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Moving Costs: How to Budget Your Move [2024]

Moving costs are rising these days, but how much? And how do you budget for those changes? We outline everything you need to consider to budget your move.

As exciting as planning a move can be, there is a high chance that estimating expenses and looking for moving services are weighing heavily on your mind. As transportation and labor costs rise, moving costs are going up all over the country as well, while the availabiility of moving services may be struggling to keep up with demand. Remember that moving costs are a case-by-case matter and there are a number of factors that will play into how much you ultimately spend.

I just moved across states in September 2023, and I experienced first-hand some of the difficulties of finding good moving services. But I'm happy to report that my move went extremely well, and I'm excited to share with you some of the steps I took that helped my moving day go smoothly. This guide will teach you everything you need to know about moving costs, from the cost of professional movers to scoring free boxes, as well as how to find reputable companies. Let’s dive in!

Guide to Moving Costs

How Are Moving Services Priced?

I spent a few weeks leading up to my move calling around to different moving service providers to get a sense of pricing, and what I found is that a) pricing can vary widely based on the company you use and where they are located but also b) the price of most moving services are generally impacted by the same factors. So first, let's look at how moving services are generally calculated, and then let's consider how using local versus national services might differ.

Moving Load

Probably the first and most important factor in calculating the cost of your move is the amount of stuff you have. Typically, professional movers will calculate the cost of services based on the size of your house, the average weight of your belongings, and the amount of time it takes movers to load and unload them.

In my experience, these calculations happened one of two ways. Either the moving company charged you directly by cubic foot (in which case, each individual item contributed to the overall price), or they charged by truck size. If they determined you needed a twenty foot truck, for example, then as long as everything fit on the truck, you wouldn't be charged for additional space.

This second option was also cheaper in my experience, and I would recommend against choosing a company that prices by volume in most cases because if you underestimate how many items you own, you could end up with large overages.

Moving Distance: Local or Long-Distance

The distance you are moving is just as important, if not more so, to your moving costs as the amount of things you own. Distance affects price in two ways: First, you are charged for the mileage that the truck has to cover, and you are also charged for the movers' time.

Local Moving Costs

If you are moving down the street, somewhere within your town, or maybe even a neighboring city, like San Francisco to Oakland, you fall into the category of a local relocation. This means you don’t have to look far for movers, and in my experience, you should stay local if you can. This is because local moving companies are often cheaper than a nationwide organization as those national companies are also more likely to charge by cubic foot.

On average, movers for a one-bedroom apartment cost about $400-$500, and closer to $3,000 for a four-bedroom home. Here is a more detailed break down of the average moving quote of an intrastate move from

  • 1-bedroom apartment or house: $424, 4 hours of labor + 2 Movers

  • 2-bedrooms apartment: $954, 6 hours of labor + 3 Movers

  • 3-bedrooms apartment: $1,484, 7 hours of labor + 4 Movers

  • 4-bedrooms and up: $1,908+, 10+ hours of labor + 4 Movers

Long-Distance Moving Costs

Let’s say you are moving from Los Angeles, CA to Tampa, FL. An across the state move or further would be considered long-distance relocation. When your move falls into this category, long-distance moving companies also take distance into their cost calculations. Check out this more detailed break down of the average prices for long-distance movers:

  • Studio & 1-bedroom apartment or house: $1,123 - $2,260 Average distance: 1,000 miles

  • 2- & 3-bedroom apartment: $2,272 - $4,343, Average distance: 1,000 miles

  • 4 & 5-bedrooms apartment: $4,137 - $5,553, Average distance: 1,000 miles

Just remember that all these costs are highly variable. It will save you money and headaches in the future to get a good idea of just how much your belongings weigh (even guesstimates are okay!) and how much storage space you’ll need to move. Use these numbers to get estimates from the top contenders on your professional movers’ list.

Using Local Movers for Long-Distance Moves

My local moving company offered a long-distance option, and ultimately this is the one I went with. I narrowed my choices down to two movers, one national company and one local, and the local company offered me a price that was almost $1,000 cheaper and with a much more secure pick up date.

One drawback of national movers that I did not realize previously is that they often provide moving "windows" rather than a firm date. So the primary company I was interested in told me they would contact me 48 hours before the start of my window to let me know what my move date would be. The local company, by contrast, happily booked me for the move date and time of my choice. I don't know about you, but I can't just give everyone around me a 30-day window that I "might" move in. Between that and the savings, the local company was an easy choice for me.

