How to Move Across Country Without Breaking the Bank

Moving across the country on a budget? Here are 14 tips to help you save

If a cross-country move is in your future, the process of planning and budgeting can be its own journey. And while moving—especially over long distances—can be expensive, it can pay to plan ahead.

If you’re looking for the cheapest way to move across country, or even the cheapest way to move out of state, there are several ways to save. Here are 14 tips to help you lower your moving costs and make your cross-country adventure a little more stress-free.

1. Make a budget

Did you know that the average interstate move can cost thousands of dollars? Don’t let the final bill catch you by surprise—consider your needs, do some research and make a budget.

Plan on using a moving company? Shop around to compare rates. Renting a moving truck? See what options are available, and be sure to factor in the cost of gasoline.

Depending on how far you’ll be traveling, you may also need to include things like food and hotel costs. Chances are you won’t have the exact numbers. But if you overestimate on your budget, you’ll give yourself a buffer to help deal with unexpected costs that might pop up.

2. Declutter

Why pay to move something you don’t want to keep? Moving is the perfect opportunity to declutter and re-evaluate your possessions. Getting rid of unwanted items can help lighten your moving load (and the costs that go along with it). As you go through everything and find objects you no longer need, consider these 3 options:

Sell It

You may not want something anymore, but that doesn’t make it worthless. In fact, to the right person, it might even be worth buying. Check local classifieds and online auction sites to see if there’s demand for your unwanted items. If there is, you may be able to sell them and offset your moving costs.

Mother and daughters folding clothes to donate.

Donate It

If you don’t want it and can’t sell it, why not give it away? As an added bonus, you may even be able to deduct the value of certain donated items on your tax return.

Toss It

Unable to sell or donate your unwanted items? Consider what items can be recycled—and make sure you’re disposing of electronics in the right way.

3. Find free boxes and other supplies

Moving boxes and packing supplies may not seem like a huge expense, but the costs can add up. So why buy these items when you can get them for free? If you need packing supplies, sometimes all you have to do is ask.

Call or visit local grocery stores and other retail businesses to see if they’ll give you some of their old boxes. Many businesses simply throw them out and will be more than happy to let you haul them away instead.

Want a cheaper alternative to packing paper? Try old newspapers, magazines and catalogs. Just be careful what you wrap in them, as the ink could leave stains on some items. Old sheets and towels can also be used as extra padding. But when dealing with fragile and precious items, you may want to consult with a shipping company or professional mover.

Finding cheap packing solutions can give your moving budget some breathing room—and you’ll also be cutting down on waste. It’s an option that’s as easy on the environment as it is on your wallet.

4. Consider shipping some items

There’s no rule that says you have to move everything all at once. If you do some research, you might discover that shipping larger or more difficult items may be more convenient than moving them yourself. 

Check out the U.S. Postal Service’s online postage price calculator. You can use this tool to get an idea of what it might cost to have something shipped to your new home. Just remember to factor in the cost of insurance if you’re shipping valuable items. Want more quotes? Shop around online and compare the Postal Service to private shippers.

You might discover that shipping larger or more difficult items may be more convenient than moving them yourself.

5. Shop around for full-service movers

If you decide to hire professional movers, make sure to find a company that meets all of your needs. And know that some services may cost extra. 

If you can, explore a few full-service moving companies, get estimates for their services, and ask about any additional expenses you might end up paying for. Do they charge additional fees for things like heavy items or carrying boxes up and down stairs? If so, moving companies that charge a single flat rate may be a better option, depending on your needs.

A man and woman unloading a box from a moving truck.

6. ...or rent your own truck

Another option is to rent a truck or trailer yourself. You might decide this is the cheapest way to move, or maybe it’s just more convenient. Whatever your reason, make sure to consider what size truck you’ll need, as the total cost of renting and gassing up a moving truck could vary based on its size.

One common way of selecting the right truck size is based on the number of rooms you’ll be moving: 

For an average studio or 1-bedroom apartment, a 10' truck might be sufficient. And a 14' truck can work for many 1- or 2-bedroom homes and apartments. Consider renting up to a 17' truck for 2 to 3 bedrooms, a 24' truck for 3 to 4 bedrooms, and a 26' truck for 4 or more bedrooms. If you need more space than that, you might want an additional truck. 

