What Is the Cheapest Way to Move?

Kurt Manwaring
Researcher & Writer
Read More
November 07, 2022
5 min read

At a glance

The cheapest way to move is usually to use one of the best moving container companies. It can save you thousands of dollars compared to full-service movers. Surprisingly, moving containers are even more affordable than rental trucks if you’re moving coast-to-coast. However, you still can’t beat the price of renting a truck if you’re going only across town.

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When to use full-service movers

A full-service move is almost never going to be cheaper than renting a truck or a moving container, but it may be more convenient if you can afford to pay someone else or can’t take time off work. Use our moving costs guide to compare pricing.

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Pricing that works for you

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How much does a local move cost?

A local move costs approximately $730 if you’re using a rental truck. Similarly, a local move will set you back around $1,960 if you plan to ship your belongings in a moving container.

Rental trucks are affordable because you do almost all the work yourself. For local moves, there isn’t a cheaper option.

Rental trucks vs. moving container costs (local move)

Move type
Total cost
Cost per mile

Rental truck

$730

$1.73

Moving container

$1,960

$4.66

Data current as of 1/22/20. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change. Quotes based on moving a moderately furnished, 900 sq. ft., two-bedroom home a distance of 421 miles. Travel costs included.

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Our move concierge can help with a truck rental or moving container

There’s more to moving than getting your belongings from A to B—and that can be overwhelming. If setting up insurance, internet, utilities, or home security services while planning your move makes you hyperventilate, we’ve got an answer for you!

Move.org offers a free, all-in-one solution that provides you with a personal concierge who will assist you with setting up all those services (and more!). From finding the best mover in your area, to forwarding your mail to your new address, our moving concierge will save you the hassle of self setup and help you save money.

Why are rental trucks so affordable for short-distance moves?

There’s a common theme when it comes to rental trucks: DIY. Moving trucks are so affordable because you’re doing the loading, driving, and unloading.

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Get a little help

Did you know you can hire people by the hour to help you pack and unpack, load and unload, and even assemble furniture? You can also check out our list of the best cheap moving companies for other affordable ways to get great moving services.

You load and unload the truck yourself

It’s not fun to look at a house full of belongings or a truck full of boxes and think of the work needed to load and unload the moving truck. That’s one reason people often pay professional movers to do the work for them.

But you save a ton of cash if you do it yourself.

How much?

About $50 per hour per person. So if you have a handful of friends and family help out for half a day, you save upwards of $1,000.

Average moving labor costs

Type of service
DIY
Our top moving labor companies
Other moving labor companies

Loading and unloading (per hour)

$0

$50

$80

½ day*

$0

$950

$1,530

Data current as of 1/24/20. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

*Five workers for four hours.

You drive the truck yourself

It’s hard to emphasize just how much you can potentially save by driving a moving truck yourself. Every major alternative to being your own chauffeur involves you paying someone else:

  • Hourly labor drivers (available for short-distance moves only)
  • Moving container companies
  • Full-service professional movers

In the end, it comes down to convenience vs. cost. Sure, you can hire someone else to do the hard stuff, but your bank account will be noticeably smaller because of it.

If you’re looking for the cheapest way to move a distance of several hundred miles or less, you can’t beat the affordability of renting a moving truck.

Price Tag
Save more with a budget discount

Budget Truck Rental offers more discounts than any other rental truck company. It has deals for everyone from military members to students.



How much does it cost to move across the country?

It costs about $4,250 to move across the country using a moving container. Because you don’t spend money on airfare, food, and lodging, moving containers cost even less than rental trucks. Our research shows that it’s about 10% less expensive to use a moving container for a distance of 2,000 miles or more.

The 10% gap may not seem like a lot, but if you’re looking to save money, every dollar counts. For a cross-country move of approximately 2,000 miles, a 10% savings amounts to nearly $400—even though your initial quote may suggest the opposite.

It adds up. For a long-distance move, your most affordable option is moving containers.

Moving containers are affordable because you do some of the work yourself. In certain cases (like long-distance moves), they are often your cheapest option because you don’t have as many travel-related costs.

For example, a flight gets you cross country in less than a day, but a rental truck can take upwards of a week. It doesn’t take long for the cost of gas, hotels, and meals to dwarf what you would spend up front on plane tickets.

Moving containers vs. rental trucks costs (long-distance move)

Move type
Total cost
Cost per mile

Moving container

$4,250

$1.94

Rental truck

$4,620

$2.11

Data current as of 1/24/20. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change. Quotes based on moving a moderately furnished, 900 sq. ft., two-bedroom home a distance of 2,193 miles.

