Simply selecting the “default option” that everyone else seems to choose can be a very expensive proposition. In daily life, most people are creatures of habit and emulators of the people around them. If your friends and coworkers eat out for lunch every day, you’ll find yourself with a $200/month habit if you join them every workday. If attending a SoulCycle spin class followed by having brunch at a restaurant every Sunday morning is your default (rather than riding outside in the fresh air and having a picnic), you’ll easily develop a $300/month habit. But it gets worse: the “default option” for the rare expense that doesn’t come up often is even more prone to pitfalls for anyone choosing the default without a reasonable amount of analysis.
Most people move infrequently. And when people move, it is often in conjunction with a major life event such as a change of employment, marriage, children, divorce, or retirement. It is tempting to call a moving company and have them handle all of the unpleasant logistical details. However, this can be an expensive proposition with hidden minefields including bait and switch issues related to pricing, imprecision in terms of timing of the move itself, disputes regarding lost items, and possible damage to housing when bulky items are moved by men who are often in a rush to finish the job.
How can we be more intelligent about assessing our choices and making the best decision during an inherently stressful period? I recently was faced with the question of how to handle a long distance move. Naturally, I wanted to save as much money as possible but not to take steps that would be “false economies” and make my life more difficult for relatively meager savings. Money represents claim checks against resources – products and services that can make our lives easier. My goal was to use my money intelligently while also deploying my own time and labor where it made sense to do so. In the process, I learned quite a bit about the moving industry, the inherent pitfalls facing consumers, and the balance between spending money and allocating one’s time and personal labor.
Even for someone who lives a relatively Spartan existence, it is easy to accumulate too many possessions over time. During the ten years I lived at my prior residence, I had accumulated much that I had not used for many years. My simple rule is that if I have not utilized an item over the past year, the default action would be to sell it or give it away prior to the move, with some exceptions for books, long held sentimental items, and things that would be expensive or impossible to replace even if infrequently used. I ended up selling a few items and giving away dozens of boxes of items to Goodwill prior to the move. This lightened the load considerably and also provided about $150 to offset the cost of the move.
It is best to avoid purchasing boxes and moving supplies from a moving company. In my condominium building, there are always people discarding moving boxes near the loading dock. But I ended up purchasing moving boxes, tape, bubble wrap, and other supplies primarily from Home Depot, Office Depot, and Target for a total cost of about $150. Obviously, having movers pack up even a one bedroom apartment would be a very expensive proposition, so I handled all packing myself over a period of a few days. This process also coincided with giving away and selling many items involving judgment calls that cannot be outsourced. It is difficult to conceive of a moving plan utilizing paid help for packing that could be called “Spartan”.
Full Service or Do It Yourself?
Here we arrive at the major decision facing anyone contemplating a long distance move. Do you hire a full service moving company to handle the loading, transportation, and unloading of your items? Or do you rent a truck and handle the move yourself?
My move was slightly over 1,100 miles so the prospect of a do-it-yourself move would involve a commitment of two days of time to drive the truck, as well as the associated travel costs and the cost of the truck rental itself. In contrast, hiring a full service mover would eliminate the two days of time required to drive the truck but there would be additional costs associated with flying to my new city. One important point to keep in mind is that when you drive a truck yourself, you retain possession of all of your belongings throughout and when you arrive at your new city, you simply unload and set up your new home. If you outsource the job to a moving company, you will be given a “window” for delivery of your belongings, not a specific day. You will have to provide for your accommodations during the time that your belongings are in transit. Do not ignore that very real cost.
Full Service Quotes
I obtained full service quotes from several moving companies including Bekins, Allied, and Mayflower. Bekins provided the lowest estimated quote online. For my one bedroom apartment, the estimate ranged between $2,066 and $2,877 after I filled out a questionnaire regarding my belongings. This was followed up with a home visit by a Bekins representative who quoted over $3,500 for the move without any explanation regarding why it was so much higher than the estimated range. This is a common problem plaguing the moving industry: bait and switch tactics are rampant. In addition, the Bekins quote could not provide any assurances regarding the specific timeframe for delivery beyond “5 to 12 days”, and there would be an extra charge to specify a date to load the truck, a necessary condition given that my high rise building requires scheduling the loading dock.
