Frugal Options for a Long Distance Move

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Next month marks the 4 year anniversary of fulfilling a childhood dream of mine, moving to Colorado from my native New Jersey. When I moved, I was no stranger to the costs and rigors of moving, but the long distance move was a whole new experience. If moving can be expensive, it pales in comparison to long distance moving. Luckily, there are a variety of options like those offered by Unigroup relocation services and a frugal person can make their way across country (or countries) without breaking the bank.

Not all of these options will work for everyone. If you don’t have a driver’s license or have a medical condition which limits your ability to drive for extended periods, renting equipment and transporting it yourself won’t work and you may have to hire long distance movers. If the place you are leaving or are arriving has limited space, a large truck may not be able to reach it. Consider your circumstances to determine the best option for your long distance move.

Renting a Trailer

Does your vehicle have a trailer hitch? If so, you may be able to rent a trailer. This option will work best if you aren’t transporting furniture, as cars and small SUV’s will only accept up to a Class II hitch with a maximum of 3500 pounds. The largest cargo trailer available from U-Haul weighs nearly 2000 pounds by itself! Since it only has a volume of just over 300 cubic feet, filling it with furniture is going

If you are considering this route, there are some things you need to consider.

  • Most rental places will not rent a trailer to be pulled by a convertible or soft-top. There may be minimum weight requirements as well.
  • Determine the towing capacity of your vehicle. This will be in the owner’s manual and can be found online. Exceeding this weight can damage your transmission.
  • When hauling a trailer, drive slower. 55 MPH (
  • Backing up a trailer is tricky! If you’ve never done it before, don’t try it for your long distance move.

Renting a Truck

All of the major truck rental franchises offer long distance moves. While local rentals charge by the mile, one-way rentals will have a certain number of miles allotted. This allotment will have plenty extra for pit stops and short side trips. In one quote, 15% extra mileage was allowed over the actual trip distance. If you have a vehicle to transport as well, you can get one of those multifunctional aluminum folding ramps to load your vehicle into the truck bed or rent a car dolly to pull with the truck.

LTL Haulers

The option I used in my move was LTL moving services. LTL stands for “less than load” and refers to a partial load in a tractor-trailer. When shipping via LTL, you pay per linear foot of trailer space used. If you use 5 feet of trailer space, you pay for 5 feet of trailer space. Since a semi trailer is larger inside than a moving truck, less linear space is needed. A 17 foot moving truck is equivalent to 12 linear feet of a semi. The remainder of the trailer space is used for commercial loads. Your stuff will take longer to reach the destination as it will make multiple stops to load and unload other LTL loads along the way.

While the LTL option will seem more expensive than renting a truck for a long distance move, the costs are pretty competitive when tolls and the cost of fuel for a rental truck (expect roughly 8 mpg for highway driving) are considered. What can be another way to save when using an LTL moving company is to load and unload at their terminal. I rented a truck to deliver my stuff to their terminal and rented another to pick it up from the destination terminal. The total cost of 2 local moving truck rentals and the long distance move was almost $300 less than what driving a rental truck across country would have cost. The terminal-to-terminal option is also going to be necessary if one or both ends of your trip have limited space or no parking available for a 28 foot trailer. You can also mix-and-match between door-to-door service and terminal-to-terminal, by loading at the terminal and having it delivered to your destination, or loading at your departure point and unloading at their local terminal on the other end.

Storage Containers

PODS created the concept of the storage container, but now most moving companies also offer this company. Most storage containers are a little bit smaller than the inside of a small moving truck, but sizes as large as a medium-size moving truck exist. Like an LTL mover, a storage container (or multiple ones) is delivered by truck at your home for you to load. When you are done, you call for pickup and it is delivered to your destination. Unlike an LTL mover, you can set the date for delivery (although time for transportation is needed). The added bonus of a storage container is that they are ground level so there are no ramps to be climbing.

The downside of storage containers is they tend to be pricier than the other options. While still cheaper than a full-service moving company, there is a premium for the convenience. PODS insists they are cheaper than renting a moving truck, but my own analysis has failed to reach that same conclusion. Including the cost of gas and tolls for a rental truck, storage containers tend to cost $100-$300 more for a cross country move. Of course, you then need to transport yourself as well!

Sell & Start Over

This one is a bit different. If you don’t have an emotional attachment to your furniture, you may find it cheaper to start over. Simply sell your old furniture before you move and buy new (or better- used) when you reach your new home. Furniture will be the heaviest and bulkiest part of your possessions, so not packing and moving it will mean less time loading and unloading and less space required. And less space means a smaller truck/container can be used, saving more money.

By understanding your personal strengths and weaknesses, you can select the best option for a long distance move and save hundreds of dollars over a full service mover.

Have you ever had a long distance move? Did you pick a self-moving option like one of these, hire movers, or did you do something else?

Author Bio: Edward Antrobus is a construction worker, blogger, tinkerer and a househusband. He writes about frugality and occasionally rants about what he thinks the personal finance community gets wrong.

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