Home > Moving > Guide To Moving on a Small Budget

Guide To Moving on a Small Budget

Updated Nov 4, 2022

Updated Nov 4, 2022

Home > Moving > Guide To Moving on a Small Budget

From hidden fees to packing materials, PODs, and hauling services, moving expenses can come with hefty price tags. Even for the most humble of DIY moves, the slow and subtle costs can gradually build up and, by the end, make a severe dent in your bank account. Worse yet, moves can come about unexpectedly, forcing you to make snap decisions that can result in you paying an exorbitant amount. To help, we created this guide to moving on a budget, and by following some of these tips, you can save tons of cash on your next move. 

Start by Getting Organized With an Inventory 

The adage “failing to plan is planning to fail” applies significantly to the moving process. First-time movers often underestimate how complicated (and expensive) even a simple, local move can be. Because of the complexity of relocating, you should always give yourself plenty of time to get everything in order before you even begin to think about calling a moving company. The best first place to save money is to create a comprehensive home inventory

A moving inventory is a comprehensive list of every household item. These inventories are necessary for a lot of reasons, but for saving money for a move, they accomplish a couple of things: 

  • Allows you to get an accurate idea of how much you own: Most homeowners drastically underestimate how much stuff they accumulate over time. When moving, it is easy to underestimate the amount of moving supplies you need. 
  • It will help in pricing the cost of moving services: If you decide to go with a moving company, it will charge you based on factors such as cargo weight and truck space. Knowing how much cargo needs hauling will better allow you to estimate moving service costs.
  • It helps with insurance claims: If you hire a mover and they mishandle your possessions, you may be entitled to a reimbursement. These claims require proof that the item was not already damaged beforehand, which a good inventory will help you accomplish. 

Creating a moving inventory is simple but time-consuming. All you have to do is catalog the contents of each room of your house. Organize your valuables into categories, like “furniture,” “jewelry,” and “electronics.” Then include information about these items, including cost at purchase, condition, current estimated cost, and how they were packed. 

Downsize, Donate, and Declutter 

The next step in moving on a tight budget is minimizing the number of unwanted items you need to haul to your new home. This process of downsizing is easiest done while or immediately after you create your home inventory. As you go through your possessions, note what you want to keep, what you could live without, what you don’t care about anymore, and what needs to be thrown away (such as broken items, trash, and clutter.) 

You need to be critical in this step, as cargo weight and the number of goods you have to haul are key factors in moving costs. Your amount of possessions increases the cost of both DIY moves and professional packers. Having too many items can also cost you even more later on if you need to rent a storage unit.

Take time, go through everything you own, and consider donating it, selling it at a garage sale, or even throwing it away. If you’re strapped for time and can’t make a trip to donation centers or recycling facilities, try calling them. Many of these organizations will come to your house and pick up donations or recycle goods for you. By donating, you can save extra cash through donations via tax deductions.

DIY Vs. Pro Movers

Now that you have taken some reasonable steps in reducing your move’s overhead cost, it’s time to decide if you want to hire a mover or do the move yourself. Ultimately, this question is a matter of ability and moving budget. Even if you consider gas mileage, time off work, truck rentals, and packing materials, DIY moves will always cost less than hiring professionals. However, some homeowners do not have the physical ability, or time, to handle every element of a move by themselves.  

When deciding how you want to go about moving, consider the following questions: 

  • Can you handle large amounts of physical exertion?: Packing and moving boxes is a tough job, and depending on the size of your home, you may be in for a lot of it. 
  • Can you lift heavy, bulky, or otherwise cumbersome items?: Couches are heavy, and not everyone can manage to lift and maneuver them. If you can’t, you can ask a friend or family member, but barring that, you may need the help of a pro. 
  • Do you have the time and energy to dedicate to packing and handling the logistics of the move?: Moving can be complicated and time-consuming. If you’re already busy at home and have little free time, you may need help handling all the moving elements. 
  • Do you have enough funds to cover a full move or select services?: This question will require you to get a reliable cost estimate and moving quote (we will cover this in a little bit). When you receive your quote, you will need to do some research and accounting to figure out the exact cost of your move. If you cannot afford the expense of a full-service move, you may want to consider only using select services offered by moving companies. These services include item hauling (for heavy furniture), packing, or hoisting (getting items out of difficult-to-maneuver locations).
  • Can you drive a moving truck?: Moving trucks are large and difficult to handle for the uninitiated, and managing a cross-country move can be daunting. Moving companies can handle the transportation of your possessions for you.

Overall, we always recommend trying to undertake a move yourself. It is the most cost-efficient and satisfying way to handle a relocation. If you cannot manage specific tasks, you can always hire movers to solve these problems.  