 Father and daughter moving to new apartment together during winter standing outdoors near car taking boxes from trunk looking camera smiling excited

Long-Distance Moving Scams

Another issue you have to be mindful of when you're using national companies for long-distance moves is moving scams. This includes everything from booking your moving dates and charging you for the move with no intention of fulfilling your contract to simply having exorbitant cancellation fees and charges. In short, don't just select the first company you find through search. Make sure to research them heavily, and especially their BBB ratings. Looking for any history of not fulfilling their contracts and/or not issuing refunds. And if you can't find any information about them at all, then definitely steer clear!

At the risk of repeating myself, another reason why I came to prefer local companies is that many of the national companies I contacted either wanted payment up front for the entire move or a sizable deposit, whereas the local company I selected took payment on the day of my move and required no deposit.

Time of Year Impacts Moving Costs

This may seem like a simple task: pick a date that best suits your calendar, right? Actually, that’s not all that there is to it. The day of the week and time of the year can affect the price of your move, so if you have flexibility, you may want to change your move date by a day or two, or even a month, to optimize for decreased moving costs. Being off work or out of school makes the weekends and summers an attractive time to move. In turn, due to high volumes of relocations, this also makes it more expensive to hire movers.

I moved shortly after Labor Day, which is about when the late fall and winter pricing begins. These months are the best time of year to move for both pricing and availability. Not only will you have more flexibility in terms of scheduling your move, but you may also benefit from lower rent rates. As fewer renters are interested in moving in the winter months (hello: snow), landlords and property managers are more eager to fill vacancies. They may offer incentives such as move-in specials.

Tipping Your Movers

Tip your movers! It’s a common courtesy to tip your movers from 5% to 10% of the move’s total cost or at a rate of $5-$10 per person per hour depending on the move. In my case, I opted to tip $10 per hour per mover.

Still interested in exploring moving costs? Check out this great breakdown from Ross at Moving Tips!

Research Moving Companies to Get the Best for Your Budget

One of the biggest mistakes you can make is sacrificing quality service for a lower rate. Trust that you don’t want to learn this the hard way. When looking for a reputable moving company, consider a few things. First, you want to make sure that you receive clarity about the services and utmost support from the company that you hire. To achieve that and get the best bet for your money, here are some pointers to help you cruise through the selection process:

  • Make sure the company is licensed and insured. If you aren’t sure and would like to check whether the company you’re thinking of choosing is licensed, the Department of Transportation website is a good place to visit.

  • Read the reviews. Nothing will tell you more about the company than previous customers speaking about their experience.

  • Look for industry recognition. Is the company you’re looking at certified by the American Moving and Storage Association? Maybe some other legitimate industry recognition, such as a local award? If yes, that’s a good sign that they are reputable movers who will have your back.

 Open Truck Delivery. Mover Men Moving Boxes

Getting Moving Quotes and Estimates

Once you’ve found your perfect moving company or have a few solid companies to pick from, it’s time to figure out their quotes to include in your budget plan.

  • Share details about your property: Your moving company needs to know the size of your home and the number of belongings you will be taking with you. Be prepared to get weirdly specific! I was surprised just how much detail moving services asked for when it came to quoting the price of my move. Some of them even asked things like how many box fans I own. So don't be too surprised if you're asked to be really specific about the items you own. But also keep in mind that in some cases, those questions could be a sign that the company charges by volume.

  • Your moving date: Find out how much a particular company charges as the base price for the move in date you have chosen.

  • Compare and contrast: If you haven’t found “the one” yet, compare and contrast all the information you have gathered across multiple companies.

  • Ask questions: Don’t forget to check for additional costs and fees that may apply! Inquire with the movers if the services such as packing and unpacking, large item (i.e. pool table) and antique moving, furniture disassembly and assembly are included in the hourly rate or are additional charges. Here are some questions you can bring up with your moving company:

    • Are packing services included? Will they also unpack for or with you?
    • Are disassembly and assembly services part of the base price?
    • Is cost calculated based on hourly rate or weight of items?
    • Are there any extra fees for stairs or far off parking?
    • Is this a binding estimate? A binding estimate is a written agreement between your moving company and you guaranteeing that estimate provided is the total cost of the move based on estimates of your items prior to the move date. If instead it is a non-binding estimate, then you may be surprised with fluctuating fees and additional charges later.
    • Are there any specialty items provided by the movers, such as stretch wrap, felt pads and mattress bags or would you need to take care of that yourself? If there a fee for using theirs?
  • Save the date: You did you homework and now you’re halfway there! Reserve the moving company and let’s move on to the next part of our guide for an affordable move.

Source Moving Supplies

On average, boxes cost $2.81 per box, but prices vary depending on material, size, and retailer. And that’s just boxes. When you start packing, you’ll soon realize that you’ll need a lot more than just boxes in the moving supplies department.

