How I Saved $495.78 (and Made $120!) When I Moved to a New City

moving day
Rido under Creative Commons

Moving is one of those life events that sneaks up on you. Your moving date creeps up before you’re ready, you’re scrambling to do everything on your to-do list and, all of a sudden, your bank account is hurting.

But sometimes life circumstances — in my family’s case, a job change — require moving. As I counted down the summer days until my late-August move from Washington, D.C. to nearby Baltimore, I started counting my pennies, too.

There’s enough moving stress around packing and unpacking that I made a choice to pay professionals to do the real heavy lifting for me. I budgeted for that big expense, but found other ways to save money.

Those small savings really added up. Here are five ways I saved money as I prepared to move.

1. I Negotiated My Lease Date

I suspect every renter has had this problem: You find an apartment online that looks pretty great, but the unit is available earlier than you would like to move.

You go look at the apartment anyway, and fall in love. Then, you have to scramble to move so somebody else doesn’t take this apartment of your dreams.

It happened to me. I wanted a lease start date of no earlier than August 15. Although the apartment we applied for had a move-in date of August 1, I asked the landlord if he’d be willing to adjust the lease start date.

“We really want this apartment rented sooner than that,” he said. “But would you be willing to do August 7?

It was still earlier than I would have liked, but but agreeing on this change to the lease meant paying for one fewer week at my new place.  

Savings: $270

2. I Got Rid of My Stuff

Well, not all of it.

I knew there were certain items around my home I probably wouldn’t want to use — or wouldn’t fit — in my new digs. So why pay someone to move them for me if I wasn’t completely committed to them?

By listing items up to a month before my move date on sites like Craigslist, and even on my personal Facebook page, I maximized how many people were able to view my items for sale.

Here’s what sold:

Desk: $45
Blender set: $55
Large wall mirror: $10
Vintage picnic basket: $10

Total earnings: $120

I was surprised there were no takers for my two-year-old microwave. I tried the money-making route on Craigslist at $35, and later reduced the price to $30.

Then I noticed Craigslist is just flooded with microwaves. They’re so easy to buy new for cheap that hardly anybody wants a used one.

I turned to Freecycle, where I met a woman helping a family in need furnish their first apartment. I didn’t make any money, but I was able to hand off my gift to someone who would appreciate it.

I also found homes for a bookshelf and cabinet that didn’t jive with my other pieces of furniture. I gave away the items to someone who could use them (and loved the free price tag), and unloaded two heavy pieces I didn’t want to lug to my new apartment.

As for the money I earned? I used it toward tips for our hard-working moving crew!

3. I Communicated With My Old Landlord

Security deposits are nerve-wracking. No matter how much you scrub your place before you hand over your keys, there’s always a risk your landlord will find something to ding you on, leaving you with a less-than-satisfying deposit refund.

By communicating with my landlord early and often, I made sure the conditions of my move-out were crystal clear. The chip in the window that was there when I moved in? No problem; he remembered it. The holes in the wall from all the art? No need to spackle, he assured me.

My main concern was metal shelving I had installed in the kitchen and bathroom of my studio apartment. I knew leaving anything behind in the apartment could mean at least $100 deducted from my security deposit.

“When you come to take photos of the unit,” I asked my landlord in an email, “Take a look at the metal shelving we installed. I know we’re not allowed to leave anything in the unit, but if the next tenant is interested in keeping them up, would it be possible to leave the shelves?”

“They look great,” he quickly responded. “Yes, please leave them.”

I got my full security deposit back.

Savings: At least $100

4. I Didn’t Buy Boxes

Here’s a benefit I didn’t expect when I moved into an apartment building: boxes. Boxes everywhere.

Whenever I needed a box to ship something, I wandered down to our trash room and rifled through the cardboard boxes other residents had dropped off. Online shopping is great for cardboard box scavengers like me

We used 52 boxes for our move: four plastic storage bins I already owned, two cardboard wardrobe boxes and 46 regular cardboard boxes.

Of those 46 cardboard boxes, I found 28 for free; I purchased a total of 18 boxes for $39.10. That amount includes two wardrobe boxes my partner really wanted, which cost $10.92 each.

I purchased 16 cardboard boxes, a variety of small and medium sizes at both heavy-duty and “regular” construction for $17.26. If I had purchased all of those 46 regular cardboard boxes — at an estimated cost of $2.28 for the heavy-duty medium size — it would have cost $104.88 (before sales tax!).

I may have looked a little wacky picking through the recyclables in my apartment building, but I’d rather reuse free boxes than truck to Home Depot for costly new ones.

Savings: $65.78

5. I Made the Movers’ Job Easier

Parking in the city is hard to come by on an average day in an average-sized vehicle. What about when you’re driving an 18-foot moving truck?

I wasn’t comfortable leaving moving-day street parking up to chance. So I spent $65 on a city-issued no-parking permit to free up the spots directly outside my new address.

Why spend that much? Because I knew how much I was paying my movers per hour — and I knew how much longer it could take if they had to walk farther from truck to apartment.

I estimated my movers, at a rate of $125 per hour, would have needed an additional hour to unpack the truck if they didn’t have parking directly out front.

Total savings: $60

It doesn’t seem like much, but there are a ton of moving parts involved when you’re moving. This one saved me a little, but gave me a lot of peace of mind.

All in all, I saved $495.78 and made $120. Moving was still hard work, and I’m relieved I’m not planning to do it again for a while. But I’m glad to see my penny pinching was worth it!

Your Turn: How have you saved money during a move to a new place? Let us know your tips and suggestions!

Lisa Rowan is a writer, editor and podcaster living in Baltimore.

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