Budgeting,  Money Management,  Travel

Planning a Cross Country Move on a Budget

Moving is a lot of work

It can cause a lot of stress and can also be quite expensive. While moving across town can be accomplished in a relatively short amount of time, a long distance move takes a bit more planning. Especially if you want to keep your cross country move on a budget.

Last month, Chelsea and I relocated from San Jose, California to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

We took with us only what we could fit into our Honda Element. The trip took a total of 9-days and cost us a total of just $461.10!

Below are the top 8 things we learned from our experience moving cross country while keeping it on a budget.

cross country move

1. Start Early

As soon as you know you’re going to move, make a list of things that need to happen, and start checking things off as soon as possible. One of the biggest mistakes most people make when moving anywhere is waiting until the last couple of days to start packing. 

In every instance, I have given myself at least a month. On one occasion I started a whole year before making slow progress.

Time is the greatest gift you can give yourself when making a move.

The more time you allow yourself to prep, the less stressed you will be on moving day. You can focus on all those little last minute things that seem to just pop up out of nowhere.

Starting early allows you time to slowly pick through your stuff and make decisions about what to do with it.  As I sort through stuff, I create four piles: stuff to keep, stuff to toss out, stuff to donate, and stuff to sell. 

Time allows you to sell those unwanted but valuable items. Ebay and Craigslist have helped me recoup thousands of dollars from unwanted items I had stored away. From my massive LEGO collection to video games, tools, and electronics.

Also, making money before the move is excellent when you’re on a budget!

Time also allows you the chance to reassess your stuff. You may have set aside something in a “keep” pile to then realize you have not looked for or even thought about the item. Maybe you don’t really need it?

2. Don’t move Furniture

Especially on long hauls, avoid moving furniture. You can always get new furniture. Have you looked into the cost of renting a moving van for a long distance move? Let’s use my recent move as an example.

U-Haul Truck rental allows for up to 9-days and 3,446 miles. The smallest and cheapest 10’ truck would cost $2,535.

Let’s not forget to take into account gas. With a pathetic rating of 12 MPG unloaded, let’s do some rough math to see what it would cost:

2908(miles) / 12(MPG) = 242.33(gallons) x 2.75(US average cost as of 7/24/19) = $666.41.

This of course doesn’t account for the extra weight from a loaded truck, road and traffic conditions, and driving habits. And not to mention any additional optional insurance coverage or moving boxes you may need.

The vehicle and the fuel alone would cost at least $3,201! And if you still have your own vehicle to move, you would either have to rent a car trailer to pull behind the U-Haul or have someone drive the car separately (and then factor in the gas for that car as well!).

For the price of all that, you could refurnish your new home! That bedroom set isn’t looking so attractive anymore is it?

If you still plan to move some large items, consider pulling a small trailer behind your vehicle. While this solution has its own set of challenges involved with it, the savings will still be quite substantial over renting a truck.

It’s shocking how quickly these expenses add up. Not conducive to keeping your move on a budget!

My advice: sell your old stuff to help fund your purchases for your new place.

3. Plan your meals

You don’t eat out every meal when at home, so why would you do that while on the road? 

Plan ahead. This helps to keep your food costs down when moving on a budget.

A couple days prior to our departure, Chelsea baked us bread, granola bars, and cornbread, and prepared several bottles of Kombucha. We went shopping and bought easy to eat and prepare food that didn’t require refrigeration. Things like apples, bananas, nuts and seeds, peanut butter, canned soups, and ramen. We drank a lot of water and made sure to always have a few containers on hand. 

We would start our day with coffee, which we would make ourselves with our little camping stove and a french press. We would eat fruit and a granola bar.

For lunch we might have cornbread and fruit or buy a sandwich and share it. Sometimes, we would stop somewhere for an afternoon cup of coffee. 

Dinners usually consisted of the canned soup or ramen with the bread Chelsea made. 

Doesn’t sound like we ate much, but when you spend your day sitting in a car, you really don’t need to eat very much. You will also feel so much better when you’re not packing your gut with heavy meals. I lost weight from the trip!

If you need to restock your supplies while on the road, look for Walmart Supercenters. They are inexpensive, they sell produce, and can be found just about anywhere! They also carry just about anything else you could want or need while on the road.

4. Look for alternative lodging

Lodging can easily be one of your biggest expenses on the road. For a 9-day trip, if you stay in a hotel for all 8 of those nights, at $70(the cheapest we saw on our travels), that’s $560

Let’s look at some great alternatives for keeping it on a budget.

