Please help us plan our move.
May 6, 2010 6:14 AM   Subscribe

Please help us complete a cross-country move efficiently and cheaply. How? Keep the cars? Keep the stuff?

We're going to be doing a cross-country move at the end of the year. Unfortunately my new job doesn't cover moving expenses. Thus, we'll either be paying for it or doing it ourselves. (Anon because our current employers don't know.)

Other items of note:
- We have a toddler. Our time to pack is pretty limited.
- We're pretty thrifty and good bargain hunters.
- We'll probably be living in a rented apartment for 6 months while we look for a house. Thus, much of our big stuff will be in storage.
- We just did an in-town move, purged a lot, but it still took each of us nearly 2 weeks off (on and off) to complete the move. We paid ~$600 for movers to take our stuff from one house to another.
- Our books are still all boxed up, so we could Media Mail them. We already purged all non-essential books in the last move.

Question 1: any ideas on how we could do this move? We could pay for a moving company ourselves. We could drive cross-country with a UHaul. Other options that we don't know about?

Question 2: What about our cars? 1 is a paid-off 11 year old Station Wagon. 1 is a 8 year old not paid off Diesel VW bug. Would it be best to just sell them here rather than tow them? (We're moving to a city where we'd probably only need 1 car, but we'd prefer to have a station wagon be that 1 car.)

Question 3: I need some sort of formula or set of rules to determine when items are worth moving (in terms of monetary values and deprecitation as well as pain-in-the-ass-ness of disassembling and reassembling or packing and unpacking.) (And maybe the answer is that it is always worth keeping stuff you already own. I'm open.)

Some examples of stuff to consider:
- 4-year-old flat screen TV, purchased for a few thousand. Certainly could get a better one for cheaper now.
- Bed. We have a full sized bed and bed frame from Ikea. We'll be getting a King for the new house. Move and keep the full for the guest room or Craig's List?
- Kitchenware. None of our kitchen stuff is of especially good quality nor am I attached to it. Packing dishes, glasses, and mugs is a huge pain in the ass.
- Ikea/Target cube bookshelves.
- 5 year old Ikea couch with some wear. VERY HEAVY.
- LazyBoy recliner.
- 2 Target ~$50 club chairs.
posted by anonymous to Home & Garden (29 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
To question 1, a friend who moved cross-country a couple of years ago worked with a company that dropped off a semi trailer in her driveway for a couple of days, during which time she got friends to help her pack her stuff in as tightly as possible. When finished, she erected a plywood wall (provided by the company) at the end of her stuff. She was billed according to how many linear feet of trailer she had filled. The company picked up her trailer and took it to another customer, who loaded their stuff -- lather, rinse, repeat. The morning the trailer was picked up from our friend's house, she began driving to her new city (road trip, camping, national parks, etc.), timing her arrival to coincide with the trailer's scheduled arrival, by which time everything that had been loaded in behind her stuff had already been unloaded. She hired a couple of local guys (arranged ahead of time) to carry everything into her new place. It was a pretty slick system.

Unfortunately, I don't know the name of the company.

To question 2, I'd certainly sell the VW before the move. Why drive separately and spend a few hundred dollars extra on gas if you don't want the car anyhow?
posted by jon1270 at 6:40 AM on May 6, 2010

Some shipping companies charge by weight. In that case, it seems like the rule of thumb would be to ship everything that costs more than $X per pound, and sell the rest.

I don't know what X is.

