Image by Jenny Factory via Flickr
As many of you know, MDT and I just finished graduate school and moved from New England to the Midwest to spend the summer visiting family and traveling before we do the expat thing (me for the second time). We don't have a ton of stuff, but it was enough that we had to rent a moving truck to get it all to St. Louis (plus us and the two cats). Now, I've rented plenty of U-Hauls before, but this is the first time I used one to move long distance. Did you know that they wanted upwards of $800?? For a 10-foot truck?! The reason why it's so much, they say, is that federal law states that you can legally drive only so many hours a day (something ridiculous like 4). So if you need to rent a truck to go 1,163 miles, the rental company figures the miles per hour and makes the rental out for 6 days. Even if it only takes 2 days to do the actual drive—like it did for us—you're stuck paying for 6 days of rental time. We didn't have much choice, so we bit the bullet. But we were able to save a good deal of money, and without further ado, I'll get on with the sharing.
Packing and Prep
Whatever you do, don't buy packing supplies from moving companies—they're a total ripoff. If you need boxes, check with your local convenience or liquor store; they almost always have tons of boxes they'd love to get rid of. Packing tape is harder to come by, so if you must buy it, buy it from a dollar store. Places like Staples and Office Max like to charge outrageous prices for silly things like clear packing tape.
Trucks and Travel
Obviously if you hire movers, you'll be paying an arm and a leg, so go with self-moving rental trucks if possible. If you have lots of stuff or heavy furniture, enlist a couple of friends to help. For discounts on truck rentals, search coupon code sites. We found a 20% off code for Budget Trucks that saved us over $100 on our rental. Change of Address packets from the post office also often have coupons for movers and truck rentals. Pick up a packet long before your move. Also, midweek truck rentals are usually cheaper. We saved nearly$100 by picking up our truck on Wednesday instead of Tuesday.
Better yet, if you've got a friend or relative with a truck that's big enough, maybe they'll help out. Or if you're moving long distance but don't have a ton of stuff, check out rideshare options. Ridester and eRideShare.com will let you hook up with other travelers going your way. Gas is expensive, so splitting it is always a big money-saver.
When you rent a vehicle, you can choose to take their insurance coverage, called a waiver, use your own (if you have it), or take your chances. I'm a risk-taker normally, but with auto insurance I wouldn't recommend gambling, especially if you're going to be driving a big truck you're not used to for numerous hours. Even if you're a fantastic driver, many other people on the road aren't. And if they smack into your rental truck and don't have insurance to cover it, you're responsible for damages.
A lot of credit cards come with auto insurance benefits when you rent a car but not a moving truck. Call your credit card company to make sure. If your card benefits won't cover you, check with your regular auto insurance company. Often, the price for them to cover you for a few days of driving another vehicle, even a moving truck, will be significantly less than buying the rental company's waiver. State Farm added an "uninsured vehicle" clause to my policy for 6 days; it cost me $7. Budget's waiver would have cost exponentially more.
If you're a AAA member, take advantage of their free maps, triptychs, and regional guide books. The guides list hotels and attractions for each area along your route and include useful information about the hotels listed inside, such as whether they allow pets, offer free wifi, etc. If not, FreeTrip.com will map your route, let you choose options such as avoiding tolls or taking the scenic route, and can list gas stations, rest stops, national parks, and lodging (by price) on the way.
Food and Snackage
It's easy to spend a ton on food while roadtripping. If you stop to eat at restaurants, you lose valuable time; if you make a quick stop for fast-food or gas station snacks, you save some time but usually spend too much and end up with trans-fats in your belly. My advice is to pack your own meals and snacks. It's not that hard. We brought a small Rubbermaid tub, filled it partway with ice, and threw in some sliced cheese and veggies, a tub of hummus, and a couple of reusable water bottles. Then we packed a canvas bag with apples, bananas, pita bread, and tortilla chips. That gave us enough food for our two days on the road: sandwiches and fruit for meals, chips and veggies with hummus for snacking. I even brought a little tin of powdered tea mix in case we tired of water. And since we bought all our food (with coupons, of course) at the grocery store before we left, we saved time and money on the road.
Of course you could sleep in the cab at a truck stop if you're really low on cash, but I wouldn't advise it. For one, most rental moving trucks don't have reclining seats, and for two it can be dangerous. Sleeping in a parked vehicle can be an invitation to car jacking, especially if you're alone. If you don't feel like sleeping in the car or roughing it in a tent, you still have several inexpensive options: hostels, motels, and budget hotels. Hostels are likely your cheapest option, but they're not as plentiful as motels or hotels. Hosteling International's US site lists Hosteling International member hostels by state; Hostels.com lists them by region; and Hostel World by city/town. Once you've found one you want to stay at, it's worth calling them directly; sometimes you can get a better price that way. The same goes for motels and hotels you find via third-party search.
If you have a credit card with rewards, check the benefits—I was able to book two free nights along our route for MDT and I (and the kittens) with points from my AmEx card. Other membership organizations, such as AARP or professional or labor unions, may offer hotel discounts also. Leave no stone unturned.
Moving with Pets
Speaking of kittens . . . if you're traveling with pets, don't forget to bring enough food (and litter if necessary) during the drive and the first few days after you arrive. We brought a few cans of food (normally we feed them mostly dry food, but we worried they'd be too nervous to eat and thought we'd encourage them with wet food), a jug of litter and a small litter pan to set up in the hotel rooms, and their regular food and water dishes. If you'll be on the road most of the day, it's best to stop feeding the night before so they won't have to use the bathroom on the road. They should have access to water all the time, even on the road. If their carriers don't have attached water bowls, just offer them water in their regular dish when you stop for gas, or whenever. Ours cats were never interested in water, but it's important for it to be available to them, especially in warm weather. Also, if your pets don't do well in cars, talk to your vet about calming methods. Our vet recommended a small dose of Benadryl for my cat, who tends to hyperventilate if he's in the car for more than a few minutes, and that worked quite well. Never give your pet any medicine or supplement without first consulting your vet.
Be sure to check with your hotel before you book a room; make sure the hotel accepts pets and see whether they charge fees for lodging them. On the other hand, I'm not advocating breaking any rules, but it's usually pretty easy to sneak small, quiet pets like cats into motels or budget hotels, especially if there are multiple entrances. If you choose to do that, however, make sure you never leave them alone in the room, always keep the "Do Not Disturb" sign on the door, don't let them scratch the furniture, and clean up after them thoroughly.
Good luck on your move or traveling adventure. Hopefully you'll be as lucky as we were and find a huge bag of coins in the door of your rental truck ($40 worth)! It covered all our tolls and more. LOL.
If you have any money-saving moving tips, please comment below!
Thanks to Go Frugal for including this post in the Festival of Frugality and to Suburban Dollar for including it in the Money Hacks Carnival.