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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

5 Tips for Moving Cross-Country on a Budget

Alisha McDarris
Photo by Loco Steve | CC BY-SA 2.0

Moving is never easy. And it's seldom cheap. Especially when you're crossing state lines. But we've done it (twice) and there's certainly info to offer and money to save if you're making a leap across the country. Ya know, for good this time. Here are 5 tips and considerations to make your move easier and hopefully save you some cash.

1. Enlist Friends and Family

If they are willing, of course. (And willingness can certainly depend on the final destination.) My parents were more than willing the first time we moved from Ohio to South Florida. First of all, who doesn't want an excuse to visit the beach? Second, my dad's sister lived there, so there were multiple reasons to visit. In any case, my dad offered to rent a trailer for all of our stuff and drove down with us in our piece of crap Cavalier that, honestly, I was surprised made the trip without any incidents. If you have friends or family who love you enough and have the time and means to help out, rejoice!


2. Research ALL your Options

And I do mean all of them, even if they seem ridiculous. Consider hiring a service, renting a truck, a trailer, a big SUV, paying friends, shipping your crap, ride sharing, trailer sharing, you name it. Don't discount it as an option until you've compared the cost. When we moved from Florida we compared all the nearby trailer rental companies, looked into various programs for sharing a truck rental, thought about paying friends to drive with us, whether we could rent a big Ford F150 and drive our Prius seperately, and shipping all our junk. Shipping turned out to be the best option for us since we were only moving with the essentials.

3. Decide what will Stay and what will Go

You can take it all with you, but do you need to? It might be cheaper and easier to sell the big ticket items (couch, bed, dressers...) before you go and then buy new or used ones (presumably close to the selling price of your old stuff) when you arrive. Same goes with clothing and accessories; if you haven't used it in the last six months, get rid of it. If there's an Ikea near your new address or a solid Craigslist community, even better.


4. Have a Garage Sale

Seriously, have a garage sale. I don't care if you hate them and they're a hassle, you need to have one because as you start packing you will immediately realize the atrocious amount of crap you've accumulated. Take stock of what you have, what you can sell (small and large items alike), and put it in your front yard with a price tag. It's a relatively easy way to unload a lot of stuff and make a few buck in the process. We sold over $200 worth of stuff at two we hosted pre-move. If you don't think you have enough for a garage sale, ask friends if they want to contribute. Oh, and whatever is left at the end, take it straight to Goodwill or another thrift store and make sure to get a receipt. That crap is a tax write-off. You can sell stuff that's worth more on ebay or Craigslist to get a better price.


5. Start Early

There are multiple reasons for this one. First, if you wait until the last minute (which could be up to a month before your move), you could be adding a significant amount of stress to your already full plate. Second, you're less likely to get a good price (or anything at all) on items you hope to sell if you're insisting it has to go this weekend. We should have gotten between $350-$400 for our bedroom set when we left Florida, but because we were worried about losing our bed too soon, we had to let it go for $250 because we ran out of time. Stay with friends the last couple nights if you need to. Third, some things take time. The trailer you want to rent might be unavailable and you'll have to spend more on a bigger one or at a nearby competitor. If you're shipping boxes the cheapest rate might not arrive for a week after you do. Forth, it saves precious minutes and hours during crunch time so you're not frantically shoving things into random boxes and tossing them in the back of a truck the morning you're supposed to be leaving.

Here's what we did:

Our first cross-country move was from Ohio to South Florida. It was a two-day trip and, thankfully, my parents offered to help. Probably because we were the first children to leave the state. Also because they love us that much. My dad rented a trailer from a local place and we loaded pretty much all of our stuff into it. We sold and gave away a few things that we knew wouldn't fit into our new place (an extra couch and table, fire pit, lots of knick-knacs and decorations, inexpensive furniture that we wanted to replace anyway), but for the most part brought it all with us, including a few unassembled Ikea products that stored flat and we would need when we arrived.

We didn't do a very good job of packing and getting rid of things, though. We waited too long to pack a lot of stuff and go through the basement and the attic. As a result we were still packing boxes and setting crap aside for Goodwill the day we were supposed to be loading the trailer. For the record, the people helping you move hate that. But we got it done and hit the road the next morning.

As a side note, if you are renting a trailer, make sure to keep important things, like documents pertaining to your new apartment and bank account info, etc., in an accessible spot so you don't have to burrow 10 feet into the trailer to dig out that contract that's "in here somewhere."

This move was easier because we had a lot of help and only had to pay for the gas to get down there. However, once we arrived our apartment wasn't ready (for five days...I wanted to punch the management every time I walked in) and we had to sit around in my grandparents' empty house that they had just bought. We were glad to have it so we didn't have to pay for a hotel room, but that's not always the case. If it happens to you, try the emergency search on couchsurfing.com for a nice person to put you up for a few days. They might even be able to help orient you in your new town.

Our second cross-country move was a bit more complicated because we weren't just going from point A to point B. From Florida we were headed to summer jobs in Massachusetts, then on a road trip out west with our final destination being Austin, TX (we figured). But we weren't positive about that yet and we certainly didn't know when we would arrive so there definitely wasn't an address we could rely on.

The only logical thing for us to do, we decided, was to sell pretty much everything we owned and ship the rest to our parents in Ohio to be stored in their basement. The necessities for the next couple months would go in the back of our Prius, which can actually hold quite a bit more than we imagined.

We decided to ship our stuff because we researched our options, did the math, and that was the cheapest thing to do. Plus, books, music and photos could be sent via media mail at USPS which is cheaper than regular post. The rest would go via FedEx because they were cheaper for large, heavy boxes, especially if you have a free FedEx account. We bought cheap boxes at Walmart, which the FedEx employee gave us an unnecessary amount of grief for, but they made it it one piece. Pretty banged up, but in one piece.

In all we spent under $1,000 to ship everything, which included some pretty big, heavy business equipment. But mostly is was books, photo albums, a few sentimental items like homemade quilts and personalized housewares, and memorabilia from trips and experiences, extra clothing that we wouldn't need for the summer and fall in warm climates, etc.

Then we loaded a couple suitcases full of summer clothes, important papers, snacks and the hope chest my dad made me for my high school graduation into the Prius and headed to Ohio to swap out some stuff (the hope chest, for example) and head on to Massachusetts where we spent the summer as camp photographer and videographer (best summer ever!).

After camp we passed back through Ohio to swap out a bit more and pick up a few things we would need to start a new life in a new place (backpacking gear, clothes, those important documents again, a few books, more snacks...). And we were off again. We took our time getting to Texas (read about our epic road trip HERE), but when we arrived, our friends who moved to Austin from Ohio three years ago opened their home to us (indefinitely). We made a tiny home for ourselves in their guest bedroom, but always knew we had the option of getting our own place elsewhere in case the ridiculously low rent they were charging ever wasn't a good enough reason to stay. There are always furnished apartments and extended stay hotels if you want to take your time looking for a place to call home.

Of course, we always know that our stuff is only a phone call and a trip to the post office away if we need it and trips home (and trips where home visits us) also provide an opportunity to assuage our lack of belongings or clothing. But honestly, you might be surprised at how little you truly need. We were.

So here's to moving to new places, blazing new trails, and not spending your entire savings to do it. Happy moving!


Alisha McDarris / Author & Editor

Alisha has been a writer and photographer forever. OK, maybe not forever, but at least for more of her 20-something years than she hasn’t been those things... [Read More]

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