10 Ways to Save on a Long-Distance Move


Our family launched this summer by packing up our three kids and two cats and relocating from Chicago to the San Francisco Bay Area. Every step of the way, we strove to guard our limited financial and temporal resources without overtaxing our stamina. We saved money on our move, but we could have saved more. Here are the lessons we learned. (See also: 9 Ways to Save on a Move)

1. Consider Hiring a Driver Directly

Did you know that moving companies typically subcontract long-distance jobs to drivers, who in turn hire their own moving crew? You can save a chunk of the usual moving cost if you can directly hire a driver who has his (or her) own truck. You won't have the customer service agent from the moving company office, and your driver may not offer to insure your belongings like the moving company would, but you should save money.

How to find a qualified driver? Check Yelp and Craigslist, and ask around. We hired our driver through a big company, but now that we have his contact information and since we liked working with him, if we or friends ever have to make a long-distance move again, we could just call him directly.

2. Drive Yourself

With three kids and two cats to transport — plus all their stuff — we couldn't pull off driving a huge moving truck across the country. But lots of people do it. Choose a company that rents trucks for one-way trips, such as Penske, and make sure you take into consideration the time lost from your regular job while working as a temporary truck driver. If you have to use four vacation days, how much are those worth to you? Or if you are moving to take a new job and self-moving delays your start date, take that into account too.

If you go this route, check out Meg's post, What to Know When Renting a Moving Truck.

3. Get Free Moving Boxes

People always say you should collect cardboard boxes from stores, but personally I prefer to use boxes designed for moving. And they can usually be acquired for free. We got our boxes at no extra charge by stopping by the office of the moving company we were using — new boxes cost money, but used boxes were free to customers. You can also pick up free moving boxes from people who have just moved. Just post on your local Freecycle group or Craigslist.

4. Get Rid of Stuff

Between our movers' first estimate and our final weigh-in, we cut a whopping $1,000 off the price of our move. How did we do this? By driving six carloads of stuff to the thrift store and Freecycling and selling a bunch of other items.

We could have saved time and even more money if we had arranged for the thrift store to pick our things up from our house. Our biggest blunder in this area was our couch. Because it was a decent couch and I held out hope of selling it at the last minute on Craigslist, I failed to arrange a thrift store pickup. We ended up putting the couch in the alley, and then scrap metal collectors tore it apart and our town's large-object pickup trash service failed to pick it up, so we ended up having to pay a junk collector to haul it away. Sad. But we still came out ahead in the end.

Also see my post on getting rid of junk frugally.

5. But Don't Get Rid of Too Much Stuff

You really need to know how much, per pound, your movers are charging you. A good mover can help you estimate how much any given item would cost to move. For instance, we thought of getting rid of our chest freezer because of its size, but the mover helped us figure out that it would cost more to buy a new one than it would to move it.

I probably made the right decision by abandoning bottles of laundry detergent and window cleaner back in Illinois, but now that I am in California and haven't found any good deals to stock up on that stuff, I kind of wonder if I shouldn't have brought my stash.

6. If You Need Help Packing, Hire Amateurs

We were lucky enough to get help packing from friends and relatives. But in retrospect, I would have hired more help because by moving day we were not finished. Things were chaotic, and because I was still packing instead of supervising the move, lots of stuff got put on the truck that was supposed to be left behind. (Like my bag of clothes to wear on the road trip and a kid's bike I had already sold on Craigslist. Oops! I had to email the buyer with a quick apology.)

I should have tapped local teenagers or our babysitter, all of whom charge more modest hourly rates than professional movers. It doesn't take a pro to box non-breakable things, like clothing.

7. Don't Make It More Work Than It Has to Be

Time = money, especially if you have to hire help. Ask your movers if you can move dressers with the clothes in them. Pack the clothes from your closet still on the hangers. You'll thank yourself when you reach your destination and can quickly rehang all those clothes in your new closet. Label your moving boxes on the side. When the movers stack them up in your new house, you won't know what the heck is in them if you label the tops only.

For more tips on planning the packing, see Pack Up Your House: Tips for Saving Money (and Sanity) on a Move.

8. Ask: Is It Really Worth It to Move Your Car?

If you are not driving yourself to your destination, you can ship your car across the country for around $1,000, according to ShipAnyCar.com. But should you? That depends on how long you foresee keeping said vehicle once you arrive.

Because our family had pretty much outgrown our 13-year-old car, we opted to sell it before moving.

You can also pay someone else to drive your car to your destination, or look for someone who is willing to drive it for free, but I would be leery of that. For one thing, you'll need to add up the cost of the wear and tear to your car and the gas. You'll have to make sure that your insurance or the driver's insurance will cover the car. It seems to me if you don't want to drive it to transport your family, shipping it would be a better deal.

9. Pick the Right Way to Move Yourself

If we had only considered the cost to get from point A to point B, we probably would have flown our family from Chicago to California. Airfare would have been about $1,700 for five people and two cats.

