How to Move Across the Country Stress-Free and Affordably

These tips will help you focus on the excitement of a big change instead of how hard it is.

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So, you got a new job. Or your partner did. Or you’re going to school. Or maybe you’ve burned every bridge in your current town and you need to start over.

We’re not judging.

No matter what your reasons, moving across the country can be a pretty tall order—especially if you’re juggling a lot of unknowns while also tying up loose ends. Never fear, ESTATENVY is here!

Plan to move between October and May.

Everybody and their frat brother move during the summer months. That’s when most leases are up and new school years begin.

If you can swing it, your best bet is to move during the off-season between October and May. You’ll find much better rates for moving and shipping (more on that in a second) and a plethora of higher quality apartments amid lower competition.

Of course, that may also mean you have to sublet or break your current lease. Check your agreement and contact your landlord to remember what you agreed to and what your options may be.

Only move what you can’t live without.

The truth is, if your belongings are upscale enough that you can’t part with them, you can probably afford to move them. Kudos to you. For most people reading this, though, consider downsizing and replacing most of your stuff.

“My move got a lot easier when I realized it was going to be more expensive to move my IKEA-ish furniture from New York than to buy new IKEA-ish furniture in California,” writes Scott Meslow for GQ. A beautifully modern sentiment. Plus, you can get a meatball.

Sell your stuff and give what’s left away.

“About a week before I moved, I blocked off a single afternoon to be my Craigslist Afternoon,” writes Meslow. “Anyone who wanted anything had to come over within those hours. Anyone who emailed me about a specific item got first dibs on it—but if they were late by more than 15 minutes and didn’t respond to a text asking if they were still coming, I’d contact the next prospective buyer.”

For even more peace of mind, post your stuff up on Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace several weeks ahead of your move to ensure you give people time to find and collect their purchases. Safety note: consider asking someone you trust to hang out with you while strangers come over.

Speaking of inviting random strangers into your home, Meslow adds: “Put Post-It notes with suggested prices on everything you’re trying to sell. You’d be amazed how many people came to pick up a couch, and ended up impulse-buying a lamp or an end-table or a floor rug on their way out the door when they saw a note that said $20 on it.”

eBay is an option as well, but it’s probably not worth your time and money to ship things to buyers—reserve this platform for collectors’ items that you think are worth more to a select group of people and plan ahead to put them on Craigslist if the bidders don’t come running.

You can also grab a couple of friends and throw a joint yard sale. And after you’ve milked your belongings for all the cash possible, invite pals and coworkers to sift through your stuff and take whatever they want. Hello, free clothes, books and records! That will also give you an extra chance to socialize before you peace out.

Lastly, of course, you can donate anything left over to resale shops and local homeless shelters. Pet rescues frequently need blankets, too!

Research your moving and shipping options.

Of course, you’ll also have to move your own body and soul. Most airlines allow two large checked bags under 50 pounds each. For items that you want to move in addition to that, you have a few options, and the final decision depends on your situation.

Important note: Many moving companies such as PODS, U-Pack, Budget, Penske, North American Van Lines and more offer discounts for military veterans. AAA members also often receive discounts.

Hire professionals to do it all for you.

This may well be your most expensive, albeit convenient, option. The American Moving and Storage Association estimates that the average cost of hiring professionals for a 1,225-mile interstate move (e.g. Denver to San Francisco) is $4,300.

If this is your best option for your needs, carve out several weeks to research and contact as many prospects for quotes as possible so you select a reputable, highly professional company. You’re free to test your luck, but historically, the cheapest option may create some issues that leave you even more frustrated than driving through the dang mountains yourself.

And, as a precaution, make an inventory of your stuff before you put it in the hands of others!

Drive your own moving truck or trailer.

If you’re patient and brave (or simply driving over the flatter smattering of states) you could rent a truck.

Carson Kohler of The Penny Hoarder recently compared some brands for her boyfriend’s 2,000-mile move from Denver to Tampa for a one-bedroom apartment amount of stuff.

She documented options ranging from around $890 to $1,800 for the rental trucks, which didn’t count gas and other fees. She also found some cargo trailer options from $405 to $942, while HireAHelper states that the average cost with a U-Pack trailer is over $3,000. Again, it really depends on what you have and where you’re going!

If you go this route, a smart way to cut costs is to gather free moving materials like sturdy boxes and bubble wrap from places like Craigslist, liquor stores and big-box retailers.

Ship your stuff.

USPS is also a tried-and-true way to mail yourself lighter items like clothes and linens. For larger pieces like furniture, you can rent containers like PODs, U-Haul shipping boxes or use the bidding service uShip. Moving.com estimates that a rental container can range from $2,000 to $3,000 and include a month of storage, which would give you some wiggle room while getting settled into your new place.

Kohler notes that her boyfriend ended up going with a $700 uShip bid, but several of his belongings ended up getting damaged or went completely missing. Then again, others have had great experiences, so, consider carefully—and cross your fingers.

Find short-term living arrangements while you look for a place.

It’s a heck of a lot easier to find a new pad when you’re in your new city and can make tons of appointments to check places out. Plus, landlords rarely rent to people sight unseen… and you probably don’t want to rent for anyone who does.

Stay with a friend or rent an Airbnb or furnished sublet for a month (or three) while you explore. If you’re shipping your stuff, the containers could take a couple of weeks to arrive. You could also rent a storage unit for a short time if need be.

Obviously, we can’t give a firm answer on what the best option is for your particular move. But if you dramatically downsize your belongings and perform your due diligence, you’ll be starting your new life, stress-free, in no time.

How long until you do it all again?