Cut Your Moving Costs

By Kelli B. Grant
October 7, 2005

THE PROCESS OF MOVING to a new apartment or home is one of life's true miseries. Not only is it time-consuming and an enormous hassle it's pricey, too.

The American Moving and Storage Association estimates that moving the contents of a one-bedroom apartment from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles will set you back between $3,900 and $5,000, should you use a professional moving service. Got a family? Moving the contents of a nine-room house and garage from D.C. to L.A. will cost you an estimated $11,000 to $13,000.

And the fiscal carnage doesn't stop there. You also need to factor in the costs of packing materials, tips for the movers, plus any expenses you'll incur traveling from your old home to your new one.

Luckily, there are plenty of ways to reduce your expenses. Here's how.

1. Consider doing the work yourself
If you've got the brawn and the inclination, this is obviously a cost saver. The estimated cost for renting a U-Haul for that D.C.-to-L.A. trek is about $2,000, assuming a truck will fit the contents of a four- or five-bedroom house (about the equivalent of AMSA's nine-room house). Tow your car, and you'll pay another $200 or so for a trailer. Even with insurance (about $20 a day), fuel and mileage charges and packing supplies, it's a far cry from that estimated $11,000 for professional service.

2. Check your timing
Not surprisingly, summer (specifically May through September) is the most popular time for people to move. If possible, move during the off-season. It could cut your prices by 20% or more, says Dennise Pasichnyk, office manager for the Ramsey, N.J., office of Berger Transfer & Storage, an agent for Allied Van Lines. You might also save by moving during the middle of the month.

Bottom line: If you're flexible on your moving date, be sure to let the moving company know.

3. Get multiple estimates
You've heard it before: Get at least three quotes before you settle on a moving company. And be wary of a company that's dramatically cheaper than the others. Sure, quotes will vary perhaps by as much as 5%, says Pasichnyk. Something more dramatic than that means you should do some extra digging like checking in with the Better Business Bureau to review complaints. Look for a mover that is a member of the American Moving and Storage Association.

Charges are based primarily on weight and distance, but you'll also need to discuss equipment (size of the truck, number of crew members). Be prepared with a list of items to be moved, including furniture and an estimate of the number of boxes. Pasichnyk recommends asking for a "total price guaranteed" estimate, which means that the figure you're given is the most you can be charged.

4. Insist on a premove home visit
Ask that your mover visit your home before the move to make an accurate list. Don't rely on the basic inventory supplied during your initial phone conversation any inaccuracies will come back to bite you on moving day. If you forgot to mention items or had inaccurate measurements (Will that entertainment center really fit out the front door?), your bill will increase to compensate for the extra work needed. If, on the other hand, you overestimated, it's unlikely you'll be able to negotiate a lower rate on the spot.

5. Eliminate extras from the contract
When you're talking to prospective moving companies, ask them how they arrive at their estimate and what extra services are included. Some moving companies will offer an initial estimate that includes packing and unpacking services, boxes, specialty boxes (such as wardrobe and dish boxes) and packing materials (including tape, foam peanuts and pads for fragile objects). If you don't need any of those "extras," ask that the estimate be re-evaluated to reflect the situation. Get any adjustments in writing.

6. Make sure you're covered
Movers usually provide basic liability insurance for free as part of their services, says Gadi Binness, CEO of, an AIG-underwritten company that sells moving insurance. That covers you 60 cents per pound not much good if your $500, seven-pound Bose stereo is damaged in transit (You'd get $4.20 for it).

And don't automatically rely on your homeowners' insurance. Most policies don't cover your belongings in transit, and those that do might reimburse you only for the depreciated value of your items, rather than their full replacement value.

Full-coverage moving insurance will typically cost you about 1% to 1.5% of the declared value of your possessions. Here's what to consider:

  • Lump sum vs. high-value inventory. Lump sum insures the entire shipment ($8 per pound), and must be insured with a declared value of $32,000 or more. High-value inventory, on the other hand, insures only specific items with a minimum value of $10,000. If you're concerned about the safe transport of only a few valuable or fragile items, says Binness, high-value inventory insurance could be one way to cut costs.
  • Deductible. You can usually choose from a deductible of $250 up to $1,500. The higher the deductible, the lower your premium.

7. Take the tax break if you can
The IRS permits you to deduct the costs of your move (Form 3903) if you or a spouse is moving because of a change in your job location, or because you have started a new job. You also must meet two tests: distance and time.

Save on Packing

To meet the distance qualification, your new job must be located at least 50 miles farther from your home than your old job was. To meet the time test, you must be employed full time for at least 39 weeks during the year right after you move. (Members of the armed forces do not have to meet either test if they are moving because of a change in station.)

Do it yourself
You'll cut several hours off your rate by packing your items yourself rather than having the movers pack for you.

The downside, however, is that movers' insurance generally doesn't cover items that aren't packed by the movers themselves. To avoid this pitfall, Sparkman recommends splitting the work. Let the movers pack your valuable and fragile items artwork, dishes, electronics, TV and so on. Do your own packing for things less likely to get damaged, such as bedding, clothes and books. You'll still save a portion of the packing fees, depending on how much you leave for the moving crew.

Use your own boxes and packing supplies
You can get most of your packing supplies for free, or very low cost from online moving supply companies. First, estimate what kind of supplies you'll need using's Packing Calculator. In addition to boxes, you'll likely need a box cutter, notepad (to take inventory), a permanent marker, packing tape, bubble wrap, unprinted newspaper and foam peanuts.

For bubble wrap and other materials, shun your local office supply store in favor of online moving supply companies like Online Moving Boxes and Direct Moving Boxes. These sites sell bulk supplies and ship for free. (For example, at Online Moving Boxes, you'll pay $20 for 100 feet of bubble wrap. At Staples, 30 feet will cost you $12.06.) Another low-cost option is your mover. Ask what it charges for packing supplies. Most will even buy back any unused boxes.

Most accidents occur when you least expect them or when you're not covered for them.

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