Breaking Down Cross Country Moving Costs

Several years ago, I moved halfway across the country to California from Texas. I miss the barbecue. I do not miss the weather.

I was planning a career switch, and I’d saved up for months to make this move happen. I had a “career switch” fund that would hold me over until I found a job, but the cost of the move itself took up a huge part of this budget. It wasn’t cheap. A few years ago, I wrote about some creative ways to save money on a cross country move, but many readers had questions: How much does a truck cost? What about gas? How much does cross country moving cost in general?

In this post, I wanted to break down the many expenses involved so you can prepare your budget. Of course, a lot of the cost involved with moving depends on how much stuff you’re towing with you, so for the sake of simplicity, we’re going to assume you’re moving a 1-bedroom apartment.

Transportation and Storage (≈ $1,000 – $2,000)

How much you’ll spend on actually moving your junk across the country depends on a handful of factors: when you plan to move, how far you have to go, and how much stuff you have to begin with.

As I told you in this post, a 1-bedroom apartment move with a U-haul would have cost upwards of $1,000 in September. In general, most of the quotes I got from truck companies were around $1,000, too. They charge you an initial fee to rent the truck, and then a small cost per mile, which adds up. Initially, I budgeted for about $1,000 to move, but then I called Penske and they quoted me $450 — at the time, they didn’t charge me per mile. Not everyone will have the same luck.

PODS works a little differently. They send you an empty container, you fill it up, then they’ll pick it up and ship it to your destination city. However, when I asked for a PODS quote, it was upwards of $2,000 to pack and ship my junk. This was way beyond my budget at the time.

Transportation isn’t an easy cost to estimate because it just depends on so many factors. However, Moving.Tips offers a similar estimate to mine:

“Long distance movers don’t charge by the hour but calculate the final price based on distance, weight of shipment, and additional services. It’s very hard to give any accurate costs to moving a one bedroom apartment across the country not only because of the ever-changing factors already mentioned, but also because of the fact that different movers have different long distance tariffs. If we assume an approximate weight of 3500 pounds for the household items in your home, then the standard price of moving a 1 bedroom apartment is around $1500 for a distance of 500 miles, or roughly $2000 for 1000 miles. Keep in mind that these average costs are nothing but estimates and include neither packing nor any other extra services.”

Tips for saving on transportation

With this in mind, there are a few ways to cut the cost of transportation. For one, you can pare down your belongings. Sell and get rid of as much crap as possible: furniture, old tchotchkes, DVDs that are just collecting dust, and so on. This means you’ll have less stuff to tow, so your moving estimates should be less, too.

You might also reschedule your move date, if possible. Some truck rental companies increase their pricing on popular moving days. MarketWatch explains:

“Like airlines and hotels, truck-rental companies have adopted complex algorithms that help them manage inventory. While that means more efficient use of vehicles — savings which can theoretically be passed on to customers — it adds a lot of complexity. Rental companies say in-town and cross-country trips are priced differently for a variety of reasons. Customers do tend to pay higher rates for one-way rentals, according to Budget, because of the extra costs involved in getting trucks to and from popular pickup locations and to compensate for additional wear and tear.”

The bottom line is you want to shop around. Don’t just compare prices between truck rental companies, try different dates, too. Another trick: play around with different pickup and drop-off locations in your city. When I moved to Los Angeles, it was considerably cheaper to drop off the rental in the Valley than a central location closer to my apartment in the city.

If you’re hiring movers to help you, don’t forget to budget for tips, too.

Lodging and Gas (≈ $500 – $1,000)

Depending on how long your drive is and how often you want to stop, the cost of lodging and gas can be surprisingly expensive.

The average daily rate for a hotel room in the U.S. is about $123, and if you’re making a move across the country, chances are, you’re going to want to stop at least once. So let’s play it safe and budget $300 for lodging.

I couldn’t find any data on the average cost of gas for a cross country move, and again, the numbers vary so much, depending on where you’re traveling to and from. However, let’s throw out an example and say you’re moving from Erie, Pensylvania to Portland, Oregon. Assuming you’re driving a tank with terrible gas mileage like a U-haul, you’ll spend about $300 (as of July 2017, when average gas prices are about $2.30):

Add that to your lodging expense, and you’re at about $600. Your cost can vary quite a bit depending on where you’re traveling, though, so adjust your own estimates as necessary (that kind of applies for all of these, though).

Alternatively, you might want to compare the cost of simply flying to your destination. You’ll have to hire a driver or go with a POD, but if your airfare + POD is less than the cost of truck rental + lodging + gas, it might be worth it.

Moving Supplies (≈ Free – $100)

It’s a conservative estimate, but when it comes to budgeting your spending, it’s better to err on the side of caution. So don’t forget about the cost of moving supplies, including:

  • Boxes
  • Packing tape
  • Furniture pads
  • Bubble wrap
  • Plate cushions

Of course, there are some easy ways to save on these expenses: ask friends for old boxes, for example. Or use blankets to pad your furniture. Amazon actually has a reasonably priced moving supply bundle, too.

Tips for saving on lodging and gas

GasBuddy is one of my favorite websites for road trip planning. Enter your origin and destination and the site tells you exactly where to stop to get the cheapest gas along your route. Check out the example above and you’ll see that you can save $44 on this trip by taking their pit stop recommendations. Also, the less stuff you pack, the more fuel efficient you’ll be, which can lead to significant savings, too.

Finally, we’ve given you many tips for saving money on hotels, but you’ll do well to plan your pit stop strategically. You’ll probably stop in a less densely populated city, so you should already see some savings there, but make sure your stop is during a weekday as opposed to a weekend, and you’ll likely save even more.

Apartment Deposits and Utilities (≈ $1,000 – $2,000)

Your own apartment deposit depends on how much your landlord decides to charge, and technically, you get it back, but still — it’s a good financial habit to go ahead and add this to your budget so you have the money on hand.

Also, remember: utility companies usually charge a one-time fee for turning on your service, whether it’s gas, Internet service, or electricity. This fee is usually only about $25-$30, but with three different bill providers, that’s about $100. The average cost of rent in the U.S. is about $1,200 a month, so I’m going to play it safe and suggest budgeting about $1,500 for the cost of the deposit and the new move. If you have pets or your landlord requires a utility deposit or application fee, budget for that, too.

Tips for Saving on Your Deposit

I get it: there’s not too much you can do about these expenses. However, you can make sure you get the deposit back from your original landlord. It might take a while, but that money can help deal with the spending hangover of the move after you’ve settled in. Here are some tips to make sure you get your deposit back:

  • Clean thoroughly: Make sure your apartment is in tip-top shape before you move out. Here’s a useful cleaning checklist.
  • Fix any damages: Patch up wall holes and make sure your apartment is more or less in the same condition it was in when you moved in.
  • Meet with your landlord: Ask for a walk-through so they’ll confirm you’ll get everything back (or you’re at least prepared for any dings to your deposit)

Based on my own experience and research, I estimate that the average cost of a cross country move is between $2,500 and $5,000. Again, it’s a difficult total cost to measure but you can get a more customized estimate using an online calculator like or HomeFair.

Project CRediT sources data from Wealthy Genius including net worth, earnings, and various wealth statistics.

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