It’s moving season! No, Mr. Frugalwoods, Frugal Hound and I aren’t moving–yet–but we’ve moved a grand total of 15 times between the two of us (not counting Frugal Hound’s various hound-related moves). All of these moves were between states and, in some cases, across vast swaths of the country.
Since most of us are probably either too old or not idealistic enough to move with just a backpack, let’s assume the few of you who can pull that off don’t need to read this post. You’ve figured out a far more frugal and minimalist life than I. Though I do think Frugal Hound would look pretty cute moving herself with a doggy backpack strapped to her little houndy shoulders…
For the rest of us, moving doesn’t have to be a stressful, time-consuming, nightmare of money-draining madness. Indeed, it’s totally possible to approach relocating yourself with frugality, grace, aplomb, and above all, organization (and snacks! don’t forget the snacks!).
The Frugalwoods Patented “Move Yourself On the Cheap” 15-Step Method
1) Be organized.
Nothing will save you more time, money, and heartache than approaching a move like an organized mofo. Scrambling around to find things and haphazardly throwing stuff into boxes is not a recipe for happiness or moving success.
I’ve moved organizedly and I’ve moved disorganizedly and the former is definitely preferable. Our most recent move (from Washington, DC to Cambridge) was one such disorganized move since I was finishing up my finals for grad school (oh yeah and working full-time) and Mr. FW was dealing with a huge project at work.
Needless to say, we did not follow rule #1. It started out pretty organized, but as moving day approached, we had no choice but to abandon all semblance of order and start maniacally throwing stuff in boxes. Not ideal. In addition to our stuff being jumbled together, we moved things we really could’ve gotten rid of, mostly because we didn’t…
2) Plan ahead.
In the same vein as #1, do not wait to pack until the last momentito. Give yourself twice as much time to pack as you think you’ll need. Nothing bad has ever happened to anyone who got something done ahead of time. But bad things befall those who wait (oh, ask me how I know this…).
Movers make a ton of money off of people who aren’t fully packed when they show up. They’ll pack for you and charge you for the privilege. And even if you’re not using movers, procrastination could mean you’re charged an extra month of rent or miss a deadline at your end destination.
For the moves where I’ve been on top of my game, we’ve spent weeks planning out our approach before going to battle with boxes.
3) Go through things and get rid of stuff before packing.
Pursuant to #1 (you’ll see that #1 is a common theme throughout my moving diatribe), don’t pack stuff without first going through said stuff. Consider this: you’re essentially paying for every single item you’re moving in one way or another. Don’t move things you don’t need.
Do yourself a favor and prune your greyhound figurine collection, be honest about your argyle sock hoarding tendencies, and get rid of that fondue pot you’ve never (not even once) used.
In this case, your money is literally your stuff. Plus, since you totally followed rule #2 and are planning ahead, you’ll have plenty of time to sell your trinkets on Craigslist and reap a tidy little profit.
I failed on this front in one move and I still rue the day. I was much happier with our extremely organized Cambridge to Washington, DC move whereby I sorted through every closet in our apartment before starting to pack. Sounds laborious, but it saves so much time in the long-run. I’m just now finally going through every box and closet in our home and have discovered quite a few
hunks of junk give-aways. To think we moved this junk across state lines!
4) Negotiate for paid moving expenses.
If you’re moving for a job, ask them to cover your moving expenses. We’ve had two moves paid for thanks to Mr. Frugalwoods’ job and let me tell you, it’s the way to roll. Thankfully, our lackadaisical DC to Cambridge mishap move was paid for, so we didn’t feel the monetary sting of toting all those extra boxes.
I’ve talked to a lot of folks who don’t realize that you can (and should) negotiate moving expenses into your job offer. I highly, highly recommend you at least ask. I once requested moving expense coverage and was turned down, but the employer instead gave me a signing bonus–just because I’d agitated for moving expenses. It never hurts to be your own champion and negotiate hard.
5) Decide on your mode of move.
Mr. Frugalwoods and I have moved in a number of different configurations requiring logistical orchestrations of varying complexity. For my first post-college move (from Lawrence, Kansas to New York City), I flew on a plane with two suitcases. I certainly wasn’t going to rent a truck or drive myself (in my nonexistent car that I wouldn’t need in the city). So, I stuffed more stuff in those suitcases than was probably reasonable and set off for the airport.
I also shipped a few boxes to myself, which turned out to be a somewhat poor idea since the delivery person only came during the day (while my roommates and I were all at work) and required a signature. Have you ever walked across Brooklyn from the UPS store to your apartment while lugging a box you shipped to yourself? Not my finest hour, but it did inspire my largely minimalist existence for the remainder of my time in the big apple.
