How to Move Across the Country on a Budget


Does the thought of moving scare you a bit? Do you start to think of the To-Do Lists, organizing, errands to drop off donations, the packing, packing, packing, and then not being able to find something you packed because you didn’t label EVERYTHING that was in the box? Well, and then there’s all the costs involved, let’s not even get started there! I will share with you the details of our move and how we survived.

The hubby recently received a promotion and we had to pack up our 2-bedroom townhouse AND the cat to move from Colorado to D.C. Although I was extremely proud and happy for this promotion, I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of moving everything we owned across the country again. So I decided to track all our expenses and see how cheaply I could really do this. I tally it up at the end for you, but spoiler alert, we spent just under $2000 to move from Denver to D.C.! It could have been so much more. But a good amount of research and readiness will save you lots of money!


This was my starting point. I figured this would be the biggest expense so I spent a good portion of time researching the best route. Although I  toyed with the idea of having someone come and pack everything up for me, load it, and drive it out there without me involved-oh what a glorious thought! In the end, it really does come down to money and I had the time to deal with all this jazz.

The specs that I was dealing with were as follows:

  • 2-Bedroom townhouse
  • 3 sectional couch-real leather & the hubby is very protective of it
  • King sized bed with HEAVY memory foam mattress (I cannot carry it.)
  • 1,677 miles to travel
  • 2 vehicles to bring-a Camry and an F-150
  • Desired a 16-22’ truck

Here are the different companies that I spent time researching:

  • Mayflower Movers- $6000- They pack up your house, load it, unload it, and move it for you.
  • Pods-$2190 Pack your things into a Pod, stacking as high as you can and taking up as little room as you can. Your pod will be picked up at a certain time and will be delivered to a safe Pod place in your new town until you can empty the Pod. It may mean that you wait for your items for 2 weeks or more, basically until someone is able to pick up your Pod and drive it where needed.
  • Budget-You pack it, you haul it, you unload it.
  • U-Haul-$3000-I don’t know why the quotes for U-Haul were so high, but I could not find anything lower than $3000. I’m guessing that everyone just assumes U-Haul is better/cheaper and doesn’t do a lot of checking, so they just raise their rates because they can?
  • Penske-$947 Another you pack and haul yourself. I didn’t realize that Penske was used for moving until a friend started working for them. (No, I didn’t get a discount. Maybe I should have asked!)


Obviously, I went for the Penske truck. I reserved a 16’ truck and a towing dolly for my car. With the insurance added on, the grand total of the truck came out to $1130. I was really trying to keep it under $1000, but I guess I did alright.

I was a little concerned with the dolly for the car because I had been told that it’s better for the car to be completely off the ground and not have the front wheels lifted up. Which makes sense, it’s 1,677 more miles of wear and tear on the back wheels and the suspension could have issues. But really, they aren’t going to have a system out there that breaks your car. Plus, the other dolly would have been close to $500 and this one was $99. I stuck with the two-wheel dolly.

My tips for getting a good deal:

  • Get a quote in the middle of the week. The prices change depending on what is available at the time. The weekends are prime time for people to be traveling across country.
  • Reserve your truck early! I reserved our truck a good 6 or 7 weeks before we moved. Because they can’t predict what will be needed in 6 weeks, they are going to give you a truck regardless and make sure that there’s one available for you. If you wait too long, you will be shopping around a bit more and may have to pay more than you would have liked.
  • Buy insurance, but only the necessary ones. I struggled with this one because I want to account for everything! What if something happens to the truck, we get in an accident, someone tries to steal the dolly, etc. Things like this can and do happen (we had a flawless trip, by the way,) but depending on your level of faith, it may be better to just get the necessary insurances. That’s the only thing that made my price go past my goal of $1000. Do your research into the insurance that is offered and go into the store informed! I was not informed enough and opted into 2 different insurances. I may not have needed both, or maybe it was just good that I had both, either way, I felt rushed, pushed, and unsure of what to do so I chose to spend more money.
  • Rent a smaller truck than what you think you will need. Now this one is a bit tricky, but we had an F-150 and a car to pack things in as well. The hubby was VERY concerned that we weren’t going to make it with a 16’ truck-but I proved him right! The couches did take up a lot of room but we figured out how to stack things on top of them without damaging them. The bigger the truck, the pricier it is.

Moving Help

Most of us don’t have the luxury of family and friends located in every state and unpacking was looking like a tough chore for us. As I mentioned previously, there were a few items that I just wasn’t going to be able to lift. I’m certainly not a wimp or terribly weak, but a King-sized memory foam mattress was definitely winning the fight. I’ve helped the hubby move it around before and it knocks me out every time. The couches were going to be a problem too. They were heavy, just terribly awkward and hard to bring into a place that has a lot of corners and stairs. So our option was to look for a moving company in our new state.

