cardboard boxes

How to Plan a Move, Part 1: Prioritize and Budget

In a recent post, I hit on the Universal Truths of Moving:

  • Moving is expensive.
  • You can put a price tag on the logistics, but not on the experience that comes with a move.
  • It’s going to be hard.
  • You may not have a chance like this again.

I stand by all of these, including the first point. BUT, there are several things you can do in order to keep costs down and prevent yourself from turning into an even larger ball of stress:

  • Prioritize
  • Budget
  • Think ahead
  • Keep yourself organized

In Part 2 of my How to Plan a Move series, I’ll hit on ways to think ahead and keep yourself organized. But first in Part 1, I’ll address what you need to do first before any other moving-related work can be done: prioritize and budget.

Two dear friends, Ashley and Coral – who’ve undergone ridiculously awesome life upheavals – have added their own wisdom.


The important thing to remember when you’re planning to move is figure out what’s important to you and prioritize those things/feelings/experiences.

Do you want to save some bucks? Do you want to bring your great-grandmother’s china set and every item of furniture with you? (*Raises hand*) Do you want to make things as easy as possible for yourself en route? Do you want an adventure along the way? Do you want an adventure while you’re there?

Think about your destination and experience end goal, visualize what this looks like, what you’re willing to sacrifice to meet that goal, and what you need to accomplish.

In my most recent move and upcoming move, I’ve wanted to take as much crap with me as possible but also aimed to have a fun road trip on the way. This means that I packed and shipped a lot of stuff in a storage container but will be driving myself to my end point. Not the cheapest route in terms of transportation of self and stuff, but if there’s an opportunity to drive through the Black Hills and Yellowstone AND stop at Wall Drug, I’m taking it because that’s important to me.


Before you do anything having to do with this move – even if you’re considering the idea of a major relocation – you need to figure out how much you’ll have to spend.

Before you get there

Consider your current financial situation and:

  • Are you going to get any relocation funds from a company?
  • Are you able to get any support from others? (Ex. an eccentric relative who loves to travel and would be thrilled to contribute to your international relocation.)
  • What options do you have for getting yourself there? If you have a car that you’d like to keep, can you drive yourself there? Is flying the only option?


Let me put my current/upcoming move into context:

Cost of renting/shipping a storage container from Takoma Park, MD (in the DC suburbs) to Boise, ID (yes, I’m moving to Idaho.) = $1,800. I’m a big fan of the Uhaul Ubox storage container because it is an affordable way to ship stuff across country, but to be honest – a single box didn’t fit everything we own, and we sold/donated/gave away quite a few items.

There is a chance you’ll have a relocation bonus or funds, which can go a long way. My significant other received a bonus for his relocation that helped to counter that $1,800-plus bill from UHaul, and Ashley and her husband, who’s in the military, received funding up to a certain weight limit – critical as they moved from Northeast Ohio to Hawaii. But, if you won’t have any relocation funds, start budgeting and saving, immediately.

After you arrive

Be sure to consider your finances when you get there. Coral, who’s currently living in Taiwan with her husband, says: “Setting up in a new area can drain the savings quickly. Hopefully these funds will replenish once you are established, but those first weeks can be more stressful if funds are low.”

I’ll support this. The last time I moved, the start date for my job was pushed back for an entire month because of government contract issues completely out of my control – so I didn’t work for several weeks and wasn’t getting paid, which followed the purchase of a car and a road trip east. AWFUL. As you’re planning your landing pad, think about your financial landing pad, and any financial hiccups that may occur, too.

Your stuff

Integral to any discussions re: budgets is the stuff you’ll be bringing with you.

In general, the more stuff you have to bring with you and the farther you will be going, the more expensive your move is going to be.

However, think about the life you’ll have when you get there. If you need to replace a ton of stuff that you sold or donated, it may get pricey. This depends a lot on how you feel about home.

Me: I’m a 28-year-old homebody who loves to cook and read. I have an absurd amount of kitchen items and books that I’ve schlepped across country twice now around and will continue to haul because that stuff is important to me. I also have a car that I like and want to keep, so as mentioned I’ll be driving for my upcoming move. These two choices make it so moving isn’t terribly cheap, but damn it if I’m going to give up my stainless steel pots and pans and my multiple collections of short fiction.

As I mentioned above that the UBox didn’t fit everything we own – SO and I decided we were going to donate a hand-me-down mattress (which sounds gross as I write this) and buy a new, larger one at our destination. We also chose not to bring our Craigslist-purchased dining chairs. Meaning, we need to buy a mattress and a dining set once in our location, which isn’t cheap, but it was worthwhile to us to not take up the room in our container so that we could definitely fit stuff that was more valuable to us at the time.

Also, think about how long you’ll be. Is this ultimately a temporary move – internship? International opportunity? Military move? Are there things you own that you’d like to have one day but could be stored for the meanwhile? Calculating the cost to store (or the savings to store if it’s with a relative, for example) vs. the cost of packing and shipping stuff – which may be damaged – is worthwhile.

Coral: “We got rid of as much stuff as we could and rented one small storage unit back home for the rest. We aren’t sure how long we will be living abroad, so if it had only been one year, we didn’t want to start all over again.”

Ashley: “Because we had no idea what kind of living situation we would have I ended up leaving a decent amount of things with my parents. I have a massive book collection that’s sitting at home in Ohio because I didn’t know if it would fit in our future home. Yet at the same time we had the majority of our furniture shipped here since it was free and we wouldn’t have to worry about paying inflated island prices.”

Next up: More tips on planning ahead and keeping yourself organized before, during, and after a major move.

What do you think? Anything I missed that you want to add? Let me know in the comments or @GailMarieCole.

P.S. Ashley blogs about life in Hawaii here!

P.P.S. Check out part 2 of my How to Plan a Move series here.

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