How to move across the country for cheap
December 22, 2022 11 min read
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 the country, or even the cheapest way to move out of state, there are several ways to save. Here are 17 tips to help you lower your moving costs and make your cross-country adventure a little more stress free.
- The average cross-country move costs between $4,000 and $8,000.
- Moving companies may charge extra fees for storage services or handling specialty items.
- Shopping around for the best rate and creating a budget ahead of time could help save money on a cross-country move.
How much does it cost to move across the country?
Moving to a new place can be exciting, but it can also be expensive. And if you’re gearing up for a long-distance relocation, there are even more expenses you may want to consider.
The price tag for a cross-country move could range from $4,000 to $8,000 or more. But exact relocation costs may depend on the number and size of items that need to be moved.
For instance, moving furniture from a one-bedroom apartment may only cost around $1,500. But someone with a fully furnished three-bedroom home could expect to pay more.
Factors that increase the cost of moving cross-country
Trying to estimate your costs ahead of time could help you avoid sticker shock come moving day. While each moving company might have a different price structure, there are some common factors that could increase the cost of moving cross-country, such as:
Size of the move
Moving companies typically base their prices on home size and the number of boxes and movers that a relocation requires. To help cut costs, consider decluttering your space and donating unwanted items before setting a moving date.
Whether you’re paying a cross-country moving company or driving a rental truck yourself, labor and fuel costs can add up quickly. Multiday trips may also require money for hotels and food, so don’t forget to include them in your moving budget.
Keep in mind that companies may also charge extra fees for handling specialty items—like a piano. It could be more cost-effective to sell large items, such as a hot tub or patio furniture, before your moving date. You could then replace the items once the move is complete.
If you’re renovating a home or relocating on short notice, you may need to store some of your belongings for a while. In this case, it’s helpful to shop around for the best rates on self-storage options. Just be aware that unit size and special features, like climate-controlled facilities, may affect pricing.
Additional moving services
Hiring a team to manage certain parts of a move—like loading and unloading boxes—can make relocating less of a hassle. But some companies may charge additional fees for long-distance moves, furniture reassembly and more.
Customers typically aren’t required to tip movers, but a company may include an automatic gratuity in their price. That’s why it’s a good idea to contact the moving company to learn about their policies or suggestions.
Moving is hard work, so even if tips aren’t required, movers may appreciate the gesture. There’s no industry standard for tipping movers. But as a general rule, you might plan to spend $4 to $5 per mover per hour. For instance, if two workers helped with a 6-hour move, it may be wise to budget $48 to $60 for the tip.
How to move cross-country for cheap: 17 ways to cut costs
A cross-country move requires a lot of planning and organization. It may also require a considerable amount of money. From packing tape and boxes to van rentals and gas, there are a lot of expenses that can add up quickly.
Thankfully, starting over in a new state doesn’t have to break the bank. Before you start packing, consider how these thrifty tips could help you cut some moving costs.
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. Think about your needs, do some research and make a budget to help minimize financial stress.
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.
Why pay to move something you don’t want to keep? A long-distance move is the perfect opportunity to declutter and reevaluate 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 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. A garage sale could help you offload unwanted items. You could also check local classifieds, social media platforms and online auction sites to see if there’s demand for unwanted items. If there is, you may be able to sell them and offset your moving costs.
- Donate it: If you don’t want it and can’t sell it, why not give it away? As a 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 moving supplies
Moving boxes and packing materials 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.
5. Look for discounted moving services
Moving companies may offer discounts, like those for teachers or military families. It could be a good idea to see if there’s a new customer special, too. After all, it never hurts to ask. And if they do offer a discount, you might save some money.
6. 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? Do they offer flat rates or will customers have to pay by the hour? If so, moving companies that charge a single flat rate may be a better option, depending on your needs.
7. Rent your own truck
Another option is to rent a truck or trailer yourself. You might decide this is the cheapest way to move across the country, 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. This chart may help you estimate the right truck size for your move.
Studio or 1 bedroom
Cargo van or 10-foot truck
1 to 2 bedrooms
2 to 3 bedrooms
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.
8. Take a hybrid approach
A do-it-yourself move could offer some cost-saving benefits. But if you need a little help with the heavy lifting, you might want to consider a hybrid approach.
With a cross-country move, it could take several hours or days to reach your new location. If a moving company charges per day or per mile, the costs could add up quickly. But with a hybrid approach, you could choose which parts of the move you want to handle yourself. It also lets you delegate more difficult tasks to professionals.
For example, it may be cost-effective to pack up items by yourself and hire someone to load heavy boxes or furniture. You might decide to rent your own moving truck and hire a company to unload the items once you reach your destination.
9. Use a moving container
A moving container—or moving pod—could help you customize your cross-country move. Moving pod companies let customers select their container size and schedule delivery.
Once the pod is packed, the company will pick it up and transport the pod to the customer’s new address. Using this cross-country moving strategy could help cut labor costs and reduce travel expenses.
10. See who else can help
There’s always 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 the cost of 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. Think about your moving date
The timing of your move may depend on factors like 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—like icy road conditions—could be reason enough to reconsider when you move.
On the other hand, some movers may charge more on weekends and during other peak times. If you can be flexible with your moving date, relocating during the off season could help cut costs.
12. Pack carefully—and know your rights
Items that are damaged during a move may need to be replaced, which can increase your moving expenses. Carefully wrapping delicate items and placing them away from items that could damage them may help.
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 could be helpful to review the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s consumer protection regulations. It’s helpful to understand the moving company’s responsibilities in the event that something gets damaged by movers.
13. 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.
14. 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.
Make a moving checklist of the items you want to move yourself—like breakables or family heirlooms. Plan to pack these items in your own car if you’re driving to your new destination. 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.
15. 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.
16. 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 to save money and time by avoiding roadside diners. Even simple snacks can help tide you over until you reach your destination. Need some budget-friendly food ideas for the road? You could research some cheap meals for your travels.
17. Negotiate a relocation package
If you’re moving for a job, you could see if your new company will cover the moving costs. You may need to do some homework first and discuss relocation options when you negotiate your 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.
Moving across the country in a nutshell
Whether you’re going down the street or several states away, moving is always an adventure. Don’t let unexpected costs overshadow the excitement. Plan ahead and figure out your finances before you get started.
Wondering if a cross-country move is right for you? You can research the cheapest places to live in the U.S. to find your next budget-friendly destination.