolls, etc.)
  • Other equipment rental fees (dollies, ramps, etc.)
  • Moving insurance
  • Packing materials (furniture covers, packing tape, bubble wrap, etc.)

Professional Moving Costs

Survey respondents who hired a full-service moving company reported paying $1,000–$3,000 for their move. You may pay more depending on how large your home is and how far you are moving. Expenses associated with this type of move include the following:

  • Base rate
  • Packing services or materials
  • Additional services (unpacking, cleaning, etc.)
  • Extra charges (for stairs, heavy items, etc.)
  • Moving insurance

Additional Moving Costs

Your moving costs are not limited to what a moving company charges. You will also need to factor in the following additional costs:

  • Closing costs, security deposit, or down payment
  • Utility start-up costs
  • Cleaning services or supplies
  • Storage unit fees
  • Taxes and tolls
  • Tips and refreshments for movers
  • Hotel and transportation costs
  • Takeout or dine-in meals
  • New furniture or household items
  • Groceries, including pantry staples
  • Childcare or pet boarding

Create a Moving Budget Template

Although you can find moving budget templates online, it is not difficult to create your own from scratch. Here’s how to create a moving budget for a full-service move:

  • Create two columns. Label one column “Category” and the other “Cost”. This can be done by hand in a notebook or on a computer with a program such as Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel.
  • List the expense categories. For full-service moving, expense categories might include the base moving rate, moving insurance, packing services, specialty services, extra fees, and hidden costs.
  • Fill in the cost for each expense. In the second column, estimate the cost for each expense category based on your research.
  • Add lines for any other expenses. Examples include childcare, pet boarding, fuel costs, airline tickets, packing materials, storage, and any furniture or items you plan to buy immediately after your move.
  • Repeat the process as needed. If you request quotes from multiple companies, as we recommend, consider creating a separate budget for each one. This will make it easier to determine which company offers the best deal.

If you are unsure whether to hire a professional mover or take the DIY approach, create a second budget to compare the two options. Follow the steps above but adjust the categories to account for self-service moving expenses.

Choose a Moving Date

If you are moving for work, you may not have much control over when you move. However, those with some flexibility can save money by strategically choosing their move date. Truck rental fees and full-service moving rates can vary significantly depending on the season, the month, and even the day of the week.

The busiest seasons for moving companies are late spring and summer, from May through early September. College students and recent graduates often relocate during this window. It’s also the most convenient time for families with school-age children to move. Prices are at their highest during these months. However, this time frame may still be the best choice for your family, especially if you plan to sell your old home.

Winter is the cheapest time to move in most areas, but it also carries the highest risk of weather-related delays. The shoulder seasons of fall and early spring are typically accompanied by milder temperatures and lower prices on both homes and moving services.

Even if you are stuck with a particular month, you can save money by scheduling a mid-month, mid-week move. Demand tends to be highest at the beginning and end of the month, as many leases begin on the first of the month, and on weekends, as people try to minimize the time they take off work.

Get Moving Quotes

We recommend gathering quotes from at least three full-service moving companies and three self-service moving companies. This will allow you to accurately price and compare your full range of options and choose the best solution for your needs.

Full-service Moving Quotes

Most full-service movers allow you to request a quote through their websites. Some companies offer both instant ballpark pricing and binding estimates. You’ll typically need the following information to request a quote:

  • Where you are moving from
  • Where you are moving to
  • Desired moving date
  • Number of bedrooms
  • Full name
  • Email address
  • Phone number

A ballpark quote, if available, will be provided after filling out an online form. Otherwise, you can expect a customer service representative to contact you. To receive a binding estimate, you will likely need to complete a moving inventory, schedule a virtual or in-home consultation, or record a video walk-through of your home. The exact process varies by company.

Self-service Moving Quotes

For self-service moving, you can consider renting a truck or a portable moving container. A few truck rental companies include U-Haul, Penske, and Budget. Portable storage containers are available from companies such as 1-800-PACK-RAT, PODS, and U-Pack.

These companies can provide online quotes, too. Once again, you will need to provide details about your move, including the date, size, and destination. Most companies offer multiple truck or container sizes and guide customers on which is most appropriate for their moves.

Keep in mind that self-service companies do not handle loading and unloading. However, they may be able to recommend third-party companies that offer packing, loading, and other services. If you think you’ll hire assistance, ask about hourly rates and factor them into your moving budget.

Moving Budget Tips

Follow the tips below to draft a more accurate budget and better prepare for moving expenses.

Weigh Cost vs. Convenience

It is possible to move cheaply on a budget. Just remember the trade-off between cost and convenience, and be realistic about what you can handle. If you rent a moving truck to save money, you will need to invest more time and energy into the moving process. Professional movers cost more, but they also provide a valuable service.

As you consider each line item in your budget, think about the associated tasks. Packing is a good example. Self-packing will lower your costs but lengthen your to-do list. Only you can decide if that extra work is worth the money it saves.

Account for Hidden Costs

Even the quotes provided by full-service interstate moving companies will not include every moving expense. Make sure your budget accounts for the hidden costs associated with moving, such as restocking your fridge and pantry. You may also need to pay for furniture assembly, appliance installation, and cleaning services.

Review any moving quotes carefully, noting what each does and does not include. Ask about any extra fees that may apply to your move, such as stair or elevator fees. You can also expect companies to charge more for certain heavy, bulky, fragile, or valuable items.

Build an Emergency Fund

No matter how many hours you pour into planning, you can never fully account for Murphy’s Law. The list of things that can derail your move is endless, from a broken-down truck to an ill-timed injury. You can expect that at least one or two things will go wrong, so set aside an emergency fund to handle any surprises that might affect your bottom line.

Our Conclusion

You will get out of a moving budget what you put into it. If you invest sufficient time into creating your budget, unexpected expenses will not be a complete surprise. You can also use this process to create an inventory for insurance purposes, compare quotes from multiple companies, and determine your ideal balance between cost and convenience.

FAQs About How To Create a Moving Budget

How do you budget for the cost of moving a piano?

To budget for the cost of moving a piano, ask different moving companies what they charge for this service. International Van Lines, for instance, charges a $150 fee for upright pianos and a $350 fee for baby grand pianos.

How much should you budget for a move?

You should budget $2,000 to $7,500 for your move, based on quotes we obtained for an out-of-state move for a two-bedroom home. Costs will depend on your moving method, home size, and moving distance. These estimates do not account for all moving costs; you should also budget for travel, childcare, pet care, storage fees, your first grocery run, and more.

Do movers charge by weight or volume?

Full-service moving companies charge by weight for long-distance moves and by the hour for local moves. If you plan to rent a truck or a portable container, volume matters more.

How can you reduce moving expenses?

You can reduce moving expenses by doing the following:

  • Moving mid-week and mid-month
  • Moving during the off-season (late September to April)
  • Booking at least two months in advance
  • Asking local businesses for free cardboard boxes
  • Using household linens to replace bubble wrap

Our Rating Methodology

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, trailer and container options, additional benefits, and reputation to arrive at a final score out of 100.

To share feedback or ask a question about this article, send a note to our Reviews Team at reviews@thisoldhousereviews.com.