There are few things in life more stressful and fraught with potential nightmares than moving. As the amount of stuff that must be packed and hauled expands, so do the hassle and the cost. Prices vary wildly, depending on when, where, how much, and how you want the move accomplished. The cost of moving a three-bedroom household from San Diego to Alexandria, Virginia, can easily top $10,000 in the fall and exceed $15,000 in the peak summer months. Asking the movers to do the packing can bump up those numbers by several thousand dollars. Ouch. Here are some ways to ease anxiety and save some money that you can use to get settled in.
TIME IT RIGHT
You can't always choose when to move, but if you have a choice, arrange to do so between October and April. Regardless of the month, aim for a date in the middle two weeks. The cost is always higher at the beginning and the end of a month because that's when most leases expire. Summer is peak season because school is over and families want to settle in before the next year begins.
CREATE A MOVING BUDGET
Surviving a move starts with knowing how much you can reasonably spend. Calculate a preliminary moving budget by considering every expense you can imagine to ensure as few surprises as possible. If the potential cost of the move is more than you can comfortably spend, it's time to think of ways to supplement your funds.
WEIGH TIME VS. MONEY
The amount of moving-related work you're willing and able to take on often depends on how much time is available before moving day, as well as the size of your moving budget. While renters may have a few weeks to pack up the household, the timing is more leisurely for buyers because several months typically elapse between contract signing and final closing. Anyone holding a fulltime job with a looming deadline might want to pay the movers to pack at least some belongings. Figure on an hourly rate between $25 and $75. A partial packing job could add as little as $500 or as much as $2,000, depending on what you want packed and how far it's going; having the movers pack everything could double the final price under some circumstances, according to Moving.com, a resource for moving services, information, and advice.
ASK AN EMPLOYER TO HELP
In many industries, employers are willing to hire candidates from out of state and help cover moving expenses. The answer might be "No," but it probably can't hurt to ask for a relocation allowance.
REDUCE AND RECYCLE
Before deciding whether to do it all yourself or rely on the pros, get rid of anything you won't need in the new digs. This tactic can save you big time. Donate or discard whatever will need replacing in a year or two. Anything you haven't used in a long time — or forgot you had — send it out the door. The kids will want to hold onto every single Barbie shoe and Lego block, so a bit of creative parenting will be necessary to help them see the value of minimalism. Purge what you can and host a garage sale for the remainders, and put the proceeds toward moving expenses.
Get at least three estimates from reputable moving companies. Most post an inventory list on their websites for you to fill out that helps them arrive at a ball-park figure. They then will send someone to your home to look over the items you plan to move. The representative will help you figure out how many boxes you'll need and which packing materials, and will inquire whether you want the movers to pack anything. It's perfectly acceptable to say, "I want you to pack anything I haven't gotten to," and that will be factored into the formal estimate. Local moving companies generally are cheaper than national companies, but if you're moving cross country, a national firm is the way to go.
DON'T GET RIPPED OFF
Don't pick the first or cheapest moving company you find — avoid scammers by researching first to make sure a company is reputable. Ask friends for recommendations, and consult the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to search for registered movers and tips on how to spot a con artist. Red flags include companies that provide estimates without seeing the home, and asking for pay upfront.
WATCH FOR HIDDEN MOVING FEES
If you're moving a three-bedroom home you definitely don't want to rent a truck and do it yourself. (If you insist, you'll need a 24-foot U-Haul, which can cost about $40 a day and 79 cents a mile. Prices vary by location.) Hiring professional movers is more expensive but smarter for anything beyond graduate-student living quarters. Professional movers will arrive on time with the proper number of workers and the right-sized truck. They come with the necessary padding and shrink wrap, the tools and the pallets. They are insured, and they insure your stuff (for a fee). You don't have to feed them or buy them beer, although offering chilled bottles of water on both ends is a thoughtful touch.
DO SOME OF THE WORK YOURSELF
If you do some of the packing yourself, that’s just that much less the movers will have to do, and just that much more you won’t have to pay. Their time is your money.
LOAD UP ON PACKING SUPPLIES
Packing boxes are easy to find: Supermarkets, big-box retailers, liquor stores, and drug stores usually have empty boxes that they otherwise pay to have hauled away. Also look for boxes at your place of employment and at U-Haul locations (some set out bins where customers can recycle boxes). Make sure the boxes are in good condition, with tops that close. Use old newspapers as stuffing and wrapping and buy several rolls of packing tape. Ask the movers to bring wardrobe boxes for clothing because you won't find them elsewhere. Craigslist and Freecycle are good sources for moving supplies. Alternatively, turn to the web where Uline sells packing kits with boxes, tape, knives, markers, and cushioning for different size moves; a small-home kit costs $216 and the deluxe version goes for $439.
