10 Ways to Save Money on Moving, and Minimize the Headaches

As the weather gets warmer, millions of American families will be moving. Some will simply travel across town to a new house or apartment. Others will relocate to some far-flung corner of the country.

Moving can be expensive, but there are plenty of ways to cut those costs. Following are some of the best ways to save the next time you move into new digs.

1. A pound shaved is a penny earned

The more stuff you move, the more you’ll pay. Long-distance movers charge based on both pounds and distance. If you’re moving yourself, less stuff means less packing, less tracking, less effort, a smaller truck, better mileage and a lot less hassle at both ends.

So, start unloading your stuff from your house long before you have to start loading it into the moving van. Be ruthless as you evaluate everything you have. Do you really need to cart around those college textbooks? Do you have boxes of papers you could easily digitize?

Then there’s clothing. If you haven’t worn it for a year or more, donate it to a thrift store or sell it at a consignment shop.

For more options, check out “7 Websites for Selling Your Clutter — Safely” and “9 Retailers That Want to Buy Your Clutter.”

2. Pack some knowledge

If you plan to hire a moving company, some research is critical for saving money and avoiding rip-offs — and the moving industry is rife with rip-offs.

To give you an idea of the headaches you could encounter if you’re not careful, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s offers this scenario:

“Rogue movers typically work like this: Without ever visiting your home or seeing the goods you want moved, they give a low estimate over the telephone or Internet. Once your goods are on their truck, they demand more money before they will deliver or unload them. They hold your goods hostage and force you to pay more — sometimes much more than you thought you had agreed to — if you want your possessions back.”

For more tips for avoiding rip-offs, go to the FMCSA website and check out its “Moving Checklist” and “Spot the Red Flags” pages. Also check out tips from the Better Business Bureau and USA.gov.

3. Get at least three estimates

Get quotes from at least three reputable movers and evaluate their bids in detail. Check the Better Business Bureau website and online complaint sites. Remember, the cheapest option is not always the best one.

Moving companies will send a staffer to your home to give you a free estimate of what your move will cost. Make sure they see every room and storage area so their estimates can be as close to reality as possible.

The actual price you pay — unless you choose a binding estimate — will be based on the difference in the weight of the moving van before and after your belongings were loaded.

4. Timing isn’t everything, but it is something

If at all possible, try moving midweek or in the middle of the month, when there’s less demand. Avoid holidays and summer for the same reason. More demand means higher prices.

If you must move during the peak summer season, start planning early, before movers are fully booked.

Also, remember that moving when it’s very cold or beastly hot could damage some of your belongings inside the truck.

5. Don’t buy what you can get free

The cost of moving supplies — including boxes, tape and Bubble Wrap — can add up quickly if you buy them from a moving company. Free is better.

Try Craigslist or Freecycle for free boxes. Also, check your local grocery store, bookstore or liquor store. Try to avoid giant boxes; they’re harder to move around. And, of course, the sturdier, the better.

This is another reason to start the moving process super early. It gives you the opportunity to start collecting supplies.

6. Pack it yourself

You can save a lot of money by packing your items yourself, rather than paying the movers for that chore. United Van Lines offers this advice for packing fragile items like china and glassware:

“Cushion well with crushed paper; towels and lightweight blankets also may be used for padding and cushioning. The more fragile the item, the more cushioning needed. Be sure no sharp points, edges or rims are left uncovered.”

7. Insure a good move

When it comes to insuring your stuff, start with your existing homeowners or renters policy. Many policies cover damage during a move from the usual things: fire and theft, and other named perils.

What they won’t address, however, is your greatest concern during a move: breakage. Fortunately, long-distance movers must offer two types of such coverage: released value and full value.

You’ll get released value at no additional cost. It reimburses you at a rate of up to 60 cents per pound for damaged or lost items, according to the FMCSA. As you can imagine, however, getting 60 cents for a pound of broken china isn’t much of a consolation.

Full-value protection will cost extra, but it replaces or repairs lost or damaged items, or gives you the cash to do so based on their current value.

As with all insurance, the shortest path to reduced expense is a high deductible. Also be aware that while you may purchase this type of coverage from the moving company, you can also find it elsewhere — including perhaps your existing insurance company.

A warning from the FMCSA:

Do not sign a delivery receipt for your household goods if it contains any language about releasing or discharging your mover or its agents from liability. By law, you have nine months to file a written claim. Strike out this kind of language or refuse delivery until a proper receipt is provided.”

8. Keep good records

You should keep good records in case you need to file a claim against the movers. Take pictures or video of your belongings before they go into boxes or are loaded onto a truck.

9. Be your own mover

I’ve lived all over the country and have never paid a professional mover. That being said, the process of moving everything myself ranks right up there with getting a root canal.

The best piece of advice is one I already offered: lighten the load. The next-best thing you can do is clearly label all boxes so they end up in the right room in your new home. Stack them near exits so the room is easily accessible.

10. Beware the little things

With your focus elsewhere, it’s easy to forget about the little things:

  • Deposits might be required at your new place for a lease and to turn the utilities on.
  • Storage space may be an expense if your moving dates are unexpectedly altered.
  • You may have to purchase household items that you didn’t bring along.
  • Be sure to have clothing and household essentials with you in case the movers are late.

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