Hire a Mover or DIY? The Cheapest Way to Move Across Country
So you’re moving across the country. Or at least a big chunk of it.
Perhaps you’re looking forward to a new job, a different climate, or better schools for your kids. Or maybe you’re moving for a less pleasant reason, and you wish you didn’t need to move. Either way, you need to find the cheapest way to move your stuff from one place to another. That should be the easiest part, right?
The process of acquiring a rental truck or hiring a moving company can be complicated and confusing. You can definitely make the wrong choices if you don’t consider all the factors involved in cross-country moving.
You can make things easier on yourself by doing your research and being alert to some basic guidelines. We’re here to help! Read on for suggestions about how to choose truck rental companies or moving companies, avoid pricey services you don’t need, and other ways to save money on your long-distance move.
You Are Not Alone
There is a migration trend occurring in the United States. Thanks in part to the growth of full-time remote employment, as well as climate changes, many citizens are moving from one place to another. Many of those transplants are moving from one state to another, and from one region to another.
The arrival of the pandemic actually slowed relocation in 2021 to the lowest rate in 70 years, according to new census data. Only 8.4% of Americans moved last year.
But, much of the workforce that was impacted by the first two years of the pandemic has returned to full-time employment, and many of those employees have found it possible to work remotely full-time, with no in-office requirements.
According to the 2020 census, the states seeing the largest population growth are those which take the word “remote” seriously. Utah (18.37% increase) and Idaho (17.32%) saw the largest population increase from the previous census in 2010. North Dakota and Nevada were also in the top five, joined by Texas.
Your standard snowbird locations like Florida, Arizona and South Carolina finished 8th, 9th and 10th in population growth. The top three states losing population between censuses were Illinois, Mississippi and Virginia.
Of the major metropolitan areas in the country, nine of the 10 cities with the largest population growth from one census to the next were in Florida (Myrtle Beach, S.C. topped the list). Six of the nine Florida cities in the top 10 growth metros were beachfront areas, which is both expected and surprising, as changes in weather patterns and concerns over rising sea levels expand.
All of that aside, you are moving, and you need to do so in the most financially efficient manner possible. Here is what you need to consider.
Is a Rental Truck the Right Move for Me?
Either you don’t trust anyone else to handle your personal property or you don’t feel like paying someone else to do it. So you have decided to move yourself across the country.
According to move.org, the average cost of a rental truck for a local move (as of Feb. 8, 2022) is $130, and the average cost for a long-distance move is $1,780. Gasoline prices are going to increase those estimates.
Here are some things to consider before shopping around for rental trucks and planning your costs.
What to Know About Moving Yourself
- If you are driving a car to the new location as well as driving a rental truck, you will want to put as much stuff into the car as you can. Rental trucks come in various sizes, and you want to rent the smallest truck you need to save money.
- You will need to include in your moving costs the expense of bubble wrap, moving containers, furniture pads, mattress bags, and hand trucks if you need them.
- Truck-rental rates vary based on miles traveled and size of truck.
- Some rental companies have mileage limits, others offer unlimited miles, and some offer a combination. But remember you’ll be paying for gasoline. As of April 26, 2022, AAA estimated the average cost of gasoline in the United States was $4.13 a gallon, and that price is higher for gas stations bordering interstate highways. Rental trucks are lucky to get 12 miles per gallon. At that rate, a 1,000-mile trip would use 83 gallons of gas, which at $4.13 per gallon adds $343 to your costs.
- You’ll have food costs, too, which will depend on what you bring with you and your appetite for fast food or snacks.
- Don’t think you can make the trip in one day? Then remember to add the cost of lodgings — or find a friend at a mid-way point to bunk with.
Which Rental Company Do I Choose?
Let’s look at some of your choices. We compared prices at four popular rental-truck companies for someone moving a one-bedroom apartment from Chicago to Boston (approximately 1,000 miles) on April 27, 2022. (Note: These estimates do not include hauling a vehicle. Doing so adds an array of additional cost considerations).
