Moving On The Cheap

Hey! It’s moving season! College students moving to and fro, people changing apartments, moving, moving, moving. Curbly has some tips for saving money when you move. Some we like:

If you don’t want it, don’t move it. Give away or throw away anything you don’t really want or need. The planning stages of moving is the best time to start getting rid of stuff. Give things away on Freecycle, or give things to the Salvation Army. (We would add: Or have a moving sale. If you do donate things to charity, make sure they’re in good condition and document them for tax purposes.)

The very best free boxes: boxes liquor is shipped in. Go to your local liquor store or restaurant with a bar area and ask them if they will give you boxes. Sometimes you can catch them before the store breaks them down for recycling and you don’t even have to tape them back together. These boxes are usually the perfect size for heavy items like books and glassware. They’re also stronger than other types of boxes, usually.

There are more tips at Curbly, but they’re all pretty basic. Let’s hear what the Consumerists have to say. What are your tips for a quick, cheap move. Our tip? Don’t use U-haul. Sell your children first.

Incidentally, “The Potentate Of Totin’ Freight,” is officially the best slogan ever. —MEGHANN MARCO

Moving on the cheap: a primer [Curbly]
(Photo:Beige Alert)


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  1. embean says:

    Tips: Move during the middle of the month if possible, it’s always cheaper and the minimum number of hours is usually lower.

    Pack odd shaped thing in boxes if possible, it makes loading a lot faster.

    Try to centralize your stuff, the closer it is to the door, the faster it can be moved.

    Be nice to your movers, we know you’re stressed, don’t freak out at us. We own your stuff once it leaves your house, make sure we’re happy.

    Tip your movers (assuming they do a good job), most aren’t paid near what it’s worth.

  2. embean says:

    Also if your bed went into the house during construction, chances aren’t it’s not going to leave your house.

    Oh and if you pack a box, try moving it. If you can’t, that’s not good. I’ve done moves where people packed these giant boxes and never touched them. Trying to move a bunch of 200+ lb cardboard boxes because you’re lazy, isn’t fun.

  3. Bay State Darren says:

    We’re moving Thursday and having to move/get rid of 20 years worth of shit form a family of four. I coulda used it just a little earlier.

  4. Treved says:

    Check out the info and discussion board at I’m not associated with it, but used it to great success.

  5. CharlesRichter says:

    Another good source for free moving boxes is your local Kinko’s or other copy shop. They are perfect for books, because books are made out of paper, and these boxes are designed to be filled with paper without becoming too heavy.

    The one caveat is that it’s even more important than at the liquor store to get them before the shop breaks them down–most paper cases are folded differently, with their sides glued together. Once you rip the glue bonds apart, they don’t go back together as neatly. The flip side of this is that they come with lids, so opening and closing is a whole lot more convenient.

  6. Jabes says:

    Buy a lot more packing tape than you think you’ll need — I mean, A LOT more! Nothing like running over to the drugstore at 1:00 a.m. the night before the movers come to buy more. Also, store an extra pair of scissors or box cutter in your purse (or the equivalent, for men) so that even if you misplace your primary cutting instrument in all the chaos, you can keep packing/unpacking until they turn up (plus, it will make the movers laugh when you say, “Wait, I’ve got a boxcutter in my purse!”). Also, most movers that I’ve used only take cash, so make sure you go to the bank before moving day.

  7. normsy says:

    If you are moving out of your area and don’t have a great deal of stuff, I would strongly recommend using a company that does those moving pods or cubes (PODS, ABF, etc.). I moved two states away and saved 50% over what it would have cost me to drive a truck all the way there or hire a moving company. I saved even more money by renting a truck and loading my goods in the cube at their terminal instead of having them deliver the cube.

    This isn’t a great option for everyone, but if you have the will and a lack of a ton of stuff, you can save a boatload of bucks.

  8. DO NOT USE DHL to ship anything.

    Also, hire college or high school students. They’ll work 8 hours loading and unloading your truck for cheap. I often would pass the word to a frat or something and say I had $200 and they could argue how to divide it amongst themselves. Two of them could spend all day for $100 each, or they could get eight of them and do it fast and make $25 each.

    You must, however, provide pizza or chinese and soda or beer.

    Pack a suitcase with your sheets, two changes of clothes, toiletries, and a set of towels. For each family member. (Along with necessities like beloved stuffed animals, medicines, pacifiers, a book, etc.) The three things you want most when you arrive and get tired of moving boxes are a shower, a change of clothes, and a bed to lie down on. The suitcase(s) move in your car, not in the truck. And I always get the bed in place as soon as possible, and then make it up right away, so that we can go to bed when we’re tired, not spend hours hunting for sheets. You can deputize one family member/roommate to be in charge of making all the beds and setting up the bathroom to be useable.

