Start by thinking about what work you can do yourself and by getting organized:

DIY What You Can

You’ll save a lot of money by doing some or all of the work yourself. For a local move, you can ferry over your own boxes and other small items, which account for a substantial amount of the weight and cost of a move. Then let a mover handle the piano, dressers, and other heavy, hard-to-move items. If you can, move jewelry, framed art, and other especially valuable belongings yourself.

Pack, Man

Packing up your stuff also saves a lot of dough. On most local moves, paying a moving company to do all the packing doubles your costs.

But having a company pack for you saves you time and gives you a better basis for damage claims, since most movers won’t pay claims for items you packed unless the outside of the carton is visibly damaged. One solution is for you to pack items that aren’t fragile and let the mover pack high-risk items.

Lighten the Load

The longer the move, the more you save by having less to transport. Throw out, recycle, donate, or sell anything you can live without. Click here for our tips on getting rid of stuff.

Finding Boxes

Having your mover supply boxes can cost $500 or more for an average-size home. Some movers will supply used boxes for free, and you can often get discarded cartons from local retailers or other companies that receive frequent shipments (supermarkets, copy shops). Craigslist, Freecycle, and neighborhood online groups often have listings for free used moving boxes. And check prices for new boxes from companies that sell packaging materials; their prices may (or may not) be less than your mover’s.

Insurance Issues

Your mover’s standard contract language probably severely limits its liability for loss or damage to your belongings. Most movers offer additional “valuation” insurance protection. But before you pay several hundred dollars for moving insurance, check your homeowners or renters insurance policy; you may already be covered.

Sticking to a Schedule

To be profitable, long-distance companies often cram several households onto a single truck. Setting accurate pickup and delivery dates is very difficult because a delay with one load affects the others. Long delays (five days or more) are more common on deliveries than on pickups, but problems can occur at either end.

At best, delays are inconvenient. If pickup is late, you may wind up with your belongings packed, utilities shut off, and in violation of a commitment to a buyer or landlord to vacate by a certain date. If delivery is late, you may have to live with the bare essentials you brought with you or check in to a hotel. Although you can make a claim for costs resulting from delays, there is no way to be compensated fully for the inconvenience.

If you have room for error—e.g., friends to stay with at your destination, no date for vacating your old home—you can afford to hope for the best. But if the date is critical, you need to focus on movers with high ratings for promptness on our customer survey (see Table 1). Also, many movers offer an option called “guaranteed pickup and delivery service.” With this option, if the mover fails to pick up or deliver the shipment on the agreed-upon dates, the mover will reimburse the customer for the delay, typically $100 to $200 for each day that the shipment is delayed. Another common practice is for the mover to reimburse customers for a portion of their living expenses (hotels and meals) caused by the delay. A guaranteed pickup and delivery provision will spare you from having to prove damages and give your mover a strong incentive to arrive on time. Although a premium is usually charged for this provision, it may be worth it.

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Storage Needs

If your new home won’t be ready by the time you must leave your old one, or if your new home is too small for some of your belongings, have the mover arrange for storage. Get proof that insurance will cover your belongings against theft, fire, and other risks while in storage, because insurance for goods in transit will not cover them while in long-term storage.

If you aren’t present at your new home when the mover arrives, to access another customer’s belongings on the same truck they may place your stuff into temporary storage. Try to avoid this because it substantially increases the risk of damage.

Special Items and Services, Higher Costs

Most companies charge extra to handle certain bulky or exceptionally heavy items, such as pianos, ride-on lawnmowers, and grandfather clocks.

Because movers charge more if special conditions increase the time or effort required, discuss such matters with company representatives providing estimates. For example, movers’ price schedules may include special charges if the truck is too big to get down the street to your home and a smaller truck is needed to shuttle your belongings; or if the truck has to pick up or drop off belongings at an additional location.