Budget Truck Rental: $1,341
The estimated price for a cargo van from Budget is $1,341. These vehicles are not difficult to drive (automatic steering, steering wheel situated similar to a car) and are large enough for a mattress, box spring, couch and dresser.
Budget also offers unlimited mileage, which is a huge benefit.
The price increases by about $300 for a 12-foot truck that can hold two rooms worth of furniture.
At the time of this writing, Budget was also offering a 20 percent discount on your first rental. If you have never rented from Budget before, this is an excellent money-saving perk.
Enterprise Truck Rental: $452
Enterprise is likely to have much lower rates, but it does not offer a free quote online. The price quoted here was obtained through a phone call.
And there’s a hitch: Enterprise requires that you return the vehicle to the place where you picked it up. That means you or someone else would need to drive another 1,000 miles back.
Enterprise also frequently suffers from low availability of cargo vans. The further in advance you plan, the better your chances.
Enterprise quoted the rate of $452 from Chicago to Boston April 27, 2022 returning on Apr. 30, 2022, and that included unlimited miles. For a trip of around 2,000 miles round trip, that is a real deal.
The total is obviously much less than the others if you don’t consider time to return the truck as money.
Penske Truck Rental: $2,458
Penske reports limited availability for cargo vans, but offers its 12-foot truck at $2,458, with unlimited mileage.
The price dropped by about a third, to $1,645, if we made the reservation for May which shows that you might get a break the further out you can make a reservation. There are also times of the year that are busier than others, which might impact the estimate.
U-Haul Truck Rental: $1,806
The U-Haul rate quote for a 10-foot cargo van here is for five days of use and up to 1,166 miles, after which a mileage charge of 49 cents per mile would be added.
U-Haul has trucks ranging from an 8-foot pickup to a 26-foot moving van. U-Haul has 20,000 rental locations in the United States and Canada.
I Want a Full-Service Moving Company
So you’ve decided you need professional movers to get your personal items from Chicago to Boston. Congratulations! You’ve just removed a lot of headaches from the process (who will help me load and unload, can we lift that couch, am I comfortable backing up a truck?).
But you’ve also added an entirely new degree of examination and research to your cross-country move because you’ll need to pick a moving company.
You really do have ways to reduce your costs — as well as avoid potential losses due to breakage. And you have many things to consider before you contact a moving company. So let’s begin the process of finding the right mover for you.
Step 1: How Much Will the Movers Move?
Moving companies charge based in part on the number of items and the total weight of the items they transport. So if you want to save money, it’s up to you to reduce that number and weight.
Depending on the distance you are moving, you can try to move as much as you can in your own vehicle. If you are moving less than a day away by car, you could transport as much as possible in your car or truck, if necessary finding a storage place to hold those items until your new home is ready for you.
There is another way to reduce your costs: Reduce the number of items you’re moving. There might be items you won’t need in your new home. And it might be cheaper to replace some items than transport them (that orange sectional you’ve been hauling around since your college apartment, for instance).
Yes, you hate garage sales as much as you hate moving. But today there are many internet sites that will help you sell stuff you don’t want to pack, or don’t need any longer.
Have fun getting rid of stuff!
Step 2: The Boring But Necessary Inventory
You have determined the items that you need professional movers to transport to your new home. This next step is really boring and very important.
Take an inventory.
You need to write down every item you are sending with a moving company, and its approximate replacement value. Even the best movers break stuff, and items can get lost in the shuffle.
The movers are going to want to know what furniture they are moving and how many boxes they will be lifting. They don’t care what is in the boxes, but you do. So you need to do the due diligence to make sure you don’t suffer financial loss if there’s any breakage.
If you are driving a vehicle to the new location and can carry your most precious items in the car with you, do that. Murphy’s law suggests that the greater the value of an item put on a moving truck, the more likely it is that item will be lost or broken.
If you are moving without benefit of a personal vehicle, then you need to pack everything to the best of your ability (you could also pay the moving companies to do the packing for you if you want).