Car Camping:

If you have a big enough car, and didn’t pack too much stuff, you can sleep in your car. A roof top carrier can help free up some space on the inside of your vehicle. Parking for the night is easy and won’t cost you anything extra unless you pay for a spot at a park.

Most Walmarts will allow people to car camp in their parking lots. Park near the back edge of the lot and don’t draw too much attention to yourself. The great thing about this is many Walmarts are open 24/7 for bathroom and shopping access.

Rest stops can be another great place to rest for a couple of hours. Coming back from Disneyland last year we stopped at a rest stop along Hwy 5 and slept in the back of the Honda Element. Fast, free and required very little planning. 

Tent Camping:

This is what we did for all but two nights during our cross country move. For about $100, you can buy a basic two person tent, sleeping bags, and mats. By staying on BLM or public land, we were able to camp for free. The best part is we were alone the whole time. 

This was by far our favorite part of the move.

Do your research beforehand to figure out what restrictions are in place for that particular camping spot. There are no facilities on most public lands so keep in mind you will have to ‘do your business’ squatting in a bush.

Here’s a couple links to get you started:

How to Find Free Camping in the US and Canada – A How-to for tent camping and car camping within the US and Canada.

Camp for Free on Public Land: ‘Dispersed Camping’ 101 – A complete guide on Dispersed Camping

Hipcamp – Book unique camping experiences on over 300,000 campsites, ranches, vineyards, public parks and more.

5. Prepare your vehicle and get the most MPG

Since your car is going to be the workhorse of the trip, this is going to be the time to catch up on any neglected maintenance. Not only will this ensure you get there without issue, but your car will be working at its best!

Oil change – This is the life blood of your car. Make sure it can take the stress and heat.

Clean or replace air filter – Your car’s engine needs air and this will impact your MPG.

Transmission fluid – The transmission is an expensive part to replace if it goes out. So much cheaper to just maintain.

Coolant – A long trip will mean a very hot engine. Last thing you want is to overheat.

Tires – Try walking in old worn out shoes. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

Check tire pressure – Under inflated means more road friction and poor MPG. Over inflation could risk a blowout.

Alignment – Driving with a bad alignment can impact how your car handles and can prematurely destroy perfectly good tires. Trust me, I speak from experience.

Other tune up items (spark plugs, valve adjustment etc.) – Keep your car happy and it will treat you well.

Registration – Unless you plan on registering your car immediately upon arrival to your new home, make sure you have enough time before your car registration needs to be renewed. This will buy you a little time while you deal with other aspects of your move.  And if it does expire before you get around to registering in your new state, it may complicate the process or end up costing you more in fees and penalties.

Roadside Assistance – It’s like insurance. You hope you never need to use it, but when you do, it’s great to have.

Other – Entertainment (music, podcasts, audiobooks), dash cam, GPS

Upon arrival, be sure to update your address and policy with your insurance company. Every state has different requirements. And if you’re leaving an expensive state like California, you may actually save money!

6. Plan your trip ahead of time

Plan ahead how many hours you want to drive each day. Find a route that hopefully will avoid the toll roads (Google Maps has a setting to help you with this) while still allowing you to stop at any sights that interest you along the way. Avoiding toll roads is essential during a cross country move on a budget. Tolls can be upwards of $70 depending on how long you’re on the road.

Using a tool like Google Maps will also update you on traffic conditions such as accidents, road closures and traffic jams. Best of all Google Maps is free and available to anyone with a phone. 

Tip: Download offline maps to Google Maps ahead of time just in case you lose your GPS signal or if you have limited data with your phone plan.

If you have a co-pilot, assign them the task of DJ, planning rest stops, looking for gas stations and finding places to eat. This will save lots of time and fumbling around as you try and figure out what to do next.

7. Notify your bank

As a security feature, many banks will lock any debit or credit cards that are used too far from the registered address. You don’t want this happening while you’re on the road! Providing your bank with your travel dates and location can prevent them from thinking your credit card was stolen and locking it down.

Also, make sure to update your address once you make it to your new home.

8. Take your time

This is the most important step. Relax. Take your time and enjoy the journey.

For many of us, a cross country trip may be a once in a lifetime adventure. Savor every moment.

cross country move
Are you planning a big move any time soon?

Did you find these tips helpful to plan your cross country move on a budget? Let me know in the comments!

- Derek

Finance Coach, Foodie, Writer and Traveler. When he is not working, he travels(top of the list is Europe) in search of amazing history and to gorge himself on bread products.

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