I quickly became frustrated with the lack of options. This may be different for everyone in each state, but I was moving to a very populated area and the lack of moving help was astonishing. Google searches weren’t getting me anywhere!

I remembered that U-Haul had moving help as options at both the loading up and unloading stages. They have partnered with different local businesses to offer help on both ends of the spectrum. So I went on their page and pretended that I was interested in a quote for a truck and found a bunch of businesses that I, in turn, Googled and read reviews on.

Again, keeping this frugal, I needed something that wasn’t going to cost $200/hour. I found a company that would move our truck in for $50/hour with a minimum of 2 hours-$100. That was affordable to me. You have to book them through U-Haul’s sister site though-not the actual business. This concerned me and I did not hear back from them confirming dates and place. Fortunately, a friend offered to drive out with us and help us unpack-for FREE! Now, we did pay for his plane ticket back to Denver, and it only cost $100! Score!

So I was able to get out of the whole moving help process, but if you decide to go this route, be sure to do research on the company and be in touch with them! How terrible would it have been if we got to our new place and they never showed up?? Also, put it out there to your friends that you’re looking for help and will pay them in food, good company, and their ticket home. It was a really special and prolonged time with this good friend of ours.



This is definitely a hard area to calculate and save on. It’s probably going to be your 2nd largest expense (unless you count your new rent or house expenses). For us, gas cost $593. We may have some food expenses in there as well because the receipts were a little confusing-that’s my bad for not keeping track of everything!

Tips on saving for gas

  • Calculate how much you think you’ll need and add to that number. It’s going to be tough figuring out mileage, MPG of the moving truck LOADED down, the MPG of your vehicle(s) and then to estimate what prices will be like on the road. The hubby had estimated $600 for us, and he was just about right!
  • Use Gas Apps to find the best prices on the road. There are many gas apps out there, the one I have is Gas Buddy. We would fill up at ¼ tank so we would not only not run out, but then I could find a best price gas station.
  • Use up your Gas points at local grocery stores. This one I fumbled. I had earned 50 cents off per gallon at my King Soopers rewards program and all of our vehicles were full when we left so I couldn’t use my discount. And I worked so hard for that discount! We couldn’t find any stations that would take that discount along the way and Virginia doesn’t have many accommodating Kroger stores. So I lost there-but learn from my mistakes!



The first night we stayed with friends in Kansas. We are super thankful for them too! They allowed us to bring our cat into their home late at night and house us-pretty awesome. The 2nd night we found a Red Roof hotel that allowed pets. $88! The hubby did that one.

I have this no-fear thing when it comes to hotels and prices. I am so focused on the lowest price I can possibly get that I forget what a low priced hotel can be like…that’s where the hubby steps in and puts his foot down. He insisted on having something more around the $100 range that allowed pets (it wouldn’t be beneath me to sneak the cat in.)

Again, learn from my mistakes, do your research and see if you can book a hotel beforehand. We weren’t sure how far we could make it and did reservations while on the road, if you think this might be you, try to research a few different cities that you might stop at and have an idea of where you can stay.


Traveling with Pets

Callie riding like a true traveler
Callie riding like a true traveler

This is going to be different for every family and situation. I am lucky to have the best kitty traveler ever. Don’t get me wrong, she isn’t one of those that loves to ride in a car, but she slept in her carrier or on my lap without crying.

Make sure you have plenty of food, water, and comfort items for your pet. Dogs won’t stress out with a journey like this so much, but be sure they can relieve themselves often! They get cooped up in the car as much as we do and need to run a bit. I honestly don’t know how other peoples’ cats work, but mine decided to not use the litter box until we were at the destination each night. There was no way she was going to pee in the box while it was in the vehicle!


I am a firm believer in stopping often to stretch, but not to buy food. I have never liked the idea of spending an exorbitant amount of money on gas station food, much less fast food, or taking the time for a sit down meal at a restaurant. So what do you do on a road trip? Well, you bring a lot of snacks with you.

Each vehicle had a bag of snacks, waters, green tea, etc. for constant perusal and snackage. I know this may not be the best idea for everyone, but it worked for us. In all, we spent about $26 in food outside of our snacks.



I did not anticipate tolls on our trip. I don’t believe Google Maps even informed me but when you have a large truck and one or more cars all traveling together, these tolls can add up. Luckily for us it only came out to $25 but it could have been worse. So do your homework and have money set aside for tolls. Oh, and some do not take plastic! Have cash on hand in each car!!!


So our grand total of expenses on the road were $1,964! I could maybe have wheedled a few more expenses out and used trip points or gotten coupons for hotels, but I think we did alright!

What do you think? Do you have any other tips for traveling across the country? Share your story below!

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