The price of common packing supplies like boxes, tape, plastic bins, and stretch wrap can add up when you’re preparing for your move. Ask your moving company if they provide packing supplies and if there are additional costs involved for using their stock. Here are some great ideas for places to find free moving boxes and save on your moving costs:

  • Craigslist

  • U-Haul Box Exchange

  • Large Retailers (i.e. Office Depot, Costco)

  • Grocery Stores

These items may be obvious, but just in case you forget something, here is a short checklist of basic supplies you will most likely need:

  • Cardboard boxes

  • Plastic bins

  • Bubble wrap/packing paper

  • Cleaning supplies

  • Storage units

 Family Unpacking Moving In Boxes From Removal Truck

Choose the Right Liability and Valuation Coverage

Knowing that the handmade chair your great-grandpa built is protected during the move can take a load off your mind. In accordance with federal law, moving companies are required to offer at least two types of coverage. Most widespread are the BVP (Basic Released Value Protection) and the RVP (Full Value Protection).

  • Basic Released Value Protection (BVP): This plan covers .60 cents per pound of cargo liability. It is a good idea to get this type of coverage for local moves.

  • Full Value Protection (RVP): This option holds movers accountable for any broken or damaged items. It also requires them to replace the article with a similar item or pay a cash settlement. This coverage will typically cost somewhere between $8 to $12 per pound, per item, and is the highest level of protection available besides insurance.

Remember that a moving company cannot sell you insurance and neither of these options are that. The difference between valuation coverage and insurance is that insurance is a contract between you and an insurer, whereas valuation coverage is regulated by federal law. It is an extent of liability that moving companies take on and in the event of damage caused by the movers, they are agree to pay a specified amount.

Low-Cost Moving Option: A DIY Move

If you want to cut some costs and maybe have a bit of an adventure in the process, a DIY move might be just the thing for you. This is definitely not something that can go completely unplanned. Besides all the regular moving supplies, such as cardboard boxes and some tarp, there a few other things and services you might need.

  • A portable moving container: A moving pod is a cheaper version of the full-service movers. The price will be determined by the size and number of containers you will be renting, as well as the amount of time you will be holding onto them for, or how far you’ll be moving.

  • Call on your friends and family: Ask your best friends to help out with a lift or two, and make a gathering out of packing. Who knows, maybe your best friend will love that loveseat you wanted to leave behind, but didn't know how to get rid of it.

  • Rent a moving truck: The amount a rental truck will cost you depends on the distance and the number of days you’re going to use the truck. Pro tip: A local truck rental company on average will cost less than the big, nation-wide counterparts. Note that they business may not cover as much territory and thus, may not be a good fit for a long-distance move. Also, remember that you will have to cover gas expenses, tolls, and possible cleaning fees.


Additional Moving Costs to Consider

Moving costs aren’t just about getting your belongings from one place to another. You’ll need to consider a few additional costs when setting your moving budget. Here are some hidden costs of moving to consider.

  • New Furnishings & Shipping Costs: Shipping costs and taxes on big purchases for your move to a new place can often add a substantial sum to your initial purchase amount. For example, if you are shopping for a new couch with a budget of $1,000, that doesn’t mean you can choose a couch that costs $1,000. Instead, it will mean that your actual couch budget is around $800 plus shipping fees and taxes!
  • Stairs: If you live on a second-floor or higher, you may incur additional fees for your moving costs. If that's the case, the moving company will usually inquire about it while they're building your quote.
  • Storage Options: Whether you misjudge the space you’ll be working with or aren’t sure what you’ll be doing with all your belongings in the long run, renting a storage space can help provide you with a little more time to wrap up your moving process completely. Storage space rental costs vary depending on your location, the vendor, and how much space you’ll need. However, most storage unit rentals will start around $100 a month.
  • Getting Your New Apartment Checked for Pests: You can file this tip under overly-cautious, but anyone who has moved into an apartment building with pests will cosign on this step. An initial pest inspection will cost a lot less than tossing a mattress, moving to a new place, or paying to replace damaged electrical devices.

Looking for a New Apartment?

Budgeting for your move can be challenging because so many variables will impact moving costs. When looking for an affordable, reliable moving strategy, your best bet is to do extensive research on moving companies whose services fit your moving needs or consider the cost/benefit analysis of attempting a DIY move.

If you're still hunting for apartments, why not take our easy quiz and get matched in a place with great amenities in your budget and preferred location?

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Dr. Katherine Blake
Dr. Katherine Blake is a content editor with Apartment List, where she helps ensure our renter and rental management content is fresh and informed by the latest data. Read More
Angelina Bader
Angelina is a Marketing Specialist at Apartment List where she writes content on rental lifestyle. Angelina previously worked as a Russian and German language specialist at Facebook and Google, and has a BA in Applied Linguistics from UCLA. Read More
Davina Ward
Davina G. Ward is an esteemed journalist and expert on the apartment rental market. Read More
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