A word of caution: Not all bedrooms are the same size or contain the same amount of stuff. So if you’re not sure what size truck you need, ask the rental company for advice. Sharing a list of your larger items may help them recommend the best fit.

7. Pack carefully (and know your rights)

Items that get damaged while being packed or moved may need to be replaced—and that’ll add to your overall moving expenses. So make sure to wrap delicate items carefully, and avoid placing them with, or next to, items that could scratch or damage them.

If you’re using a moving company, find out whether the mover is liable for the value of the goods they’re transporting for you. It also may be helpful to familiarize yourself with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s consumer protection regulations. These regulations outline your legal rights in the event that something gets damaged by movers.

8. Think about your moving date

The timing of your move may depend on work or school schedules. But if you have the option, consider planning your move around specific times of the year. Gas prices are sometimes higher in the summer, and weather concerns and dangerous road conditions could be reasons enough to avoid a winter move. On the other hand, some movers may charge more on weekends and during other peak times.

Gas prices are sometimes higher in the summer, and weather concerns and dangerous road conditions could be reasons enough to avoid a winter move.

9. Negotiate a relocation package

If you’re moving for a job, see if your new company will cover your moving costs. You may need to do some homework first, and plan to negotiate a relocation package when you’re finalizing salary and benefits.

If you know people who work for the company, you could start by asking whether the company sometimes provides relocation assistance. After a conversation or two, you may be able to learn what kind of help you should be asking for. And if you’ve already accepted your role, you could always ask HR whether the company has an established relocation policy.

Two men carrying a large box from a car.

10. See who else can help

There’s also the possibility that you have people around you who would be willing to help you pack and move—either for free or at a small cost.

Friends and family are the most logical options. But you can branch out and ask others, too. Are there teenagers in your neighborhood interested in earning a little extra cash? You might find that paying them is cheaper than hiring a moving company. Just be warned: If you go this route, the cost of replacing lost or damaged items will most likely fall to you.

11. Don’t forget personal travel costs

Hiring a full-service moving company instead of renting a truck? That takes care of your possessions, but what about you? How will you and your family get to your new home?

Personal travel costs are another expense you’ll want to consider. If you’re driving, factor in the cost of gas. If it’s a multiday trip, don’t forget expenses like hotels and food. And if you’re traveling with family or pets who need special accommodations, add that as a line item to your budget as well.

12. Transport some key items with you

Worried about handing over important possessions to moving or shipping companies? Keeping prized, expensive or irreplaceable items by your side while you travel is one alternative. If you’re driving your own car, make a list of items you want to keep with you, and plan accordingly while you pack. If you’re flying, smaller items may be able to fit in your checked luggage or even in a carry-on. Just be aware of any baggage fees.

A woman planning a route on her laptop.

13. Plan your most efficient route

Generally speaking, there are a lot of paths you can take to get from point A to point B. If you’re driving, plan your route online before you leave. Some online maps can give you an idea of what your chosen route looks like down to the minute—including any construction or road closures you might encounter. You can even check gas prices online in areas you’ll be passing through.

For air travelers, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Consumer Guide to Air Travel provides a number of tips to help you save money on fares and other air-travel expenses.

Want more ideas on cutting your travel costs? Check out these 10 ways to travel for less.

14. Bring your own food

There are some costs you can avoid when moving, but food isn’t one of them. Everybody’s got to eat, right? That said, the cost of skipping from restaurant to restaurant will start to add up, especially if you’re traveling with more than one person. So, why not pack some moving-day meals?

Bring food with you and save money and time by avoiding roadside diners. Even simple snacks can help tide you over until you reach your destination.

A mother and daughter take a selfie in their new home while unpacking.

Don’t Forget to Have Fun

No matter where you’re going or how you choose to get there, moving is always an adventure. Don’t let unexpected costs overshadow the excitement. Plan ahead and figure out your finances before you get started. And perhaps most importantly, don’t forget to have fun.

Happy trails!

We hope you found this helpful. Our content is not intended to provide legal, investment or financial advice or to indicate that a particular Capital One product or service is available or right for you. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, consider talking with a qualified professional.

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