Even in the best of times, moving can be tricky business.
Pile on the added strain of the coronavirus, and it's only natural to feel like you've got quite a headache in store for you — I know that I did when I joined the ranks of the some 16 million people in the U.S. who relocated last year, during the first months of the pandemic.
But despite any and all prior knowledge to the contrary, a move doesn't have to be overly stressful or break the bank. In fact, if you take enough time to plan ahead, you might just find the moving process to be a happy one — whether you're going three blocks or 3,000 miles.
1. Be clear on your intentions for moving, and don't rush your research.
No matter your circumstance, uprooting your life is a big (and costly) decision that shouldn't be taken lightly. So if you're not totally certain, the very best way to save time, money and energy on a move might be to not move at all or to wait until you're absolutely sure.
Before committing to a new location, Ali Wenzke recommends doing some serious soul-searching. She's the author of The Art of Happy Moving: How to Declutter, Pack, and Start Over While Maintaining Your Sanity and Finding Happiness. Start by making a list of your top life goals right now, she says, and then make sure that the reason for your intended move aligns with those goals.
Once you've zeroed in on your new place, do your research before signing a lease. To get an insider's perspective of a new city or neighborhood, Wenzke suggests going to City-Data and checking out its forums page or going on Reddit to ask people what it's really like to live somewhere.
2. Get organized — early. (Even earlier than you think you need.)
Wenzke suggests making a moving checklist that starts eight weeks before your move (and she has a great free one to get you started).
Write down everything (I mean, everything!) you'll need to do and pack, as well as everyone you'll need to talk to, in one place. Then, set up realistic timetables to get it all done, making sure to give yourself lots of cushion. Murphy's law always goes into overdrive around moving time, amirite?
Consider when to talk to your landlord and your boss, your family and your friends. Think about all the specialists you visit in your area and whether you might need one more appointment (or if you need one more perfect cut and color before saying goodbye to your hairstylist). Remember to itemize all the new-place stuff: turning on utilities, change of address — all those life-admin things that, while only small annoyances on a checklist, can be big inconveniences if forgotten.
3. Moving is expensive. Budget accordingly, and save where you can.
According to Moving.com, the average cost of a local move for a two- to three-bedroom home is $1,250. For a long-distance move, that average goes up to $4,890 — big yikes.
Fuel and labor costs are a big part of the moving price tag, says certified financial planner and personal finance writer Darla Mercado, so the first question you need to ask yourself is whether you need professional movers.
If you do need movers: Wenzke suggests getting three nonbinding estimates so you can talk to different moving companies and negotiate. You save even more if you're willing to do some of the labor yourself, like disassembling your furniture or doing all of your packing beforehand.
Mercado suggests protecting yourself during the process by asking prospective movers for references, whether they charge by the hour or the load, and what extras they might offer.
If you don't need movers: Wenzke suggests cutting costs by booking truck rentals early and looking at their location. You might be able to save if you're willing to drive a few miles out of your way. Mercado says to remember to factor in the potential cost of parking permits in your area.
Another way to save small? Ask around for free boxes. Facebook Marketplace, neighbors and your local liquor store are all places that might be willing to give you a few boxes and save you a trip to Home Depot.
And consider when you move. A lot of families, understandably, want to move when it's most convenient. Mercado says you might just find a good deal if you plan to move when "folks aren't necessarily demanding moving services and the like. So winter, middle of the month, middle of the week, if at all possible."
4. Declutter, declutter and declutter some more.
We've all been there: The most painstaking part of a move is all of the stuff.
But remember: the more stuff you have, the more you're paying to haul it. The lighter your load, the better off you'll be. Wenzke recommends laying out your things — whether they're kids' toys or books or clothes — like you're going shopping. Make sure you can see and touch everything.
"See what is it that you want to keep and all the money that you're going to save by not moving these heavy items and packing them and unpacking them," says Wenzke.
An added benefit to decluttering? There are a ton of nonprofit organizations — Move for Hunger is just one example — that will collect your donated items during your move and use them for a good cause. Especially right now, that's quite the win-win.
5. Prepare for — then conquer — the Big Day.
Make sure you're ready with a fully stocked moving day survival kit. Your kit should include snacks, medicine, toilet paper, paper towels, packing tape, box cutters, markers and any important paperwork. Make sure it's with you and not in the back of the moving truck.
And of course, don't forget to prepare for moving day expenses. Mercado suggests, if you can, building in a buffer of a couple of hundred dollars for out-of-pocket expenses: things like parking permits, takeout and tipping the people who help you along the way.
And then at last, you'll be home sweet new home. Is your job done? Not quite, but now the real fun begins: making your new space your own. No matter where you move or what your situation, remember: This is a chance for a new beginning. And that's no small thing.
This episode was produced by Clare Lombardo.
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