    I pack up the rest of the suitcase with things I would want if I was going on vacation — a book or two, more clothes, etc. But the crucial bit is sheets, two changes of clothes, a set of towels, and toiletries.

    Almost everything else can be put off (you can eat pizza on paper towels sitting on the floor), but you have to have a bed and a working bathroom to function!

  9. chickymama says:

    Produce boxes are great for moving (not all are useable) as they have built in slots for picking up and carrying around.

    Our family has moved many times and I have found that if I start on one room and completely pack everything up and move packed boxes to a designated part of the house makes my life better. Having all the packed boxes centralized in one spot makes loading them into a truck easier and your place is less chaotic. I try to start packing as soon as I know when my move out date will be.

  10. Oh, we also do a “suitcase” (usually a crate) with cat food, litter, vet records, food and water bowls, any medicines, etc. That moves in the car too if the pets are moving in with the people instead of spending a few days boarding or at a relative’s. It’s much easier to have five days of pet supplies on hand and not have to rush right to the store.

    Also, for cat owners, those disposable litter boxes are a godsend for moving. We also keep an emergency one with the evacuation supplies, along with the smallest size of their food, so if we have to evacuate, the cats have their litter and food. You do have to replace the food, though, every year or so so it doesn’t get stale. But it’s not like they won’t eat it just because it’s been sitting in the closet!

  11. Paul says:

    Doorstops can be really helpful if you’re in a place with an exterior door, a door right behind that, a hallway security door, and an apartment door. Instead of having to put your box down, open the door, pick the box up, and try to hustle through each door as it closes, you can just walk all the way. Especially useful for those heavy doors with strong closing mechanisms which can’t easily be held open with something heavy.

  12. CDANIEL says:

    Hospitals and laboratories are another good source for strong boxes. Many of the chemicals and medical supplies are required to be shipped in strong double-walled boxes that are practically indestructible.

  13. celyn says:

    Potato boxes from restaurants are also great moving boxes– just the right size and very sturdy.

  14. zolielo says:

    Plastic wrap your the outside of your boxes for extra holding strength, water proofing, and traction with other plastic wrap boxes.

    2nd tip:
    Use firms that drop off, store if you need it, and ship containers (medium to big metal ones) for secondary items that are not needed upon arrival at one’s new location.

  15. frankadelic says:

    1. Never move out of your parent’s home! It’s so much easier that way.
    2. I can tell you what not to do. My girlfriend and I bought a ton of stuff before we moved into our new place. It would have been better to buy it after. I don’t know what what the hell we were thinking.

    Judging by what I’ve heard, it sounds like I lucked out but when I made a local move (northern Queens to mid-Queens) I used U-Haul and it ended up being a lot cheaper than the other truck rental places and the rental process was pretty painless.

  16. Spider Jerusalem says:

    See, #1 would have been awesome if I hadn’t come back from Europe and found some dude living in my (very purple) room. Of course now my mom wants us to move in with her, and its too much of a schlep.

    #2 has kept me from buying anything in a YEAR. Every time I want something new, I tell myself “no, don’t get it, because you’re gonna move soon”.

  17. kpfeif says:

    Hey! It’s Hernia movers! They’re delivering my stuff on Thursday.

    Not only do they have an awesome slogan and company name, but they’re the best. I’ve recommended them to *ANYBODY* moving around here (Milwaukee, WI). They’re prompt, friendly, and damned strong – I saw one of the guys lift my armoire with his head. Youch.

    This will be my fourth move with them, and every time it’s been awesome.

  18. I just want to add that I recently found myself choosing between two movers: BeavEx Moving and Storage (formerly Beaver Express) and Seamen’s Moving and Storage. No, seriously. I’m not kidding. I went with the Beaver.

    I threw so much stuff out this weekend. it’s not even funny. I love getting rid of the junk I no longer need!

  19. Lyn Never says:

    Along with a couple of tape guns (borrow if you can, but buying is worth it) get some stretch wrap (it’s kind of like a tape gun of plastic wrap), which will allow you to secure electric cords to appliances, stabilize odd-shaped things, and hold drawers and doors closed on furniture, so you’re not trying to get tape off your stuff when you unpack.

  20. You can often get large pieces of glass (mirrors, table tops) packed at pack-and-mail type places for a reasonable price. It does cost a little bit, but it’s a lot less than $78 for a new tabletop. :P

  21. acambras says:

    @Eyebrows McGee:

    You are so right about the suitcase. We moved over the weekend, and after a 14-hour day of loading, moving, and unloading, all we wanted to do is shower and sleep. My biggest priorities were hanging the shower curtain and putting sheets on the bed.