Plan Your Moving Date Early, and Move Off-Season

Carefully planning your move date is one of the most effective ways to cut costs. The vast majority of moves take place during the spring and summer months. This influx in moves is primarily due to school letting out and the pleasant weather. As a result, the moving industry charges premium prices during the warmer months, resulting in you paying as much as 30% more in June through August. 

If you want to avoid this uptick in cost, your best bet is to move in the off-season, which starts in September and lasts until early May. While it might be more logistically challenging and unpleasant to move in the fall, the amount of money you can save is well worth it. 

As a side note, many moving companies offer lower rates or special deals for homeowners who book their moves early. If you’re going to go with a professional moving company, be sure to call ahead of time and book your services before the current season.

Get Your Move Estimated, Several Times Over 

Your next step in having an economical move is getting an accurate cost estimate. Without a proper cost estimation, planning and managing your expenses is difficult. Unfortunately, obtaining a comprehensive, accurate estimate can be a real challenge. Most moving companies have different methods of quoting your move, and online calculators are, at best, rough estimations. This murky process leaves a homeowner in a precarious position, as they will only have a rough idea of the cost of their move until the final bill comes due. 

The solution to this problem is to get several quotes from both professional movers and online moving calculators. Understand that no single estimate will be 100% accurate, but by comparing multiple estimates, you can get a better idea of the actual cost of the move. You can also determine which company will offer you the best deal by shopping around and competitively comparing quotes. The nice thing about this strategy is that most professional moving companies offer free quotes, so you can get as many as you need at no cost.

Moving quotes will be less helpful for DIY moves, but they can still give you viable insights, primarily if you’re planning on using select services from moving companies. Each company’s services will be priced slightly differently, and some may be willing to offer you a deal. Furthermore, online moving cost calculators will help estimate specific costs like packing materials, gas prices, and truck rentals. These calculators, like real-life estimates, can vary from source to source, so we recommend using multiple calculators to get a more accurate average cost. 

Be Smart About Packing 

Packing supplies can be one of the major pricing points for both DIY moves and when using professional services. Packing materials can cost you quite a bit, especially for large homes and those with many fragile items. 

What follows are some of the most effective ways to cut the cost of packing materials. 

Don‘t Ever Pack Clothes

It may come as a surprise, but having a lot of clothing can actually reduce the cost of packing materials. Clothing makes for excellent packing material, especially those of thick, plush materials (like sweaters, blankets, and towels). As you sort and store your possessions, grab clothing you won’t be wearing for a while and use it as filling and wrapping material.

By doing this, you’re killing two birds with one stone – every piece of clothing you use is one less piece of bubble wrap you have to buy and one less piece of clothing you need to pack. 

Another tip for packing clothing is never to use boxes or plastic tubs for storage. These packing methods are costly and a waste of space. Instead, you can store your clothes inside trash bags. This way, your clothes are still wrapped in a waterproof container and are in a more moldable, compressible container. Trash bags are also much cheaper than boxes or plastic tubs. 

Don’t Buy Boxes if You Can Help It

The largest expense in packing materials is cardboard boxes, bar none. To mitigate this, you should try to get boxes on the cheap, or better yet, get ahold of some free boxes. Here are some of the best sources of free moving boxes you can take advantage of: 

  • Social network: Most people have some boxes lying around, so it’s worth asking your friends and family if you can take some of them off their hands. 
  • Liquor stores: Most liquor stores keep the spare boxes from their shipments sitting around for customers who make large purchases. If these boxes aren’t used, they have to be recycled anyway. You may be able to snag a few by speaking to the manager. 
  • Businesses: Like liquor stores, businesses with empty boxes have to break them down, compact them, and recycle them. If you shop around, you might be able to find a manager willing to give you some. 
  • Recycling center: One of your best bets is to stop by a local recycling center and speak to an attendant. The whole goal of these centers is to reuse these boxes anyway, so there is a good chance they’d be willing to let you have some. 

Turn Utilities Off Ahead of Time 

There’s nothing worse than paying for something you’re not using, which can happen with utilities after you move. If you don‘t get ahold of your utility companies and request a shutoff date, it may take some time for them to disconnect your gas, water, and electricity. Worse yet, you will still have to pay for these utilities even if you’re not in the house to use them. Make sure to plan your moving date ahead of time and let your utility companies know to shut everything off on that exact date.

Relocating, especially for long-distance moves, can be expensive. But your next move doesn’t have to, and if you plan accordingly and use some of these moving tips, you can save a lot of money in the long run. As a final thought, remember that seasonality affects just about everything regarding moving costs. This price hike also applies to moving truck rentals – while the baseline price typically remains the same, additional fees and service charges go up during peak season.

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