Do It Yourself Quotes
Disgusted by the bait and switch games, I obtained several online quotes for rental trucks. Penske proved to be the least expensive at $1,150 including basic insurance coverage, unlimited miles, furniture pads, rope, and a six day allowance. I calculated that I would need a sixteen foot truck. With estimated fuel economy of 11 to 12 miles per gallon, I estimated that I would require around 100 gallons of regular unleaded fuel. With the price of fuel averaging around $2 per gallon, this would add $200 to the cost of the move, for a total of $1,350 for the truck including fuel. Be sure to search for online coupons. The moving industry is highly competitive and I found a coupon that saved about 10 percent off the total cost of the truck.
A full service move obviously includes the labor required to load and unload the truck whereas renting a Penske truck does not. Here we get to a classic question of spending money versus time and physical effort. I could physically load the majority of the truck myself and probably get help from neighbors for the few larger items I could not carry. Or I could hire moving help on both ends of the move to make my life easier. I opted for arranging for moving help using Simple Moving Labor which is the default referral option provided by Penske. A two hour minimum costs $269 on each end. It turned out that the loading of the truck required three hours due to the complications of being in a high rise building which brought the total cost to about $650 plus $100 in tips for the movers – a total of $750 for about five hours of labor.
So, the partial “do it yourself” option involved total costs of $1,350 for the truck and fuel plus $750 for moving labor, or a total of $2,100. Comparing this to the $3,500 quote for a full service move, this implies a savings of around $1,400 to pay for my time driving the truck over two days – approximately $700 per day. It is true that I had to pay for accommodations and food along the way. However, a full service move would not result in my belongings being delivered right away and I would have also had to either rent a car or fly to my new city. Overall, I estimate that I would have spent more on lodging and meals had I opted for a full service move due to the delay in receiving my belongings.
The Move Itself
So moving day arrived and I took a local bus to the Penske location to get the truck and was quickly faced with yet another bait-and-switch. Rather than the $1,150 that I was quoted online (and confirmed over the phone), the hostile and unreasonable Penske employee wanted to charge almost $1,400 and it took several minutes of argument to get him to lower the cost to around $1,220. I needed the truck and had men arriving to help load it so I paid the $1,220 and then complained to Penske over the phone and received a refund of $70. This just goes to show that the industry seems to thrive on non-transparency and bait and switch rip-offs. Oh, there’s one more thing: the local Penske location wanted to give me a 26 foot truck, not the 16 foot truck I had reserved. This would be unwieldy to drive and would consume far more fuel. It would also require more expensive diesel. I insisted on the 16 foot truck.
Driving a sixteen foot truck takes a bit of getting used to. I was able to drive it to my building without issues and backed it up to the loading dock fairly easily. I doubt that the same would have been true with a 26 foot truck. Although I had only contracted for two men from Simple Moving Labor, three showed up but the price was the same. They were quite efficient and had the truck loaded in under three hours. I was on the road by around 1 pm.
Commercial truck drivers typically drive about 500 miles per day. This doesn’t seem like that much but driving a truck is definitely more difficult and stressful than driving a passenger car. I ended up driving about 300 miles the first afternoon, 600 miles the following day, and 250 miles on the final day. This required two nights of accommodations ($170 – three star hotels via Priceline) as well as food and miscellaneous expenses ($80).
Unloading the truck involved parking on the street in front of my new apartment which was more challenging that backing up to a loading dock. Driving in city and highway traffic in a larger vehicle does take some getting used to, but by the time of my arrival with 1,150 miles of experience, it was a non-issue. Simple Moving Labor assisted with the unload in under two hours and I returned the truck, taking an Uber back from the drop off location.
I spent about $2,500 on my move in total, which is not that bad for a long distance move of over 1,100 miles. Probably the greatest benefit of the “do it yourself” option was having control and possession of my belongings throughout the process. Being able to simply unload and begin unpacking immediately is a huge benefit compared to waiting the five to twelve days that Bekins quoted. I ended up saving a significant amount of money as well, although I did have to spend two days of my time driving a truck on relatively boring interstate highways.
The bottom line is that I would probably make the same choices again for a long distance move. Hiring a full service mover does not make much financial sense and the benefits of keeping my belongings with me was an added bonus. Whether you go with a full service or “do it yourself” approach, be sure to shop around for the best quotes and watch out for bait and switch tactics. If you have an online quote for a truck rental, bring it with you when you pick up the truck and insist on paying the quoted amount. Try to look at moving as an adventure and hit the open road.