(I'm planning a cross-country move as well, so I'm interested to hear the answers.)
posted by madcaptenor at 6:46 AM on May 6, 2010

I moved to a new city a year ago; my girlfriend and I just moved out in our cars (a saturn wagon and Vue, respectively). It was very liberating. It obviously means that furniture is out, and it forces you to prioritize everything else. With the kiddo, this may not be feasible. If I were in your shoes, I'd get a small UHaul, sell the bug, and get rid of anything that you don't LOVE. The bigger the thing is, the more you must love it to keep it. For example, you mention bringing along the bed you don't plan on keeping for a maybe guest room or craigslist. That's ludicrous. Don't move a 300lb piece of anything if you're not positive you need it in the new city. Now, if you're debating about a photo frame and it'll take you five seconds to wrap it in newspaper and throw it in a box, take it. The couch? Leave it. Etc.
posted by craven_morhead at 6:52 AM on May 6, 2010

ABF U-Pack is one of those moving companies. If you plan to move that way, "LTL Freight" is your magic phrase.
posted by fake at 6:54 AM on May 6, 2010

We're doing the same thing (we get a stipend but not enough to cover the whole move) and are trying to figure this out as well. I think we're going to sell most of our heavy stuff (coffee table, one of the beds, armoire, etc.) on Craigslist and buy similar stuff on the local Craigslist. We'll bring our flatscreen since it will cost less to move than the difference between the cost of a new one and what we could get for this one. It's about $.50/pound, so consider that. I'm also trying to find digitized copies of some of my books so I can justify leaving them behind. The local GoodWill here has some really nice tableware, as does IKEA for cheap, so we're hoping to just wholesale that stuff.

Remember that anything you can't sell could either garner you a nice tax break as a donation to GoodWill or could simply help out a poor college student.

As for moving yourselves, you have to consider whether or not you can handle the stress of driving a U-Haul for however many days it takes, along with the parking and extra time it takes versus driving. I hate high stress driving so I'm hiring a moving co. Also whether or not you're moving to or from a place upstairs. When we paid for a move from CA to CO for grad school we did so knowing it would cost extra but would be worth the included labor.

Whatever you do get 3 quotes from national moving companies, and make sure they come to your place instead of doing some inaccurate over the phone dealie. Good luck!
posted by monkeymadness at 6:56 AM on May 6, 2010

PODS is another option. They drop a container in your driveway, pick it up and then drop it at your new location a week or so later.

Sell anything bulky you're not in love with. Buy new or used bulky stuff in the new location. Make sure you budget for this.

Pack small valuables and necessities into the wagon as tight as possible (without making it a target for hotel and campground thieves), sell the VW and have fun driving/camping across the country. Maybe also pick up a used car-top carrier for your camping gear.

Buy a National Park pass that is good for a year and lets you into every National Park.
posted by camworld at 7:02 AM on May 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Consider that, at least as of a few years ago, U-Haul had some pretty serious safety issues. Get a bunch of estimates from moving companies in your area before you decide to drive a truck yourself.

It sounds like you don't really need any of the stuff you list. Do you like any of it? Does it have sentimental or aesthetic value? If not, get rid of it. There are thrift stores, Craigslist, Target, and possibly Ikea where you are moving and there are people who'd be willing to buy/take the stuff you have now. Moving cheap furniture is a bit of a gamble--rattling around in the truck can sometimes make for wobbly shelves and chairs--and moving heavy furniture is expensive, so you might as well get rid of whichever pieces you don't actually like.

Also, is there any possibility of negotiating a partial moving stipend with your new employer? Something like, say, $1500 likely wouldn't be much to them, but it could cover up to half of the cost of a big-name moving company for you.
posted by Meg_Murry at 7:05 AM on May 6, 2010

I believe jon1270 is talking about ABF U-Pack.
posted by Gridlock Joe at 7:09 AM on May 6, 2010

I have moved eleventybillion times. My advice:

NOT worth moving because you can easily replace for free or cheap on the other end:
- Any furniture that is not a family heirloom
- Dishes, glasses, etc. (unless a family heirloom)
- Crappy cars or cars you don't need anymore
- Food, cleaning supplies, toiletries, etc. (try to use stuff up before you leave and give away the rest)

Worth moving:
- Cars in good operating condition that you still need
- High-quality cooking gear (knives, pots and pans, small kitchen appliances)
- Books (via media mail)
- Clothes
- Small decor items that will make the new place feel like home

If you're in doubt about something, check the FreeCycle and Craigslist of your new city and Walmart prices to get an idea of how much it will cost to replace stuff.

