How to Move Cross-Country Cheaply

Ah, the joys of moving. After helping my sister move cross-country, it is now my turn, and so I was able to benefit from the lessons my sister learned – as well as learn a few of my own.

Ship via Amtrak

If you want to avoid a moving truck/van and don’t have a lot of stuff, consider shipping via Amtrak. Note that they won’t allow you to ship anything fragile or electronic, and each box you ship must be under 50 lbs. After purging and donating all we could, we ended up shipping the rest of our eligible stuff for under $400. The rest we packed into the back of our Prius. (Boy were we glad we had a hatchback with fold-down seats!)

(By the way, if you happen to be moving between the Washington, DC area and Florida, you should also consider Amtrak’s Auto Train service, which allows you to drive your fully packed vehicle onto an Amtrak car, then ride the train with your car. How cool is that?)

Lighten your load

Of course, you’ll save money if you move as little stuff as possible. Take the time to determine if you really need all the clothes hanging in your closet, the pots and pans you don’t really use any more, etc. If you have anything new, like new, or otherwise valuable that you don’t want, see if you can sell it for a decent amount on Amazon Marketplace or eBay. You can sell like-new women’s clothes, handbags, shoes, and kids clothes to ThredUP (that link gets you $10 to spend as well). If you’re on Facebook, there is probably a yard/garage sale group in your area where you can try to sell your unwanted stuff. Donate stuff still in usable condition to your local Goodwill, or give it away on Freecycle. Donate magazines and unwanted books to your local library. If you have old, busted electronics sitting around (laptops, PCs, hard drives, keyboards, video game consoles, iPads, etc.) don’t trash them — recycle them at your local Staples.

If you don’t want to throw out, donate, sell, or move your furniture and subletting or transferring a lease is an option for you, then advertise your apartment as furnished! This will make your apartment more attractive to some potential tenants (i.e. college students), and take care of the furniture removal problem.

Use recycled boxes

Don’t buy boxes from U-haul (but if you do, buy at a quantity discount and keep your receipt so you can return what you don’t use). Instead, ask your local grocery store, restaurants, department stores, etc. what days their freight comes in and if you could come by to take discarded boxes. If you have any friends who work in retail establishments like this, ask them to grab boxes for you. People will give away their extra moving boxes on Freecycle as well.

Don’t exit your lease early

This may seem obvious, but if you rent and you don’t have to leave early, avoid it. However, if you’re moving for a new job and your new employer is paying relocation costs, they may consider paying any fees you incur for breaking your lease as well. You might also consider subletting for the remainder of your lease, although there is risk involved with that. Our landlord had their own “sublet” option, where they allowed us to transfer the lease to a new tenant for a reasonable fee, after the applicant passed credit checks, etc. as if applying for a new apartment. Since we were planning on moving in May or June, right when colleges were letting out for the year, and our lease was up in September, we had a perfect apartment for a college student that wanted to stay in the area over the summer.

Tax deductions

Note that some moving expenses are tax deductible if you’re moving due to work, if you operate a small business, or if you’re self-employed, but there are conditions that must be met in order to qualify. Talk to your CPA if you’re unsure. Keep the receipts for the expenses of moving your actual person (and others in your household) and your belongings. Meals don’t count, but hotel stays, storage, gas and oil for the car (if you drive), airline tickets, and similar directly related expenses do.

Other tips

Start packing early. I don’t just mean two weeks in advance either — I mean pack a box or two per week for the four or six months leading up to your move. I set a repeating task in Outlook to remind me to pack a box weekly.

When packing breakables, don’t use bubble wrap, newspaper, or grocery bags — use clothes, linens, and towels that you’d be packing anyway!

I started packing early, which meant I had boxes packed up and ready to go far in advance of the actual move. When packing clothes far in advance like this, spray some Lysol in before sealing the box shut. The Lysol will fight bacteria growth while your clothes are packed so that you won’t have to rewash the clothes once you arrive.

Windex doesn’t solve all moving-related problems, but it comes close.

Consider hiring a house cleaning service to do a move-out clean for you, particularly if you are selling your house, subletting, or transferring a lease and the landlord won’t turn the apartment over before the new tenant moves in. While this will cost you extra (though possibly not as much as you think), it will save you time, and you know what they say about time and money. You might check Groupon for deals on house cleaning services, though you should double check that the offering will cover the services that you need (a regular cleaning is usually not the same as a deep clean or move-out clean). You can also try Thumbtack for quotes from local cleaning services — and moving services as well, for that matter.

Good luck!

About Kelly Carter

I'm a freelance web developer, doing business under the name Rainworks Web Development. I'm a skeptical technophile, voracious reader, softcore gamer, and haphazard tinkerer. I have a long-term partner, a cat, and no time for glass ceilings.

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