For Mr. Frugalwoods’ first post-college move, he loaded up his ancient Ford Escort (a vehicle that has since departed this world) and drove from Overland Park, Kansas to Cambridge, Massachusetts. For the cost of a few tanks of gas and one cheap hotel stay, he was officially moved.
Our next move came about after we got engaged and I was relocating from NYC to Cambridge. Mr. Frugalwoods took the bus down to New York to help me pack up my few belongings, and we rented a truck.
We would’ve been fine with just a car or minivan, but turns out, there wasn’t a company that would facilitate a one-way car rental (and it was too expensive for Mr. FW to rent a car in Boston and drive it down).
The only place that did one-way rentals for a small truck? Budget Rent-A-Truck. I gamely signed up for the smallest, non-gargantuan truck they offered and we trotted to the nearest lot to pick it up. However, apparently a lot of people were moving that day and they’d run out of small trucks. And so for the same price, we were given a much larger truck, which was not ideal.
My stuff took up about one-fourth of the space, leaving a gaping wide nothingness all around. After a relatively ridiculous comedy of errors trying to maneuver this gigantic truck out of Brooklyn (only once did someone get out of their vehicle to scream at us over our gross incompetence), we were on our way to blissful cohabitation.
There seems to be an age/stuff correlation and, as we’ve gotten older, we’ve amassed more belongings, which would make our previous modes of move (except for the truck rental) nearly impossible. But if you’re under the age of 25, there’s no reason to do anything other than fill your car (or rental truck) to the brim and drive off into the sunset.
If you’re going the bargain basement route of flying or driving your own car, consider a few alternate methods of moving the extra stuff that won’t fit into your suitcases:
- Ship your stuff via Amtrak. I haven’t done this personally, but color me intrigued. Apparently this method can take awhile to reach you, but it’s pretty darn cheap.
- Use media mail to ship books. This I have done and it’s awesome. If you’re sending only books in a box, you can take advantage of the much lower rates for media mail from your local post office.
- Ship stuff via UPS/USPS. As long as you can intercept the packages on the other end (unlike me in Brooklyn), this is a pretty decent option.
While this is all well and good for the young people, if you’re getting aged like Mr. FW and me, you’ll probably need to go with one of the more traditional, and higher on the payment pyramid, options. But be aware that you’re not limited to the most expensive route of hiring movers with a truck. There are myriad methods of transporting your belonging these days:
- You in a car towing a trailer.
- You in a rented truck towing your car.
- A moving pod you load yourself.
- A moving pod loaded by people you hire from Craigslist
- A truck with movers.
- A truck with movers who packed you.
- Moving your actual house (probably unwise in 99% of situations).
Moving pods are a pretty neat concept–you rent a pod that they place in the street in front of your house and you load it with all of your stuff. You then get to your final destination under your own steam and the pod company delivers your pod to the street in front of your new house. Nifty and especially thrifty! If you’re intimated by the loading aspect, you could always hire a few people off of Craigslist to do the literal heavy lifting for you.
A truck with movers is probably the simplest option, but you’ll certainly pay for the privilege. If you do go this route, make sure to at least do #8.
6) If you’re moving locally…
Instead of renting a moving truck, consider other short-term vehicle rental options, such as ZipCar or Home Depot trucks. These companies both rent by the hour and are likely to be much less expensive than a traditional moving van.
7) If you’re moving long-distance…
Ask moving companies if they offer the option of sharing a truck with another person for inter-state moves. This is what we did for our infamous DC to Cambridge move and it worked phenomenally well. We don’t have enough stuff to fill a full moving truck, so they coupled us up with two other households. We paid less, but still had the benefit of movers with a truck.
8) Pack your own stuff.
There cannot be a worse deal on earth (ok maybe buying a new car) than paying a moving company to pack your house for you. Even if you’ve succeeded in getting your company to cover the costs of your move, it’s very possible they won’t foot the bill for this luxury. In addition to charging you for the labor of packing, the company will usually bill you for every box and piece of tape and square inch of bubble wrap they use. Plus they’ll be going through all of your stuff, which for my taste, is a bit unsavory.
9) Get used boxes.
You knew I was going to include something about using used stuff since that’s basically my chief advice for all things frugal. There’s just no beating the used market! People give away and sell used moving boxes on Craigslist and, grocery stores will often give you their old produce boxes for free.