1. List large items (unwanted car, furniture, etc.) on Craigslist ASAP. Include pictures.
2. Hold a well-advertised garage sale the weekend before you depart.
3. Have your going away party at your house either the night before your garage sale (if you think your friends and family might be inclined to buy your stuff) or right after your garage sale (if your friends and family are poor and would appreciate free leftover stuff)
4. Schedule a charity (Goodwill, etc.) to come by and pick up the garage sale leftovers the day after the garage sale
5. Drop any unopened packaged food, cleaning supplies, and toiletries off at your local food bank
6. Media mail the books to yourself
7. Put everything that is going in the station wagon to go with you in a corner
8. Toss everything else that's left and clean your old place
9. Pack the car and go!
posted by Jacqueline at 7:17 AM on May 6, 2010 [42 favorites]

I did this a year ago. Like you, I had a bunch of stuff that was more or less disposable. I ended up packing suitcases full of the clothes I wanted to keep, media mailing boxes of books, and getting on a plane to my new city. I shipped my (working, necessary) car with an auto shipper, crammed full of the kitchen and electronics stuff that was of good quality.

Here's what it came down to for me: I decided that I was ready to start getting real stuff that I would keep for years rather than more Ikea/Target junk. It meant that I started almost completely fresh when I moved, with the accompanying little annoyances that brings - no laundry hamper, no shelves to unpack the books onto, sleeping on an air mattress for a couple weeks - and it takes time and energy and patience to live in a more or less empty house while you look around for stuff you *really* like and can afford. In my case, it's still a work in progress (we finally scored the perfect vintage sofa a couple months ago - until then, we sat on chairs).

You may or may not be ready to do that, what with the small child and all. If you would replace your stuff with new things of the same quality, I would say to just move the stuff you already have with PODS or some kind of LTL freight service - yes, it's expensive, but it's not worth the added effort of accumulating and purchasing and hauling new stuff if it's objectively the same, just a little newer. And then you'll at least be set up in your new place.
posted by peachfuzz at 7:36 AM on May 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've used ABF U-Pack a few times, both trailers and containers. They're good, and cheaper than U-Haul once you factor in gas and extra hotel days on the road.

A couple of years ago, moving a pretty packed 2BR apartment + university office (ie, LOTS of books) was IIRC about $2K. You can hire local movers on each end to load and unload; I'd recommend doing this (they're better stuffers than you are).
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:37 AM on May 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've done this a few times myself. Jaqueline's answer is beyond perfect.

If your "stuff to take with you" pile is too big to fit in the station wagon, then either schedule with one of those LTL companies or rent a UHaul (or similar) & drive both the truck and the wagon to the new spot. Walkie talkies are good for maintaining the convoy (and are pretty sweet. Give yourself trucker names and enjoy!)
posted by travertina at 7:41 AM on May 6, 2010

I've done a cross country 4000 km move twice now. We had a one bedroom that was not very full (although there were lots of books) and it was about 2400 lbs. We paid $1 per pound to move. So that was my line. Anything that would cost less than a buck a pound to replace was out. Uhaul was not much cheaper (one way rentals are expensive) plus they are an uncomfortable to drive.
posted by saradarlin at 7:50 AM on May 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

I also used U-Pack when I moved 3000 miles. Since I was by myself at the Calif end, I had to hire some guys to pack the furniture for me. Unfortunately they didn't know what they were doing, and when I arrived at the No. Carolina site, there had been shifting and a number of antique pieces were badly damaged. One, a 110 year old bookcase with leaded front glass doors was so badly mangled I could never afford to get it fixed. So be extremely careful. Although it may seem as though you have jammed in stuff as tightly as possible, it will still probably shift and your stuff can get cracked, scratched, and chipped. I would be especially concerned about your TV-- I would crate that separately if you decide to bring it. U-Pack is not liable for any damage.

