Managing And Paying For A Cross-Country Move

By on Sep 18th, 2012 | Daily Grind

“Get me the packing tape.”

That was my dad, in the process of strategically affixing a lampshade to a chair balancing on its side on top of a stack of boxes in the 6’x12′ U-Haul, containing all my possessions, that he’d just Tetris-packed to perfection.

Once the U-Haul was stuffed and I’d dropped off the old apartment keys, my parents headed home, my husband put our car on cruise control at 55 mph, and we set off on our 2,187-mile trek from Oregon to Texas.

The 38 hours in the car gave me ample time to think about how to deal with a big, bad move on the horizon. Here are a few things I learned.

The stuff

I’m one of those people who kind of…dare I say it…enjoys packing. I like the process of organizing my belongings and getting everything squared away for a move. In theory.

For this move, the task of packing and cleaning my two-bedroom apartment all by myself in 3 weeks while my husband was away for work was a little intimidating, but I was like, “I got this.”

At first I was enthusiastic: “I’m going to carefully wrap each and every breakable item in packing paper and keep all the bedroom things together and all the kitchen stuff together and make cute labels based on fragility level!”

Then that turned into, “Books…hmm, pair of underwear….fork…eh, they can go in the same box…”

Finally I got to, “Just shove it in the dang U-Haul somewhere! I don’t even care if this entire truck burns down! And why the h*&# do I own 4 bottles of Windex?!” (That’s when my parents stepped in to help.)

My husband likes to say “Moving is life’s enema,” and the later stages are where the cleansing magic happened, when my keep-or-pack criteria became very simple thanks to stress: 1) Do I actually use it? 2) Is it worth hauling across the country?

These moments of desperation ultimately helped me to toss quite a bit of extra junk that had been lingering around with no purpose in my life, then or now, that I’d been holding onto. Though we still nearly maxed out the hitch rating limit for our car, the absence of unnecessary clothing, books, appliances and the resulting emotional dead weight made the whole process easier.

Now that I’m squeezing our remaining possessions into a 1-bedroom apartment, I ask myself the same questions: if I were to move again tomorrow (heaven forbid), would I want to take this thing with me? If it’s not worth transporting across state lines, chuck it.

The costs

It’s incredibly cruel that moving–a process that’s obnoxious at best and hair-pulling stressful at worst–costs so much.

Like, seriously?! I can think of 2,234 things I’d rather do with two grand than sit in a car for four days listening to audio books and Stuff You Missed In History podcasts.

Our cross-country move broke down like so:

Trailer hitch and installation: $315
Trailer rental and insurance: $695
Hotels: $484 (including 4 days in Texas while we were still apartment hunting)
Moving and cleaning supplies: $30
Oil change/tune up: $75
Gas: $405

TOTAL: $1,984

Yeah. That’s enough for a decent vacation.

One that doesn’t involve staying in a fiesta-themed Best Western off the highway in Albuquerque.

As we stared down the barrel of forking over nearly $2,000 to transport ourselves and our stuff (oh the agony), my husband and I briefly considered selling everything that couldn’t fit in our car trunk and shopping once we got to Texas. Then we considered extreme minimalism as a new way of life. Maybe sleeping bags wouldn’t be so bad until we could find ourselves a nice blow-up mattress and eventually upgrade to a frat boy’s old futon from Goodwill?

Ultimately, the value of our mattress and couch alone were enough to justify the trailer. Resting our heads at night between 10-hour days on the road, quenching the thirst of our gas-guzzling trailer/car setup, and periodic stops for a caffeine boost rounded out the expenses.

A few things made the costs easier:

  • Getting supplies from friends/family. I’m no respecter of boxes; the last time we moved, we used toilet paper and liquor boxes exclusively. This time around I took all the castoffs from my sister’s recent move. Home Depot’s boxes and packing tape were the cheapest option when we needed to buy more.
  • Investing some time to compare hitch prices. I got quotes for hitch installation ranging from $315 to $900. It ended up being cheapest just to do it through U-Haul.
  • Hotel deals. The last day on the road, we couldn’t keep our eyes open to finish the last 200 miles, and ended up crashing in Dallas–costing an extra hotel stay, and wasting a night we’d already booked in College Station. Thankfully, hitting up Hotwire last-minute from the road got us a hotel for $55 (and a pretty swank one at that).

In all, the move probably cost more like $2,500, including meals on the road (didn’t bother trying to sort through our array of Sonic receipts) and replacement furniture here in Texas. Huge sigh of relief that we’d saved up some extra change in anticipation.

Fifty-five miles per hour is a painfully slow pace to navigate the barren desert of New Mexico and the Texas panhandle, but we made it to the Lone Star State alive, albeit drained of money and vigor. Success.

How have you dealt with big, expensive moves?

Writer, budget cruncher & stifled shopaholic.

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