    The cat, who was thoroughly traumatized, stayed in the old apartment Saturday night and we moved her and her stuff Sunday night (able to do so because we had a few days overlap on both places and it wasn’t a long distance move).

    I really tried to be organized this time — started getting rid of useless stuff almost 2 months ago. But in the end, we were just frantically and indiscriminately throwing stuff into Hefty bags. Moving is just inherently chaotic, at least in my experience.


  22. minneapolisite says:

    My best advice is to collect less junk. Frequently re-assess your belongings and ask if it’s worth storing it. My home is worth $150 per square foot, so I ask myself “Is this junk worth the $150 per square foot it sits on?” If not, I bring it to Good Will (conveniently located a few blocks away). This keeps my storage closets very easy to manage, keeps my home uncluttered, and keeps the moving process less overwhelming!

  23. bsheairs says:

    I can vouch for PODS. Quick and easy to use. They drop it in your driveway, you fill it up, they take it away until you’re ready for it. Great for someone selling a house that looks better without a ton of stuff in it (read: small!).

    The initial drop off is a bit pricey (it ran me about $600 for their largest unit), but the monthly storage is about the same as the local self-storage units ($230). A good option for those who need to put their stuff someplace, but don’t have many choices.

    Also a good choice if you are doing the move yourself, as you can tell PODS when they are picking up the unit, so you can do the fill-up/empty-out over the course of a few weekends.

  24. @frankadelic: I know I should follow your advice in #2 but it is KILLING me hearing how all this great cheap stuff is going to turn up now and I’m not moving until the end of July. I’m going from a furnished place to an unfurnished place and I have to keep telling myself that it isn’t like I have room to store a lot of new stuff anyway.

  25. mac-phisto says:

    my mom moved from pa to georgia a few years ago. she held a perpetual garage sale over a 4 month period until virtually everything was gone. the only thing she took w/ her was her bedroom set, some valuables/heirlooms & some clothes.

    she was quoted anywhere from $8000-$10,000 to move the whole house. instead, she shipped the bedroom set via freight for ~$1000 & netted $5000 to buy new stuff from the garage sale. plus, anything she couldn’t sell went to the thrift shop for a write-off.

    conversely, i’m renting a storage unit which is the worst possible thing you can do, b/c it’s out of sight, out of mind. i really have to get that thing cleaned out (i’m going on 8 months now…)

  26. banned says:

    Tip #1 – Milk Crates if you can find them are better than any box. I have collected 10 or so over the years. The only problem is storage until the next move however are quite useful when used to store other stuff.

    Tip #2 – I once moved my entire apartment with nothing but a bicycle, my milk crates, and a hockey bag. Cost me nothing! Sure it took a week, and about 20-30 trips on my bike with two smaller bags on either handle bar, huge pain, but FREE. It obviously wont help moving long distance.

  27. Snakeophelia says:

    1. Always get references. Anyone who’s had an extreme experience with movers will be glad to share it. I recommend Superior Movers to everyone in the Philly area.

    2. Check your route with movers beforehand. Thanks to the size of the truck the movers had, we had to take a different route than expected from my old home to my new, which was more heavily-trafficked and added 30 minutes to the total time. Also, if there are any special geographical issues (I moved from a 12-foot-wide rowhome on a one-way street to another rowhome on a one-way street with parking on both sides), be sure to discuss beforehand.

    3. Pay cash. I usually give out twenties as tips, and have plenty of soda and water on hand.

    4. Don’t assume the movers are going to help you dismantle your snake cages. Some movers are a tad reptile-shy.

  28. zolielo says:

    @Lyn Never:

    Along with a couple of tape guns (borrow if you can, but buying is worth it) get some stretch wrap (it’s kind of like a tape gun of plastic wrap), which will allow you to secure electric cords to appliances, stabilize odd-shaped things, and hold drawers and doors closed on furniture, so you’re not trying to get tape off your stuff when you unpack.

    Similar to my tip. However, I would suggest that a roll of Costco plastic wrap (3000 foot?) for not that much money is the cheaper alternative.

  29. kellyd says:

    Plastic grocery bags for books! Better than any box. I’ve moved myself and fellow bibliophiles after learning this trick from my best friend. The plastic grocery bags will only hold a few books, so they can’t get too heavy, and have handles! Anyone can be in charge of transferring bookshelves to bags, and once it’s time to actually move them, each person involved can choose to carry as many in each hand as is comfortable. Best ever way to move books!