I left a lot of stuff behind and sold a lot of books so they would not have to be shipped. To this day (10 years later) there are still things that I miss, some things I'm not sure if I lost or left behind. (My Doonesbury collection. Where is it?) So while it may feel very good to purge, you could be in for some regrets down the road. However, in looking at your list of furniture it doesn't sound as if there is anything you need to bother shipping.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 8:44 AM on May 6, 2010

If up to me (I have moved lots and lots, as a kid and now as an adult), btw i lost this argument with my spouse, things I would take:

1. Good quality tools-heavy but expensive to replace (in my case also an heirloom)
2. Personal Effects (jewelry, knicknacks, actual heirlooms, clothes/bedding you like)
3. Good quality furniture-meaning solid wood/metal pieces in good condition that you like
4. Hard to replace books-mostly old reference books and low volume editions
5. really good quality cookware-cast iron, stand mixer, high quality knives
6. high quality electronics-usually light weight and don't take up too much space

things to chuck since you can pick them up for less than the cost to move (truck, gas, time, sweat, tears, blood, etc.)

-kitchen/dining ware. Usually thrift stores overflow with this stuff
-anything particle board, doesn't usually move well, heavy, easy to replace
-anything worn out-really you want to start your new life with this?
-anything that would require renting a storage unit-only worth it for REALLY hard to replace items and short duration (like 1-2 months)
-food (it doesn't really cost that much)
-just about any popular fiction book (used bookstores are everywhere). this is also the reason I finally bought a kindle.
-appliances-used ones abound one craigslist and thrift stores.

If you do rent a truck, thing hard about moving any cars. It is usually cheaper to sell your car, buy a replacement in the new city. This only applies though if you are comfortable buying used cars and there is an ample supply in the destination city-i have only lived places where rust really wasn't an issue so this one is highly subjective. It is never worth it to replace a well fuctioning used car with a new car monetarily, even moving cross country.

Lastly, moving sucks, so make it an adventure you can tell funny stories about.
posted by bartonlong at 8:49 AM on May 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Cross-country moving companies, even the ones that are rated decently by the Better Business Bureau, are notoriously dishonest. That said, if you have a toddler, it might be worth using one to save yourself time so you're not stretched so thin. If you do, make sure you search the BBB and before hiring one.

We did a cross-country move last year, using a moving company because my company had a moving allowance, but I still wish we ditched a lot more furniture. We did priced out how much it would cost to replace the furniture vs. how much it would cost and thus ended up deciding to keep a lot of furniture, but we didn't think about whether or not we would need the each piece of furniture or not in our new place.

And consider that once the movers get the furniture into your place, you still have to get it into place, around all of your other boxes of crap. I'm not articulating this well, but clutter has an intangible extra cost during a move.

Also, we used a highly recommended moving company, yet we were still caught in the crossfire between the difference between the company's estimates of how much work it would take to move our stuff and the amount of work the contractors that they hired actually did. We didn't have to pay more than the estimate in the end, but man, dealing with that kind of shit in the middle of a stressful event like that is not fun.

As for the car, definitely get rid of the one you don't need before you go, especially if parking is tough in your new location.
posted by ignignokt at 9:03 AM on May 6, 2010

And if you do decide to drive, get the car thoroughly checked & serviced ASAP so you have time to fix any problems found before moving day.
posted by Jacqueline at 9:03 AM on May 6, 2010

I just moved from Seattle to Denver last month, and used ABF U-Pack. They charge by the linear foot you use in the trailer, but semi trailers are tall and you can stack things pretty high. We moved a two-bedroom apartment with quite a bit of stuff for around $900, but we did get rid of some of our larger/cheaper furniture to save space. If you know how much it will cost you to move it vs. the replacement cost at the other end, that ought to help you decide what to keep.