However, we decided that we wanted to grab this opportunity for a grand family road trip vacation. After all, it was going to take some time for our stuff to get to our new home — we had the movers come just before a holiday weekend, and it was more than a week before they dropped it at our new house. We rented a minivan for a month — $1,400 — which gave us the advantage of having a vehicle for shopping trips to furnish our new home in the first few weeks. (We didn't end up buying a new car right away.) Our gas, hotel stays, and campsites were reimbursed by the company relocation package. And along the way, we took in the Laura Ingalls childhood home site in Walnut Grove, Minnesota; the Ingalls Homestead in De Smet, South Dakota; Badlands National Park; and Yellowstone National Park.

The agony of moving day faded from our memories day by day, as we heard the kids ooh and ah over a mud volcano at Yellowstone and watched them ride a pony across the Western prairie just like Laura Ingalls did.

Did driving cost less than flying? Nope. Was it worth it? In this case, definitely!

10. If You Are Moving for Work, Find Out Which Parts of Your Move Are Tax Deductible

Homan Moving Systems has some quick tips about this, but you really need to consult an accountant. Whether or not you are being reimbursed for relocation expenses, you are going to want to keep your receipts from all your moving bills, transportation, hotel stays, and meals, because some moving expenses are tax deductible. But not all moving expenses are treated equally under tax law. For instance, we learned that our corporate relocation funds could be put toward the closing costs of the new home we bought — but if we used it for this purpose, it would be taxable. So we made sure to claim every expense from the trip before taking a disbursement for closing costs.

This is not tax advice, because I'm no expert. Talk to an accountant or consult the moving expenses section of IRS.gov.

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Andrea Karim's picture

Hope you are enjoying San Francisco! It's one of my favorite areas in the world, despite the fog.

Carrie Kirby's picture

Come visit! We haz guest room.

Meg Favreau's picture

I'd like to echo #5. While I mostly feel good about what I purged before moving across the country, when I realized how much extra room I had in my U-Haul, I regretted giving away some perfectly good things only to have to buy them again out here.

Carrie Kirby's picture

Yeah. I miss my old dish drying rack, it was much nicer than the one I bought here.

Guest's picture

We always move ourselves. We have never paid a moving company. We get boxes from the grocery store and we save our newspapers and other wrapping materials. I like to pack breakables in plastic totes. The totes don't collapse and I know my breakables are usually safe in the totes. Also, if possible, move on a weekend. Moving trucks are much cheaper on weekdays.

Guest's picture

I move every three years because my husband is in the military. I can tell you that one way that I've found to save money is to go to a grocery store or WalMart late night to ask if you can have their empty boxes. They end up crushing them anyway, so they don't usually mind handing some over. Never buy stuff from moving companies - it's just too expensive. Thanks!

Guest's picture

If you have a whole household to move, instead of hiring a moving company which quoted me $11,000 to go from coast to coast, I hired ABF Trucking. With ABF, an empty trailer is dropped off at your house. You pack and load everything yourself, lock the trailer, then call for the driver to pick up the trailer. At your new destination, the driver leaves the packed trailer at your new place. You unload the trailer yourself. Instead of $11,000, I paid $3,000. It's a great way to move, if you're strong enough to load and unload your stuff.

Guest's picture
Hen Segal

Thanks for sharing these tips! I am sure they will really helpful!

Guest's picture

About #8, I disagree with this if you have a pick up or SUV with a trailer hitch and a car. Presently for less than $55 you can buy a towing accessory to tow your vehicle https://smile.amazon.com/Hiltex%C2%AE-20046-Adjustable-Safety-Chains/dp/... and the benefit there is that you can also load belongings that you want to move as well into the unoccupied vehicle, keeping in mind weight limits of course. You can always go and get your vehicle weighed, once it's loaded, to make sure it's within the right weight limit.

Guest's picture
Derek Shaw

Rather than reconsidering movers or doing the pod thing - it's far better to go with a reputable national moving company, such as Mayflower or United Van Lines.

And remember that if you pack yourself, you're solely responsible for any breakage - but if they pack, their insurance (yes, go for the added insurance) covers you.

As far as driving vs. shipping the car - You've got to move the car anyway so why not drive it? Just allow yourself enough time, overnight reststops and some sightseeing along the way and call it a "Roadtrip" - plus the fact you can load up the car with the immediate needs for the new place: bedding, coffeepot, etc. and you can accommodate your pets better than traveling by air.

However if you must fly and ship the car rather than drive - Don't leave a single thing in the car: When my folks shipped their car back from Europe, the jack and spare tire were stolen out of the trunk!

Also - dismissing a company that requires a deposit: That's Penny-wise, Pound Foolish!!! The most reputable companies require deposits up front as the trucks equipped for such moves require booking well in advance - You're more likely to get a fly-by-night mover if you choose someone who has space available at the last minute.

Guest's picture

I'm moving next year most likely to Idaho from Pennsylvania after the winter with my little girl who's 2 years old (she will be almost 3 years old by the time we go to move) and my 2 cats. I have started to look up ways to make the move easier and move our stuff and trying to save on the move so that's how I found this site via google. Thank you for this article. I have thought of a uhaul truck as I could just pack everything we have in their smallest truck but not sure if a almost 3 year old would be safe in a Uhaul truck or not. I also thought maybe shipping the stuff somehow and my little girl, 2 cats and us fly but not sure yet as I just started to think about this a few weeks ago.

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