USE YOUR BELONGINGS AS PACKING SUPPLIES
Saving space saves money on transport, whether it's a DIY or professional move. Using items you're moving anyway as packing supplies saves even more. Instead of folding clothes, roll them and use them to cushion fragile items inside boxes or luggage. Put heavy items, such as books, inside rolling suitcases. Use the drawers in lightweight dressers and cabinets as built-in boxes for light stuff; they'll be secured shut. Laundry hampers, baskets, and trash cans all double as packing containers. And use soft goods, such as clothing, bedding, and towels, instead of bubble wrap or packing peanuts to wrap breakables such as dishware, flower vases, and framed photos or artwork.
The things you use least should be packed first, and those used every day saved for last. Items that belong together should be packed together; e.g., a computer and all its wires, track pad, keyboard, etc. Put books and other heavy items in smaller boxes; reserve larger boxes for the lightest things, including blankets, pillows, linens, towels, and clothing (dresser drawers should be empty). You may want the movers to box up fragile items, such as flat screen TVs and lamps, because they can do a better job. Pack dishes vertically, not stacked, with plenty of bunched-up newspaper or towels at the bottom of the box. If you're unsure about the best way to pack, ask the mover or check the website of a national moving company such as Mayflower or United Van Lines.
ORGANIZE THE LABELING
Label the boxes based on where they are going, not where they came from. For example, if the new place has two children's rooms rather than one, as in the old home, label boxes "Kid1" and "Kid2." Fill several boxes with things you will need right away — for example, coffee pot, coffee, and mug; sheets, pillows and blankets; the pet's food and water bowls.
DESIGNATE LOADING AND UNLOADING AREAS
Living in chaos is one of the more stressful aspects of moving. Designate one room as the loading area, and pack boxes there. As you get closer to moving day, more rooms will fill with boxes, but keep as much livable space as possible. Although movers will unload boxes and furniture to wherever they belong, set up an unloading spot for miscellaneous items. Decide in advance which area in the new home to clear of boxes first so at least some space will be uncluttered.
CONSIDERING MAILING BOOKS
PLY PALS WITH FRIENDSHIP AND FOOD
For a relatively short move within the same city, rope friends with trucks and SUVs into helping for a price as low as friendship, takeout food, and beer. Of course, be prepared to return the favor when friends ask for help with their own moves.
PACK AN ESSENTIALS BAG
Avoid extra trips to the store by packing an essentials bags of toiletries, clothes, utensils, cleaning supplies, and other items needed as you leave one place and acclimate to the next. This way, you won't have to run to the corner store for things you already have, and you won't have to rummage through boxes for single items.
PLAN AHEAD WHEN FOOD SHOPPING
About two weeks before moving, make your last grocery-store haul. Don't invest in heavy, long-lasting goods such as baking supplies or economy-size bags of rice and beans. Figure out what you can reasonably consume, what you can take with you, and what you can't. You'll probably want to move lightweight, non-perishable items such as boxed pasta and expensive items such as spices. It's generally not worth moving canned goods, and perishable and frozen foods should always be chucked or donated, unless you're moving a very short distance or planning to live off the foodstuffs while transiting from the old to new locale. As it happens, there are regulations that may pertain: When moving across some state lines — California, for example — fresh produce may be seized by inspectors.
TAKE STUFF WITH YOU
Take anything that's valuable or might be damaged easily with you in the car. This includes heirlooms, jewelry, houseplants, and the child's favorite stuffed animal. No sense adding to the anxiety.
BE FRUGAL ON THE ROAD
Part of holding the line on the moving budget involves keeping costs down while moving yourself. If you're driving, pack snacks and drinks to avoid costly roadside stops. Save on fuel with apps such as GasBuddy, which let you compare prices and plan stops, and try to avoid filling up in small towns, where prices are usually higher. Keep the gas cap tightly secured, pack the vehicle as lightly as possible, and check tire pressure regularly to improve fuel efficiency. Look into buying a discounted gas gift card from Gift Card Granny; or use one of the better rewards credit cards and get cash back on gas purchases. When lodging overnight, call in a favor from someone you know along the way, stalk sites such as Expedia and Priceline for the cheapest motels, check out camping grounds or hostels, or try Airbnb or Couchsurfing for low-price accommodations — and use that rewards card to pay any bills.
CLAIM TAX SAVINGS
If you are a member of the military, you may qualify for an "adjustment" to your income at tax time. Talk to a tax professional to see if the move meets IRS criteria and how much you might save on taxes.