How do I know these things? Because I’ve done both. If you’ve ever priced out new boxes, you’ll know what an incredible racket they are (unless of course you’ve succeeded in #4 and you can just expense the boxes and then later sell them on Craigslist…. which is exactly what we did).
10) Label everything and create a spreadsheet.
This might sound obsessive, but I guarantee you won’t be sorry. I created a system in our first “big” move whereby every box had a number, which corresponded to a spreadsheet I’d created that listed all of the items in each box. For reference, here’s what the first five lines of our spreadsheet looked like:
|1||medium||kitchen||glassware and tablecloths|
|2||medium||kitchen||glassware and tablecloths|
|3||medium||kitchen||glassware, coats, scarves|
|4||medium||kitchen||green plates, coats, scarves, hats|
|5||small||kitchen||food processor, popcorn maker, measuring spoons and cups, Aeropress|
This allows you to easily tally how many boxes you have and, keeps track of where everything is located. In the event that the moving company breaks or loses one of your boxes, you’ll know exactly what’s missing and its approximate value. Plus, the question of what to unpack first is answered because you’ll know what’s in each box.
I created and updated the spreadsheet as we packed, so it didn’t entail much extra work. And, wouldn’t you know it, my efforts paid off! I checked off each box number as it came into the house and, lo and behold, on our last move, the movers said they were all finished, but three box numbers still remained on my spreadsheet. They gamely went back out to the truck (which we were sharing with two other households) and located our three missing boxes wedged between the divider separating us from the other families. Spreadsheets for the win!
11) Pack a box of immediate supplies.
Mr. FW and I always set aside a box of supplies so that we don’t have to rush out and buy stuff the minute we get to our new home. We typically pack: silverware, cups, plates, toilet paper, paper towels, rags, coffee and mugs (these are emergency supplies after all), a first-aid kit, non-perishable snacks and foods we can prepare easily (like pasta), a pot, a pan, and whatever we’re going to sleep on (usually an air mattress). There’s just nothing quite like arriving at your new home and realizing no one brought the toilet paper. Do yourself a favor and pack this box!
12) Pack kitchen supplies and food separately.
Since we never want to be caught unawares and needing to eat out, Mr. FW and I always pack our kitchen supplies in clearly marked, easily accessible boxes. We unpack the kitchen first so that we can resume normal cooking operations ASAP. Moving is expensive enough already and we don’t want to add a few hundred dollars worth of eating out on top of it.
Also, I try to pack breakable kitchen items with seasonal clothes wrapped around them so that we get a double bonus when we unpack those kitchen boxes first. It ensures we’ll have outfits and, is a lot cheaper than buying packing material like bubble wrap (although I do love me some bubble wrap…).
13) Absolutely everything should be ready when movers show up.
If you hire movers, when they show up they start packing the truck immediately. They’re on a schedule and will not wait for you to finish packing just one last box. They’ll pack it for you–hastily and expensively. Make sure that everything is ready to be carried out the door well before they’re scheduled to arrive.
14) Don’t allow your movers to do bizarre things to get stuff inside.
I’ve mentioned before that our front door is rather small, and this fact combined with an extra low ceiling above our staircase, meant that our box spring set wouldn’t fit up the stairs. Our movers, who were entirely focused on getting this thing upstairs, started to rock the box springs back and forth, causing the ceiling to lose little bits of itself.
We politely stopped them, at which point they suggested we allow them to entirely remove several upstairs windows in order to lever the box spring in that way. Uh, no thanks. A box spring is not worth the cost and drama of removing windows! Instead, we sold the box spring on Craigslist and bought some slats to support the mattress instead. A perfect solution that did not involve cutting holes in our home. Keep in mind the actual cost of an item before going to tremendous lengths to squeeze it into your new home. Some things are just not worth it.
15) Don’t buy all new furniture.
Ok, ok, I realize this is sort of outside the scope of “moving,” but I just couldn’t help myself! It’s so tempting when moving to a new place to dash out and buy all new furniture and decor. But restrain yourself! Thousands of dollars later, you just might regret it. Instead, bide your time, go the frugal weirdo route and scope out garage sales, Craigslist, and the side of the road. Almost all of our furniture was bought used off of Craigslist for a mere fraction of what it would cost new. Patience is a frugal virtue.
While moving may not be my #1 favorite activity, there are ways to make the process more bearable and not outstandingly expensive. Organization, patience, and creativity–the typical tropes of a successful frugal life–are incredibly helpful in plotting out a sane and thrifty move.
How many times have you moved? What are your frugal moving tips? Or worst moving stories?