No matter where your Point A and Point B may be, moving can be expensive — but it doesn’t have to be. In this article, we’ll cover every aspect of the cost of moving across the country so you can save as much money as possible. We’ll talk about every method of transport and which of those methods is your cheapest option. Moving across the country doesn’t have to be an expensive, stressful undertaking. By the time you finish this article, you’ll only have the packing left.
Find Out if Your Company Will Pay For Your Move
If you’re moving for work reasons, make sure to ask your boss whether or not your company will pay for your move as soon as possible. It’s common for employees of large companies to have their belongings packed, shipped cross-country, stored, and unpacked at their company’s expense. Alternately, some companies will offer their employees the cash to take care of things themselves, often thousands of dollars — and after reading what’s in this article, you could stand to pocket a significant amount of that money.
Do you own your own company? If you’re moving for business reasons, you can have your company pay for the move instead of paying out of your own pocket.
Even if neither of the above options are for you, remember that any personal moving expenses are tax deductible. So, the cheapest ways to move across country are even cheap if you’re financing your move yourself (depending on your tax bracket).
Begin Saving Money for Your Move
If your company isn’t paying for your move, you’ll need money. Save early to avoid stress later on. Depending on the moving method you choose, you may have many costs to consider: movers, a moving truck, a rental car, a plane ticket (or more than one), hotels, food while traveling, shipping costs, and don’t forget a rental deposit on your new apartment or a down payment on a new home. You may also want to consider getting a AAA membership. AAA offers discounts at more than 100,000 places including retailers, restaurants, hotels, and more; they also offer special benefits for travelers like a $60 locksmith and 10% on labor at auto shops across the country. You also get five miles of free towing which can offer you great peace of mind if you plan on driving your old beater cross-country. Join AAA online starting around $60 annually or call AAA at (800) 922-8228.
Plan to Move Across the Country During the Off-Season
Airline tickets, plane tickets, bus tickets, truck rentals, and basically everything else you need you move have seasonal price variations. Moving between October and May will save you the most money. Everyone wants (or needs) to move during the summer, so you’ve got to set your sails against the wind if you want to really save money. If you have some flexibility in choosing your move date, consider an off-season relocation if you want to save the most money possible.
Prepare to Pack by Purging
If you want to move across the country easily and cheaply, you’ll first need to get rid of unloved possessions. If getting rid of things is hard for you, these very popular books may help:
- The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing is all about paring down your possessions in order to live a happier, healthier life. Rather than focusing on what you should throw away, author Marie Kondo starts with helping you think about whether or not the things you own bring you happiness. It’s a shockingly effective reverse approach to decluttering that’s been literally life-changing for millions of readers.
- Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up is the companion book to The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. The first book is mainly about getting rid of things while the second book is about how to rebuild your surroundings with only the things that truly bring you joy.
- If you’ve got furniture, sporting goods, baby gear, or other large or bulky items, Craigslist is a simple way to get rid of your stuff. If you’ve got many items to sell, make sure you create an account and always sign in before posting an item so you can easily manage all of your inventory from your account. Learn more about how to get rid of your stuff on Craigslist, even if you’re short on time.
- eBay can make it harder and more time-consuming to list items, requires shipping, and takes more time overall, but eBay may give you the greatest return on items with a special market. For example, electronics, designer clothing, and antiques will likely fetch a higher price if they’re posted for all the world to see than if they’re only advertised to users in your local area.
Gift to Friends
It may be nice to give your friends items to you remember you by, especially if they’ve had their eye on them for some time. Just make sure you’re not just giving them your old garbage. If it’s not an item that they truly need or they seem reluctant to take it, it probably should be donated or discarded entirely rather than shoved resentfully into your friend’s basement.
Goodwill takes (almost) anything. Drop everything off there instead of throwing into a landfill, and you’ll get a receipt so you can deduct your donation on your taxes instead of having to pay the dump. Find out more about Goodwill’s donation guidelines and the few items they don’t accept.