Step 3: Be Picky When Picking a Moving Company
There are ways to tell if you are working with a moving company that values your business and your property.
- Do they conduct a detailed inventory? You have done your own inventory of the items being moved, but the moving company should do a detailed inventory themselves. If they are reputable, they want to know their own liability in regard to the value of the items they are carrying and moving.
- Is it a known name? The moving companies listed below are names you have heard. Using a moving company you have never heard of, or one that operates under a different name or phone number than they advertise on their website, is a recipe for disaster.
- What do the rating services say? The Better Business Bureau and Yelp! are good starting points, but there are also rating services specific to movers. The American Moving and Storage Association dissolved in 2020 so any ratings from that organization will be old, but many members moved to the American Trucking Association, which provides the ProMover Certification for quality service. The website move.org is a good resource without affiliations with any particular moving company.
- What do the reviewers say? Read what others have said about the companies you are considering. As you probably know, customer reviews are more often used by those complaining than those complimenting, but they can still offer an idea whether previous clients have been pleased.
- What do friends and family say? You are not the first person in the world to move cross-country. You likely know someone who has done this before. Ask what moving company they used, and what they liked or disliked about them. Then apply that information in your selection process.
- Can you get it all in writing? Your moving company’s contract should be detailed, listing exactly what you are paying for and any extra fees that might come up — for example, fees for moving items up stairs when an elevator is unavailable or not large enough.
- Can you get a final estimate? You want the estimate to be binding, meaning it cannot be changed without an agreement from both parties. There are also non-binding to exceed estimates, which provide an ironclad price you will pay at the end of the service.
Step 4: Estimating Your Moving Costs
Some well-known moving companies offer online estimators to give you some idea what your move will cost. Others will ask you a few questions online, then have a sales agent contact you with an estimate, but it can all be done over the phone.
United Van Lines, for example, asks whether you:
- Want items packed by them
- Are shipping a car
- Want items unpacked by them
- Want them to remove all packing materials
- Need storage
The quotes you get from an online form are not binding numbers, but instead jumping off points which will then be nailed down after an estimator looks over your job.
Here are three companies that offer quote ranges from someone who is moving from Chicago to Boston on Aug. 30, 2021, with items from a one-bedroom apartment. The estimates were collected one month prior to the moving date.
Allied Van Lines: $2,294-$3,008
The Allied website asks if you are moving “not much,” an “average’’ amount or “a lot,” which is probably a variable that will be settled when an estimator actually looks over your moving needs. That explains the approximately $700 difference in estimates.
International Van Lines: Estimate not available
Rated the best company by move.org, International Van LInes does not offer a quote without talking to an agent. However, it did offer a 15-20% discount if you are flexible with your dates, and suggested a lower rate for a “consolidation move” (your items being moved with someone else’s at the same time).
North American Moving Services: $1,654-$2,700
Like Allied, North American offers a range of estimated prices based on how you answer the question, “how much stuff do you have?” It works out this way:
- Small: $1,654-$2,010
- Medium : $2,033-$2,665
- Large: $2,720 and above
The U-Pack estimate includes information other websites don’t offer initially: the items will be moved to the new location in five to seven days. That will be a question to ask other movers when they call you to set up an appointment for a physical estimate of moving needs. (Unlike the other movers listed here, U-Pack does not offer packing services.)
Your move across the country won’t get any easier the longer you put it off. The earlier you start the process, the more likely you will save money on rental trucks or moving company contracts.
To find the cheapest way to move across country, consider all your options and all of your preferences. Do you want to do it yourself? Can you do it yourself? How much of your personal stuff do you want a mover to be responsible for?
Pull out your yellow legal pad, write down your needs, make your inventory, decide your budget, and start your internet search. Make sure your phone is fully charged, because once you start asking for quotes you’ll get a lot of phone calls.
Kent McDill is a veteran journalist who has specialized in personal finance topics since 2013. He is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder. Information from former staff writer Carson Kohler was used in this report.