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The Cost of a Long Distance Move: DIY Moving

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My wife and I recently sold our home and relocated 350 miles away so we could be closer to her family. Moving out of state is a lot of work and takes a lot of planning to get right. But if you are prepared to do some of the work yourself and take the time to shop around, you can save a lot of money by doing it yourself.

The Cost of Moving Yourself

Each situation is different and depends on various factors, including how far you are moving, how much stuff you have (size and weight both matter), and other factors. I’ll share with you our recent experience, and how you can use some of our tips to help you save both time and money.

Cost breakdown for our move:

  • Boxes: Free
  • Packing materials: Tape, packing paper, foam, bubble wrap, etc. ($100, estimated)
  • Moving truck: 24′ Budget Rental Truck + Insurance ($410) + Fuel ($170)
  • Professional movers to load and unload the truck: $300 to load, $160 to unload.
  • Total cost: Approximately $1,150

A couple notes about these numbers: Roughly 40% of the cost was spent on hiring professional movers to help us load and unload the truck – but it was worth it! You can save more if you don’t hire someone to help load and unload your truck; more on this later in the article. We also drove our other vehicles, bought food on the road, and other miscellaneous expenses, which aren’t completely captured in this analysis. Here are more details of what we spent money on, and how you can save money moving yourself.

The Cost of Moving Boxes

We had several large boxes saved from previous moves, but it wasn’t enough to move our entire household goods. Thankfully we have a generous friend in the military who gave us their empty boxes since they wouldn’t be needing them again. The military pays for 100% of the Permanent Change of Station move when it is for military needs (read these tips for a smooth PCS if you are in the military).

Saving money on boxes. If you need boxes, then I recommend first asking friends and family of they have any. Many people have a few boxes laying around for situations such as these. You can also look on Craigslist – we found a few people giving away boxes. Unfortunately, we didn’t find anyone giving them away until after we had all the boxes we needed! Boxes go quickly, so check often. Moving is also seasonal, so you may have more luck finding them in the summer than in the winter. You can also find free boxes from department stores, grocery stores, and other locations. If you are hiring movers, ask them if they have any used boxes you can buy at a discount.

The Cost of Packing Materials

We packed almost everything with paper and only used bubble wrap and peanuts on a few fragile items. Paper is generally cheaper than the other packing materials, so use it whenever possible. The other thing we did was keep the original boxes for most of our electronics and kitchen appliances. These items are almost always better off in the original packing because they are designed to be shipped that way. This only works if you have a place in your home to store the empty boxes. We had an unfinished section in our basement which was perfect for storage, but it’s definitely not worth paying for short term storage just to hold the original boxes. Here are more tips for protecting your items when moving.

Saving money on packing materials. Unfortunately, packing materials are expensive, and most people don’t keep a lot of them lying around like they do boxes. Again, check with family and friends, Craigslist, and other places. Another tip I received from Nickel (@fcn on Twitter) was to ask local newspaper companies if they have any end rolls of paper which they would give away. Unfortunately, the newspaper companies in my area sell the end rolls to recycling companies, so they don’t give them away. But this may vary by location. If you know you will be moving, then be sure to keep any bubble wrap, Styrofoam peanuts, or other materials if you get them in packages you receive. Otherwise, be prepared to go shopping – and these materials can be expensive! I shopped around and the best prices for paper were at places like Sam’s Club, Costco, and moving companies. The worst places were places like Home Depot, Lowe’s, UPS Stores, FedEx Stores, etc. The latter places typically sell to people who only need one or two packages of packing materials. You will do better to buy in bulk.

The cost of Renting a Budget Rental Truck

We researched the major rental truck lines and decided on Budget Truck Rental, and we were happy with the decision. Their rates were by far the lowest of the 3 major truck lines for long distance moves: Budget, Penske, and U-Haul. The other benefit of using Budget was that the distance of the move gave of the truck for 3 days, with unlimited mileage. We picked up the truck at 8am Friday morning, and had until 8:02 am Monday morning to return it. We had everything in our home ready to go so we picked it up Friday morning, loaded it, and drove to our new home. Then we unloaded it on Saturday morning and returned it right away since we didn’t want to leave it outside our house and we didn’t have any other need for it.

