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Moving costs: How to save money

If you're changing jobs and your company is picking up the relocation tab, you're lucky. You'll still have all the hassles of uprooting your life, but at least your bank account will rest easy.

For those who do not have that luxury, we're going to show you ways to save money when you move.

Costs for moves across state lines are based on the weight of the goods and the distance traveled. We'll focus on interstate moves for this story. Local moves are a different animal since they're completely unregulated; we'll cover them in a separate report. Still, much of the money-saving information here also applies to local moves.

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  • The discount: Most long-distance movers charge according to an annually revised book called "Tariff 400," which is published by the American Moving and Storage Association, headquartered in Alexandria, Va. The book tells the moving company how much it can charge for hauling X pounds for X miles. The weird thing is, to stay competitive, movers heavily discount the tariff, usually to the tune of 40 percent to 60 percent.
    Here's your first chance to save money. Ask the moving company's sales rep or booking agent how much the discount is and then see if you can get a slightly better deal. You should be getting at least three estimates, so you may have some leverage there.

  • Be flexible: You'll stand a chance of cutting a better deal if you can be flexible about your moving date. Movers are very busy from mid-May to mid-September, says MaryScott Tuck of the American Moving and Storage Association. They are usually looking for work in January and February.

    "A 40 percent discount in the last week of June probably won't get any better, but 40 percent in January probably gives the mover some flexibility," says Tuck.
    Moving sometime other than summer could be 5 percent to 12 percent cheaper, says Tuck. Also, try to avoid moving during the first and last weeks of the month, any month. They're busy weeks for movers.

  • Don't box them in: Another way to get a bigger discount is to give the mover some room when it comes to pickup and delivery dates. If possible, give the movers a span of three to five days when they can pick up the load and three to five days when they can deliver.

  • Packing: Doing some of your own packing is one of the best ways to reduce costs, says Tuck. "Pack your books, clothing, VCR tapes -- but leave your china and high-dollar items for the mover to pack."

  • Packing materials: The mover will sell you boxes, tape and packing paper. But you may be able to get them cheaper at a do-it-yourself mover such as U-Haul or Ryder. You'll save more money by getting boxes from your supermarket, but make sure they're in good shape and weren't initially used for produce, or they may attract bugs.

  • Cut down on the load: If you haven't used it or worn it in more than a year, movers suggest that you pitch, sell or give away the item.

  • Tax deductions: Keep all receipts; you'll be able to deduct allowable expenses from your income taxes.

Unfortunately, there are some areas of the move where you probably won't be able to cut costs. A few examples:

  • Additional transportation charges: These charges compensate the mover for services performed in areas where labor rates are higher -- usually major metropolitan areas. These costs usually range from $1 to $3 per 100 pounds but can be even higher in places such as New York or Los Angeles.

  • Advanced services: The mover needs to hire a specialist to disconnect gas mains, disassemble a piano or pool table, etc.

  • Appliance services: For example, blocking the tub in the washing machine so it doesn't move around.

  • Bulky items: Snowmobiles, lawn mowers, boats, etc. may cost extra to move.

  • Accessorial services: Long carry -- if the mover has to walk more than 75 feet from the truck to your door, you'll pay extra. You'll also be charged more if there are stairs or an elevator. These costs can range between $1.50 and $2 per 100 pounds.

  • Shuttle: If the van can't get to your house because the street's too narrow or there are low-hanging branches or wires, your belongings will have to be loaded onto a smaller truck first. Depending on the size of the shipment, this can be expensive and can be an unpleasant surprise, says Jim Dalessandro of MoveSource in St. Clair Shores, Mich.

    "Generally speaking, the rep knows if a shuttle is needed at the original house, but we don't see the destination until we get there and it could be costly."

  • Payment on delivery: In most cases, the customer pays for the move when the goods are delivered, before they're taken off the truck. If you don't have a certified or cashier's check or whatever the mover requested, your goods may be put in storage until payment is received -- and you'll be charged extra for the storage.

Here is a sample estimate compiled by the American Moving and Storage Association. It's easy to see how much money can be saved by doing some of the packing yourself.

-- Updated: Aug. 3, 2001


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See Also
Estimates of moving costs
Moving glossary
More moving stories

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