couple calling a moving company

The costs of moving: where you can save and where you can’t

The United States features one of the most internally mobile populations in the world. From the days of the colonists, moving through the westward expansion, the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl and continuing to the present, no other country on Earth has a similarly deep-rooted tradition of mobility across its entire population.

Americans who are on the move today remain mobile for much the same reasons as their forebears: primarily opportunity. Our country has always been a dynamic place; the fortunes of cities rise and fall, often carrying the destiny of entire states with them. Those who are willing and able to go where the money is have always been handsomely rewarded. Today, that can often mean earning hundreds of thousands of dollars more each year and providing vastly better living conditions and opportunities for oneself and one’s children.

One study found that in 2010 a full 10 percent of Americans ended up moving out of their current state. This translated to 3.5 percent of all working adults moving. Over the course of a 40-year career, this translates to a staggering 75 percent chance of moving out of state at least once for the average worker. While such life-upending decisions may sound unappealing to many, those who follow their dreams and the prevailing opportunities are often lavishly rewarded.

But all of this requires the willingness and ability to move. And moving can be a very stressful and expensive proposition. Understanding how moving costs break down, especially those arising from hiring a moving company versus doing it yourself, are imperative to ensure that a move goes smoothly. The big question is “How much does a moving company cost?”

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Understanding Basic Moving Costs

Even if you plan on tackling a major move yourself, it is important to understand how moving costs are broken down within the moving industry.

Almost every moving company will differentiate between a local move and a long-distance move. The specific definitions that each company uses can vary. But local moves will almost always be restricted to under 100 miles. And many companies will consider any move over 50 miles to be long distance.

Other companies may differentiate between interstate and intrastate moves, sometimes using these terms interchangeably with long distance and local, respectively. But the important takeaway is that long-distance moves, which will be some moves over 50 miles and almost all moves above 100 miles, have different pricing structures.

Long-distance moves will almost always be based primarily on distance and weight whereas local moves will almost always be charged as a flat hourly fee. Let’s take a look at a couple of rough examples in order to get a ballpark estimate of the kinds of costs that are associated with moves of various profiles.

Local Move Pricing

photo of local movers loading boxes

Local movers almost always charge by the hour. This usually includes an hourly fee for the truck and fuel as well as factoring in packing materials and other expenses. A rough estimate as to the cost of a local move is to figure that each mover will cost around $25 per hour while the truck itself, foreman’s premiums and other expenses will all run around $50 per hour. This is only the roughest estimate as hourly rates will be highly location specific.

Still, the following should give you a decent ballpark idea as to how much a local move will cost:

  • Moving a studio apartment: Moving small apartments should take two movers roughly three hours. The total cost should run around $300.
  • Moving a one-bedroom apartment or very small home: This should take two movers roughly 5 hours and will typically cost around $500.
  • Moving a two-bedroom apartment or small home: You can expect moving a two-bedroom apartment or smaller home to take around 7 hours for two movers and run about $700.
  • Moving a very large apartment or medium-sized home. A move involving a three-bedroom home or apartment will typically require 10 hours for two movers to complete and will cost around $1,000.
  • Moving a large to very large home: Moving a large home will often take a team of two movers 20 hours or more and can run you $2,000 and up. Homes that exceed 5,000 square feet of living space will often require large moving teams that may cost well into the high-four- or even five-figure range.

It should be noted that the above numbers assume a relatively short distance traveled from the point of origination to the destination. While moves that fall between 50 and 100 miles may still be considered local by some companies, such distances can easily add another hour or two, considerably increasing the total costs.

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Long Distance Moving Cost

long distance moving truck photo

Getting even a rough estimate of what long-distance moves will cost is considerably more complicated than for local moves. When moving out of state, many factors come into play. These include the supply and demand of moving services to and from various destinations, the fee structure of the moving company for things like packing services, overnight storage, crew accommodations and many others.

But we can still paint a very rough picture of what moves of varying distances will cost. The general rule is that most moving companies will charge roughly $.07 per pound per 100 miles. Keeping in mind that these costs can vary significantly based on the individual factors of the particular move, we can create some rough estimates of what various moves might cost.

So how much does a moving company cost?