What to look for when renting a moving truck. Be sure to compare the cost, how long you will have the truck, how many miles you are allowed, whether or not your insurance will cover it (probably not; most insurance companies limit the size of the vehicles they cover under your policy), and how much fuel you will need. Don’t underestimate fuel costs! Our Budget truck was a diesel engine and huge – it got between 6-7 mpg on the trip, which adds up quickly! (note the $170 fuel bill!). We bought the insurance with the $0 deductible through Budget, which cost us $60. It was only a few dollars more than the $500 deductible, and well worth the added expense since I would be driving on potentially icy roads and I hadn’t driven such a large vehicle since I was in the military about 6 years ago. Budget Truck Rental often has discounts, so shop around.

Hiring Professional Movers to Load and Unload

This seems like it defeats the purpose of a DIY move, but it was actually one of the best moves we made. We had some friends who volunteered to help, but it would have meant loading in the evening after everyone got off work, then leaving the next day, arriving in the afternoon, and unloading in the evening. Hiring professionals meant we could load in the morning, drive to our house 350 miles away, and unload first thing in the morning the following day. Time-wise it worked out great! It also saved us a ton of work, headaches, and backaches. We also had a more secure load, professional packers know how to load the truck more securely than the Average Joe.

To find movers, call around and ask moving companies. Some of them offer this service, while others only offer a full moving service – movers & truck combined. There is often a minimum time requirement of 2-4 hours, depending on the company, and you should expect to pay for transportation time as well. We were quoted anywhere from $80-$110 per hour for two movers. The movers we hired to load our truck came in at $80 an hour for two movers, plus a flat $60 fee for transportation time. The load took three hours, which cost us a total of $300.

We lucked out finding the movers who unloaded our truck – we called several companies and weren’t able to find many that only offered the labor without hiring the truck. However, one person we talked to at a moving company was willing to do the work on the side: 2 people for $20 an hour cash (each), with a minimum of 4 hours. The two guys and my wife and I unloaded the truck in less than 2 hours. The two guys each made $80 for less than two hours work, which was good for them, and great for us!

A note about hiring people working on the side: Since these guys weren’t on the company clock, they wouldn’t have insurance or anything else covering them. I called our insurance company and they explained how it would work on our end if anything happened. I was OK with the associated risks, and nothing eventful happened. Be sure to assess your own risk in this situation.

You can save a lot by doing it yourself – but be prepared to work

I estimate we moved for less than half the cost of hiring a full service moving company (or more, since we packed our boxes ourselves and used our own materials). Paying a company to do everything for us – provide boxes and packing materials, pack our boxes, load the truck, deliver, and unload, would have cost us several thousand dollars. So much that I didn’t even bother getting an estimate.

We got moved into our new home in less time that it would have taken to hire a moving company – most intrastate moving companies only give you a partial truck load and share the load with other cargo, meaning you have to schedule the pick up and delivery around other loads, potentially taking several extra days.

We saved money and got moved in more quickly, but we put in our fair share of work. We boxed everything ourselves and helped with both loading and unloading. But that work saved us several thousand dollars, so it was well worth it in my book.

Do you have any tips for  DIY move?


Published or updated February 3, 2011.
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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Peter

Last time we moved it was also a DIY move, but it was a shorter move, and as such a lot of the costs were reduced. We borrowed a friend’s truck and trailer, got boxes from local stores and my workplace, used free family and friends labor to load and unload the trucks.

Cost of the move? 4 jumbo sized pizzas, and probably $30 gas. Our only mistake was moving on the hottest day of the year, 105 degrees. Ouch.

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2 Ryan

That sounds like the next move we will do – we only have a short term lease for our current home, and anticipate buying a home in the near future. It will be a local move and something we will probably make a DIY move over the course of a few days. But a 350 mile move is a little different! :)

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3 danielle

I was surprised at how many people around me had packing boxes when I moved last fall. I didn’t have that much stuff though, and moved most of my smaller things in banana boxes I got from the grocery store. If you ask, they’ll usually just go in the back and grab however many you need. They’re the perfect medium size to move all your small stuff. Starbucks also gives away the boxes that ship their coffee, you just have to reserve them early because they go fast.

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