Secret Life of Gravy is right, though, you need to pack very, very well because no matter how tightly packed you think things are, they will definitely shift, especially if you are stacking to the roof to get the most for your money. One gotcha with them is that you will have to go down to their depot to load/unload the trailer unless you pay extra to have them leave the trailer in front of your place. This wasn't and option at either end for us due to limited space to park a big semi trailer, so we ended up having to rent a truck at both ends to move things back and forth. The other thing we found frustrating was that you have to be pretty flexible. Unless you pay their guaranteed delivery charge, you are at the mercy of their schedule. Between the extra time it took for them to find commercial freight to fill the rest of the truck and unforeseen weather delays, it took several days longer than we thought it would for our stuff to get there, and getting a straight answer out of the various local depots about a delivery date was a major trial. I would still recommend them, but these people aren't exactly used to having to do customer service.
posted by dhalgren at 9:04 AM on May 6, 2010

If you want to go really cheap, you might want to look into Amtrak freight. This is the great open secret of cheap moving. It is not available in that many cities, but if you're moving between two major metro areas with train stations, it's worth a call. You pack and bring your stuff to the train station yourself, then they palletize it, load it on the train, and you unload at your destination city's station a few days later.

You need to be patient and this is not a moving method for high-value items, because they aren't known for keeping good track of goods or being careful with handling. It is only for small-to-medium size stuff you can box; large and weird shaped things can't go this way, but if you're willing to majorly pare down to nothing but the absolute essentials, it is very cheap.
posted by slow graffiti at 9:38 AM on May 6, 2010 [4 favorites]

I used the ABF ReloCube for my cross country move and was very happy with the whole experience. My advice would be to use your coats or blankets to put in between items as you pack the cube or truck, to be sure nothing rubs on anything else. That was the only damage my stuff sustained: powder-coated metal rubbing on something = shiny spot on the item and pretty colored powder on the floor.
posted by bink at 9:46 AM on May 6, 2010

I just completed a cross-country move with my fiance (GA to CA) and wanted to provide an alternate perspective to a lot of these comments. Most of our furniture is also Ikea, but newer than yours. We brought all of it with us because we knew we would not have the time or money to shop for all new furniture on this end. We aren't yet in a position to afford significantly nicer furniture so we would have just been replacing our stuff with more of the same.

Now that we are here, all we want to do is be SETTLED. There are a few pieces of furniture that we don't really like in our new space so we have already had to make two Ikea runs to try to replace them. This has been horrible and frustrating and we are so tired of furniture shopping and just want to go explore our new city and meet new people (etc) that for a few of the items we have just decided to live with it for now.

Since we rent, our motivation to spend lots of money on furniture that specifically fits our new space is fairly low. If you are planning to rent for six months, you may find yourself in a similar position, thinking, "Why would I buy new furniture before I know what my real house looks like?" and this might mean that you end up living in a barely furnished place for a while.

Basically, my point is that you should consider your immediate comfort level on the other end of the move. Do you really want to have to go shopping for a mattress the first day you arrive?
posted by horses, of courses at 10:34 AM on May 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

I put this in every move thread, but Amtrak Package Express is a very cheap way to ship books and other non-breakables.
posted by zvs at 10:48 AM on May 6, 2010

Oops, Slow Graffiti beat me to it. Amtrak info is scarce on the web; you have to call them.
posted by zvs at 10:48 AM on May 6, 2010

I've also used ABF U-Pack for a couple of moves - both with containers and with the semi - with good results. I liked the container experience better because the interior dimensions were more manageable. I've usually loaded and inventoried the container myself, and then hired local movers to unload (or unload and shuttle).