Pack Your Belongings
The cheapest ways to move across country all require boxes. After you look through this article, you’ll know how you want to move; based on the measurement requirements for your move type, you can begin collecting boxes. Start by saving newspapers (or asking a friend or family member to save theirs) so you can pack up dishes and other fragile items. You can find boxes at work, at grocery stores (call to find out what day they get deliveries), from people who’ve moved into your neighborhood, and on Craigslist, but two especially great sources are bookstores and liquor stores; both will have sturdy boxes coming in on a regular basis, and they may be happy to let you take them if you ask very nicely.
Consider Shipping Your Belongings
Consider shipping options ahead of you. You can ship books via USPS media mail which is very cheap. I recommend this if you want to fly and not take a car. Or if you just can’t quite fit everything in your rental unit/rental vehicle.
Cross Country Moving Options to Consider
Before considering your moving options, understand what your time is worth. The cheapest options take the longest. If you must skip three days of work to save only a few hundred dollars, the cheapest option may not be worth it. Also, the longer you’re on the road, the more convenience food you will have to buy and hotel rooms you will need to pay for. Those costs can really add up.
First, we’ll sort the cheapest options by which moving method you prefer: flying, driving, taking the train, or riding the bus.
Second, we’ll look at the least expensive options by how much stuff you own; you can sort yourself and decide whether you’re a minimalist, a hobbyist, or an accumulator.
Third, we’ll simply give you the cheapest option for moving across the country for most people.
Cheapest Ways to Move Across the Country If You Want to Fly
This may surprise you, but moving cross country via plane can be quite inexpensive. You can actually check quite a few boxes just as if you were checking bags. It’s also worth noting that you can sometimes use frequent flyer miles to check baggage, and some credit cards also allow you a free checked bag as well. Take a look at the top airlines to choose from: Southwest and JetBlue.
Southwest allows its domestic travelers to check two bags for free, and each bag can be a maximum of 50 pounds. So that’s you + your carry-on + one personal possession + two checked bags for just the price of a plane ticket — you can book online with Southwest.
JetBlue is the second best airline for getting you and your stuff across the country. JetBlue allows for one free bag that can weigh as much as 50 pounds — you can book online with JetBlue.
Besides Southwest and JetBlue, no other U.S. airline allows you to cheaply load its planes with your belongings. Checked baggage fees on other airlines range from $25-$100. Here’s a complete list of prices by airline.
Cheapest Ways to Move Across the Country If You Want to Drive
If you don’t want to pay $1,000 or more for driving, shipping, or towing your car, you can always sell your car and buy a new one when you get to your new location. Just remember you’ll have to pay new licensing fees and sales tax. You’ll also take on the added liability of a vehicle with which you’re unfamiliar in addition to the changes of living in a new place.
Driving Your Car
If you’ll still want your car at your new destination, it makes the most sense to transport it yourself. To find out what it costs to drive just the car and your belongings, follow these steps:
- Calculate your move route via Google Maps.
- Write down the mileage.
- Calculate your average cost per mile. While there’s no perfect way of doing this, the best way is probably using the federal mileage reimbursement rate. For 2020, it’s 57.5 cents per mile. For example, for the driving distance between NYC and LA, or 2,789.4 miles (41 hours, if you’re curious), it’ll cost around $1,600.
- Adjust your average cost per mile depending on your highway fuel economy. The 53.5 cents per mile covers future maintenance and repairs as a result of your driving; if you have an older car or a really economical car, your costs will be lower. If it’s cheap to repair and maintain, you could use a lower cost per mile on top of the fuel costs.
- To save costs on driving, see if anyone wants to come along with you to split the costs. Ask around — someone may want to go along just to see the country. Make sure that they don’t bring too many of their own belongings and you’ve agreed on who will pay for what in advance. You don’t want to add a dispute with your travel buddy to an already stressful trip.
- Keep in mind when driving cross country that it may be worth purchasing a roof rack or trunk/receiver hitch rack. This will expand the cubic footage of storage space you have available without significantly reducing your fuel economy.
Shipping Your Car
While driving your car across the country is expensive, shipping your car will cost about the same price, possibly somewhat less. If you choose to ship your car, you may need additional insurance in case the car is damaged in transit. You’ll also have lost your ride across the country (which may not be a concern if driving across the country doesn’t appeal to you).