  • Moving the contents of a small apartment, which might roughly equal 2,000 pounds worth of things, 1,000 miles will cost around $1,400.
  • Moving 3,000 pounds worth of items 1,000 miles will run around $2,100. This is roughly equivalent to the contents of a large one-bedroom apartment.
  • Moving out of a smaller home to a destination 1,000 miles away, including 6,000 pounds worth of movable items, will cost around $4,100.
  • Moving from a larger home to another residence located 1,000 miles away, assuming 10,000 pounds worth of items, will cost approximately $7,000.
  • Moving the same contents from a larger home from one coast to the other may cost upwards of $20,000.

Also, many individual states and cities currently have very high demand for moving services. Examples include the San Francisco Bay Area, Chicago and much of California and the state of New Jersey. These areas may feature significantly higher outbound moving costs.

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Moving is expensive, but trying to save money can backfire

As we’ve just seen, moving costs can range anywhere from a few days’ average salary all the way up to shockingly steep. The good news is that most people who are contemplating long-distance moves of the type that may rack up $10,000 or more in costs are usually doing so to chase high-paying jobs. And at least some of these people will have moving costs covered by their employers.

But there is still a strong temptation to try to save money wherever possible when it comes to moving into a new home.

Legitimate ways to save money on moving costs

photo of a couple saving on relocation

There are a few areas where saving as much money as possible should definitely be pursued. One of the ways that you can constructively lower your moving bill, sometimes by quite a lot, is by simply getting rid of things that you don’t absolutely need to take with you.

A good rule of thumb is that if you haven’t used something in the last year, you should get rid of it no matter what. Whether to keep or discard other items will involve judgement calls. However, it should be understood that, especially when it comes to long distance moving, shedding a few hundred pounds of unnecessary items will likely save you hundreds of dollars. And you’d be amazed at how fast the weight of junk adds up. This is not to mention that having less clutter will make moving in easier.

Another way to potentially save big money when moving is to plan your move in the off season. This means never planning to move in the peak months of June, July and August if you can help it. In virtually every region throughout the United States, you will be shelling out premium money if you decide to move during the summer months because these are the months in which most people’s children are not in school. Therefore, most families who are moving for work reasons will move in the summer, making demand for moving services spike through the roof.

Additionally, it is always a good idea to schedule your move, if possible, towards the middle of the month. While end-of-month spikes in demand are small compared to the summer demand peak, there are still more people who will schedule their moves at the beginning of the month. This is mostly due to payroll schedules and the simple fact that people just like making big changes at the beginning of the month.

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Areas where you might be able to save money but caution is warranted

Once you go beyond the factors that were just covered, attempting to save money on a big move starts becoming increasingly perilous. At this point, you really want to make an accurate assessment of your own situation: Do you have the necessary skills, time and patience to carry out moving-related tasks yourself? Even if you do, are you actually saving money once the full cost picture is taken into account?

That said, there are a few areas where you might be able to save money on moving costs. But these will be highly dependent on your individual situation.

Packing items yourself

If you already have a large supply of boxes or can easily get them for free or for cheap, you can save quite a bit of money by packing your items yourself. But you must have a good idea of what you’re doing. And the shorter the distance that you have to travel, the more likely it is that you will get away with transferring fragile and valuable items that were not professionally packed.

But be careful. While it is easy to nominally save a few hundred dollars by doing the packing yourself, should valuable items break, the moving company will generally not be liable for any broken item that the movers did not pack. If you are already buying insurance or your moving company has a liability guarantee, the potential risk of doing the packing yourself is likely to outweigh the meager potential savings.

And unless you are confident that you can do a good job of emulating a professional packing job for your fragile and valuable items, you should generally stay away from packing those things for long-distance moves. The likelihood of breakage skyrockets as road time increases. And having packed things yourself may even invalidate some full-replacement insurance policies. So, be careful.

Performing regional or local moves yourself

If you’re moving the contents of a small apartment a few miles up the road, then it’s worth weighing the benefits of trying to carry out the move yourself. Being an able-bodied man, having multiple able-bodied friends and having access to vehicles that are move capable, such as a heavy-duty truck and a flatbed trailer, are all strong indications that going the do-it-yourself route could save you money.

However, even strong, fit men should recognize when the risks of incurring big costs outweigh the potential savings. For example, even two strong men may find moving large appliances to be a serious challenge without prior experience. And the risk is often not to the appliances themselves but to the interior of the home or apartment through which they are being maneuvered, which can be severely damaged by improperly shielded corners, edges or external plumbing fixtures.

Although there are certainly many women that can move heavy items like sleeper couches and armories and many men that can’t, average women, especially those who are older, who do not have moving experience or experienced male friends to help them should generally not attempt to carry out moves themselves. The risk of personal injury increases dramatically as body size, bone density and muscle mass decrease. There are good reasons why the typical mover is a large man who could likely pass for an NFL linebacker.