  30. puregroundchuck says:

    Here’s your reasons to not use U-Haul:

    1. Uhaul on Charlotte in Nashville managed to not include the appliace dolly I had reserved a week in advance.
    2. The trucks they give you for local moves look like something from Sanford & Son.
    3. The storage are in the truck I had been given was clearly used asa hangout for the staff and was full of cigarrette butts and a condom wrapper.
    4. After more than an hour on the phone with Uhaul “Customer Service” I was refunded half of my rental fee.

  31. alicetheowl says:

    I’ve been lucky enough to work in places where boxes are easy to come by every time I’ve moved. Even then, the boxes the milk comes into the grocery store in are available in vest quantities, and they’re decent quality and have handles. I quickly learned I was wasting my time going to Walmart; they throw out their boxes right away.

    Other than that, I haven’t seen anyone noting the importance of labeling boxes. All they need is the room the box is going into. That’ll save you HOURS of time when it comes time to unpack. Otherwise, the unpacking process sounds something like:

    “What’s this box?”
    “I dunno. Open it.”
    “Oh, it’s DVDs. These go in the living room next to the TV, right?”
    “Yeah, just be careful you don’t spill that box, now that it’s open . . .”

    I keep wondering how it’s cheaper to hire movers than recruit friends. My husband and I will be treating our friends to dinner after the heavier stuff is in our apartment on Saturday, and I know they’ll listen when I say, “Careful with that; it’s got glass in it.”

    Really, though, moving is hellish no matter how many of these tips you follow.

  32. alicetheowl says:

    @kellyd: Maybe if you don’t have many books. My husband and I have eighteen boxes filled with all kinds of books. I find the storage boxes with handles are worth the investment for transporting books, because they’re small enough that it’s very difficult to make them too heavy to lift.

  33. acambras says:

    2 more things I thought of (since we moved this past weekend):

    1) We rented from Penske. The base rate was more than Budget’s, but Penske was giving us free miles, while Budget’s 70-cents per mile would have had us spending much more in the long run. Penske was easy to deal with and the cab and storage area of the 16′ truck we rented were immaculate. U-Haul had been ruled out immediately, due to their lousy customer service record and their crappy fleet.

    2) This may sound a little anal, but each box I packed had a letter and a number. The letter (L, B, or K) corresponded to the room where the box should go. The number corresponded to a log I kept in a notebook (in a safe place, of course). Every time I sealed a box, I wrote the letter and number on 5 sides of the box (all but the bottom). That way, when I looked for the cable box last night, all I had to do was check my log and look for box L-27. Since the boxes were all labeled on 5 sides, I didn’t have to move any boxes to find their numbers. I found the box in less than 5 minutes.

    Tip #2 is more of a save aggravation tip than a save money tip, I guess.

  34. pearlandopal says:

    @alicetheowl: It’s not cheaper to hire movers, just more convenient than bugging the crap out of your friends who either aren’t interested or aren’t strong enough. If you’ve got that many friends in your area who are all of the above, then obviously you spend less time on the internets than most of us. :P

  35. alicetheowl says:

    @pearlandopal: In my case, it’s that I helped them move before, and they’re repaying the favor. I didn’t even have to ask.

    Hence, treating to dinner out of gratitude.

  36. JayXJ says:

    Boxes: Egg boxes from your grocery store are great. Ditto bleach boxes or the like from wal-mart or K-mart.

    Trucks: U-Haul was a freaking disaster last time I rented from them. Penske was great, but a little more expensive (worth it).

    Ditto on labeling the boxes. We generally put the needed stuff in the trunk of my car (which is either on a dolly or has been dropped at the new place, since I’m driving the truck). Everything is there and handy. I’d add that you want a box of fresh lightbulbs. I’ve moved into two places that the previous tenant/owner took all the bulbs with them. Make sure your coffee maker is available!!! Nothing is more frustrating than desperately needing coffee (I’m convinced that you can die from a lack of it) and realizing that it, the pot, and the filters are all in seperate boxes…somewhere. Toys or a portable DVD player to occupy small children. This curbs thier desire to “help”. I love my kids but they drive me insane during a move.

    Will it fit?: Measure doorways FIRST, if possible. I’d much rather find out that I need to remove a door before I’m butting it with a dolly mounted dryer on the stairs. Ditto other large furniture.

    Pets: If doing a local move have a friend babysit them so they are not underfoot and getting freaked out. Make sure your cat stays indoors for a couple of days after the move, until he’s used his new home.
    If doing a one way get a large cat carrier with room for a travel litter box. And be ready to put up with hours of him complaining since most cats are not to keen on road trips. If your dog gets carsick easily you can get a sedative from your vet, also make sure the little SOB rides with your wife or significant other .