Towing Your Car
Suggested Article: Rental Car Companies That Allow Towing.
Renting a Car (One-Way with Unlimited Mileage If Desired)
Cheapest Ways to Move Across the Country If You Want to Take the Train
Amtrak is the only cross-country train option. Amtrak offers two free checked bags, and you can check up to two additional bags for $20 each. This is a total of four bags for $40. Amtrak can be a really cheap option for getting across the country; and several types of discounts are available.
To learn more, see our article dedicated to Amtrak’s Shipping Rates.
Cheapest Ways to Move Across the Country If You Want to Take the Bus
Greyhound is the only option for taking a bus across the country. You can bring a carry-on bag that weighs up to 25 pounds, and you also get one free checked bag weighing up to 50 pounds. You can get one additional checked bag for only $15. This is a total of one carry-on and two checked bags for $15. Explore Greyhound’s discounts for children, students, seniors, and military members to save even more on your move.
Using a Service like PODS
PODS, U-Pack, and ZippyShell are trailers that the company drops off at your house or apartment prior to your move. You pack all your belongings in them and then schedule a pickup date. Your belongings are taken by truck to your new location, while you fly, drive, take a train, or ride the bus. In the quotes we obtained below, we indicated that we had a one bedroom apartment. Your needs may vary, and you may need a larger number of pods or a larger size of trailer than is seen here. For each of these moves, we indicated that we were moving from NYC to Los Angeles.
In some areas, ReloCubes, as seen in the quote below, may not be available. In these situations, U-Pack offers space within a larger 28 foot long trailer. When we asked customer service about a move from New York City to Los Angeles, we were told that for $2,343, we would be given a 4-hour loading period to load all of our items in the trailer into a space of 7 ft by 7 ft by 8 ft (additional feet will be charged at an additional cost). After 6-8 business days, our hypothetical one-bedroom apartment of household goods and furniture would arrive in Los Angeles, and we’d then have three business days in which to unload our things.
PODS (Phone Quote)
The total cost from NYC to LA came to about $4,800; we’ll break down the process for you, since different services cost different amounts. This is with a 16-foot container (the smallest option) compared with U-Pack’s 7-foot trailer space as described above, so it’s almost double the space for much less than double the price, making it a very competitive option.
Five days prior to the initial delivery, you’ll need to pay the first month’s use of the trailer and delivery fee, which comes to about $950. The cost of driving the trailer across the country is around $3800, and delivery is an additional $99.99 (includes pickup of the empty trailer).
ZippyShell (Phone Quote)
ZippyShell was by far the cheapest option that we found when researching PODS-type companies. For our quote, the representative I spoke to told me that ZippyShell includes the cost of their movers loading and unloading your packed boxes and furniture in less than three hours, which the other services we’ve mentioned don’t include. This is partly because the areas we used in New York City and LA don’t allow ZippyShell to leave a trailer on the street for you to load yourself, but this loading and unloading service may be available in other areas as well. Everything is shipped in dry, covered tractor trailers. We were quoted $3,258.50 (based on current national fuel prices) for a 15x7x7 foot container with limitless tie-down capabilities and $50,000.00 in content protection.
Summary of Cheapest Moving Options
Here are the cheapest options for someone with just a few bags, from least to most expensive:
The longer the road time, the more your move will cost you. Since the variance between all these services is approximately $100, we’d recommend choosing Southwest.
Rent a truck and dolly your car, towing it behind you.
For Most People
If you’re established and want to keep most of your belongings, go with ZippyShell. If you’re young or you can get rid of most of your belongings before leaving, get a truck and dolly your car.
Moving itself is stressful enough without spending months worrying about how you’re going to transport yourself, your family, and your personal belongings across the entire country. Even if you can’t get your company to finance your move, you can find a cost-effective way to fly, drive, take a train, or ride the bus to get to your new home. Moving your belongings doesn’t have to be a challenge either — you can pack them up in free or cheap checked baggage, pack them into a moving truck while towing your car behind you, or have someone else move them for you with a storage trailer or carton-style moving service. Whatever you choose, you’ll now have the tools you need to move in the least expensive manner possible.