Good packing is important. It takes epic quantities of packing paper, cardboard, and/or blankets to prevent damage from items rubbing together. Think about the vibration in a passenger car; a semi trailer with your stuff (or with a container holding your stuff) is going to shake way way more. The other part of packing is to fill the space you are using. This won't help with rubbing, but it will stabilize your load against shock-induced rearrangements. If you go this route, you might want to monitor the total volume of your load and discard/save marginal items as needed for effective space-filling.

There are some tradeoffs vs driving a trailer yourself. You will have a few days on either end to get your container picked up & delivered. On the other hand, you can drive normally - no trailer, no rental timeline. You lose visibility to the location & state of your belongings, but the equipment carrying it is almost certainly sturdier, cleaner, and in better repair than a U-Haul.
posted by janell at 11:59 AM on May 6, 2010

I got rid of a ton of stuff when I moved cross-country, and had to travel with a cat, and a vehicle. I ended up researching movers and hiring someone I was very happy with to move my stuff, as I calculated it would be more expensive/stressful to try to uhaul it.

I will tell you that I do not agree with the advice to get rid of the kitchen stuff, that you can just "buy it there!" Good in theory, not so much in practice. It has been six years now and i am JUST at the point that I was before I moved, and before I moved it had taken me 10 years to get to having exactly what I needed in the kitchen. Don't get me wrong, I'm not Rachael Ray, but just having a very basic set of kitchen tools isn't outrageous. But I moved, money ended up being scarce, and then there were other priorities. I wouldn't be so quick to jettison the tools, but i would probably get rid of dishes & cutlery since it was $10 at ikea. There's also time to find what you like, and then the ability to transport it to your new home. You can't put a price on how long it is going to take you to do that.

I moved my mattress, since it was only a few years old, and was scoffed at by many people (including in my own family), but thank goodness i did - I'm STILL sleeping on it and it's just fine.

If I had to move again I would use PODS or U-pack in some fashion. I am lucky that Mr. M. is a genius whiz at making things fit in spaces, though.
posted by micawber at 12:17 PM on May 6, 2010

I just called Amtrak to double check the quote on freight for my own move this summer, since I wanted to put it in my previous post but couldn't remember. Between two major cities about 1500 miles apart, the rate was an astonishing $0.46 per pound up to 300 pounds!

That is cheap enough that you wouldn't have to jettison every last spoon, and it lets you do the calculation madcaptenor refers to:

If your item is not too fragile/irreplacable, and it costs more than $0.46/lb to replace, ship it with Amtrak! Caveats from before apply; this may not work if they do not offer this service where you are moving.
posted by slow graffiti at 12:29 PM on May 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

Amtrak yes yes yes. They won't ship furniture or electronics but for things like books and soft goods they are fabulous.
posted by bendy at 12:58 PM on May 6, 2010

I called Amtrak for my own move; they say $0.57 per pound for me. (I'm moving about 2500 miles.)
posted by madcaptenor at 3:07 PM on May 6, 2010

Have a box or two specifically packed with essential move-in items, such as dish cleaning, a few plates bowls utensils (disposable plastic ones work), toilet paper, towels, some things like salt and pepper packets from a fast food place, single burner hot plate and a pan wouldn't hurt, ... basically a backpackers checklist modified for moving into a place when you are too tired to hunt through boxes, or if shipping, the truck doesn't arrive for a week.

A long-haul truck usually goes by the pound, $1 per pound, with 1000lbs being minimum in my case. I had little to move (1 bdrm, stripped to the basics), but it adds up. I'd recommend a bathroom scale to weigh boxes and any furniture. Bathroom scales aren't incredibly accurate, but sufficient. Be prepared to pay the driver in full at the destination. The benefit of doing it with a shipping company is the manpower to load and unload.

One-way U-Haul was going to be around $2500.

For one person, on a cheap flight, stuff sent by truck, apartment arranged ahead of time, one night in a hotel, one day car rental, ... saved about $2000 versus the U-Haul and 7 day trip.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 5:00 PM on May 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

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