But the fact is that even in-shape men may want to think twice about attempting a move themselves, especially with moves that involve larger total weights or specialty items. If you make $30 per hour, have to rent a truck and are taking time off of work to move, you probably aren’t saving money anyway.

It goes without saying that those who are elderly, infirm or even out of shape should not attempt moving themselves. The chance of something going seriously wrong, including serious injury and damage to items and interiors, is high.

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Areas where you definitely shouldn’t try to save money on a move

moving boxes in car

When it comes to moving, there are a few areas where trying to save a few bucks is likely to end up costing far more than the nominal savings.

While it’s always tempting to shave a few percentage points off any bill that totals in the thousands of dollars, it’s equally important to remember that moving involves the most precious and indispensable items that you own. This is not the time to start going with discount options if there is any chance that it could put your belongings or your family’s well-being in jeopardy.

Beware of moving scams

The biggest thing you should generally not try to save money on is the moving company itself. Legitimate moving companies compete in the free market. While there will always be a company that can offer a legitimate lowest price, this will very frequently be possible only at the cost of offering fewer or less-premium services.

However, no moving company is going to be able to come in 50 or 75 percent below market rates. Any company that gives you an extreme low-ball quote should be approached with equally extreme caution. And it is imperative to never hire a company on the strength of a non-binding quote.

Always get a quote in writing that is explicitly binding before the company shows up to start moving your stuff. Especially when it comes to interstate moves, it is common for scam moving companies to load all of their customer’s belongings into a truck and then refuse to unload them at the destination unless a large cash fee is immediately handed over.

This can be a highly effective scam because most people who are moving hundreds or thousands of miles away from their previous homes are in no position to initiate lawsuits that could take months or years while all their worldly possessions are being held out of their reach. Many times, these sorts of scams can end up sticking unwitting customers for thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars. And by the time federal agencies get around to dealing with the situation, the companies are often long-since folded up and gone.

The most important ways to avoid moving scams where your things are held hostage are to always get a binding quote, never allow a moving job to start until an agreement with a binding price has been signed, use extreme caution when dealing with new moving companies or those that are unaffiliated with national franchises and avoid companies that have negative online reviews.

Don’t skimp on specialty movers

If you have high-end specialty items, such as a grand piano, billiards tables or valuable works of art, it is a good idea to hire separate specialty movers to handle moving them.

Most moving companies do not have specialty movers on staff. And this means that the movers who show up to your home will likely not have the experience, skills and knowledge to safely move items like artwork or large pianos. The chance that such items will be seriously damaged or ruined without the proper care in moving them is high.

While specialty movers will cost you extra up front, in the long run, their services will be well worth the extra cost.

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Buy moving insurance

The standard coverage that most moving companies offer is $.60 per pound of items being moved. This means that if you have 10,000 pounds worth of things that are being transported to your new home, should the truck be hit by a freight train and everything destroyed, you’ll get $6,000 to replace all of your worldly belongings.

It goes without saying that the actual replacement cost for items that would fill a large home is going to be considerably higher than $6,000, perhaps as much as 20 or 30 times that figure.

This is why you should always consider getting full replacement liability insurance. This will effectively cover all of your items for their full replacement value. This means that, for instance, if a flat-screen television is destroyed, it will be fully replaced with a brand-new model of equivalent quality and features.

There is also insurance for items of extraordinary value. This is defined as any item that has a value of more than $100 per pound. Replacement liability insurance generally will not include fair-market-value reimbursements for items such as valuable artwork, high-end or specialty computers or other electronics, crystal glasses, high-end chinaware, antique guns or other similar items.

If you are moving any items of extraordinary value to your new home, it is therefore strongly recommended that you get extraordinary value insurance.

Do your research

As we’ve seen, moving is an important life event that can end up costing thousands of dollars. But while it’s certainly possible for some people to save significant money on certain aspects of moving, trying to cut corners in the wrong places can potentially leave you in nightmare scenarios where you may lose valuable items or be faced with shelling out money you can’t spare just to complete a time-sensitive move.

The best way to avoid problems is to do your research. Moving is a big-ticket expense. Just like buying a car or shopping for a home, you should thoroughly vet all local moving companies and choose the one that is right for your move and that has a long, clean track record of business as well as a solid reputation.

If you do your homework, your move can be carried out smoothly and economically.

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