Why are moving containers so affordable for long-distance moves?

It’s almost counterintuitive to think that moving containers are more affordable than rental trucks. As we illustrated earlier, that isn’t always the case.

Moving trucks are by far your cheapest option for a short-distance move.

But when you’re moving across the country, the DIY savings of loading and unloading your moving containers is compounded by significantly diminished traveling costs (e.g., no rental truck mileage fees, no overnight hotel stays, etc.).

Moving containers are usually your most affordable option for cross-country moves.

Money
Save money on packing materials

Another way to lower moving costs is to find free or low-cost packing supplies. From boxes to bubble wrap, let us show you how to find affordable packing materials.

You load and unload the moving containers yourself

Just like with a rental truck, you save a boatload of money (compared to a full-service move) loading and unloading the moving containers yourself.

If you want to pay for a little help, some moving container companies (like U-Haul) offer hourly labor services specifically for loading your containers.

In fact, U-Haul Moving Help® has some of the lowest prices we’ve seen for loading and unloading services.

But it still costs a lot.

At around $40 per hour per person, it’ll set you back nearly $900 to hire five people for half a day. The savings of DIY add up even more if you factor in what it would cost to pay someone else to pack your belongings.

Moving labor costs per half day

Type of service
DIY
U-Haul Moving Help

Loading and unloading

$0

$880

Packing and unpacking

$0

$960

Data current as of 1/24/20. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change. 

You don’t pay as much for travel

The other reason moving containers are so affordable going cross country is that you don’t pay as much for expenses like gas, hotels, and food.

With a coast-to-coast move, it’s faster for you to travel by plane while your stuff is in transit, and the costs of flying are typically lower than what you’d expect to see driving a rental truck thousands of miles.

Of course, the savings may not hold up if you drive instead of flying. The reason moving containers can be your least expensive long-distance option is because you don’t dish out money for food, gas, and hotels.

Moving containers vs. rental trucks travel costs

Expense
Moving container
Rental truck

Meals and lodging

N/A

$730

Airfare

$520

N/A

Gas and mileage fees

N/A

$560

Total travel-related costs

$520

$1,290

Data current as of 1/22/20. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change. 

Quotes for cross-country moves from moving container and rental truck companies typically suggest that moving trucks are your cheapest option.

But when you factor in travel-related costs, moving containers end up being the least expensive choice for long distances.

Bottom line: rental trucks are the cheapest option for moves of hundreds of miles. Moving containers are your most affordable choice for moves of thousands of miles.

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Moving containers double as storage units

For a monthly fee, you can leave your belongings in a moving container and turn it into a makeshift storage container so you don’t have to stress about being 100% moved in on day one. Of course, if you prefer to have your stuff off-site, we also identified the best self-storage unit companies.


Recap

Rental trucks and moving containers are your two cheapest moving options. For short distances, you can’t beat the price for rental trucks—they’re nearly 300% cheaper than moving containers.

For long distances like a cross-country move, moving containers are cheaper than rental trucks by about 10%—even though your initial estimates may suggest otherwise. In this case, travel-related expenses like food, hotels, gas, and mileage fees really add up.


The cheapest way to move FAQs

What is the average cost for a long-distance move?

The average cost for a long-distance move is approximately $4,250 for moving containers and $4,620 for rental trucks. Using a top-tier company like U-Pack can potentially cost even less.

How do you ship furniture to another state?

When you’re moving, there are three main ways to ship furniture to another state:

  1. Get a one-way truck rental.
  2. Ship it in a moving container.
  3. Hire professional movers to take it for you.
What are some money-saving tips for moving?

Here are some tips to help you save money when you move:

You can also minimize costs if you prepare your new home for your arrival by doing things like scheduling home improvements and reserving parking. Nothing adds extra costs to your move quite like showing up to find there’s nowhere to park and your basement is flooded.

What’s the cheapest way to move your stuff long-distance?

The cheapest way to move your stuff long-distance is to use a moving container company. It often costs less than renting a truck because you don’t pay for essentials like food and hotels.

Are there cross-country movers?

Yes. If you don’t want to do the work yourself, you can hire full-service movers to transport your belongings across the country. You can also chat with our free move concierge to locate the best professional moving company for your move.

Where can I get free cardboard boxes?

Local businesses will often give you free boxes. We recommend checking with grocery stores, furniture stores, liquor stores, and other retailers. We also have a guide to buying inexpensive cardboard boxes.


Kurt Manwaring
Written by
Kurt Manwaring
Kurt Manwaring brings nearly a decade’s worth of research experience as a business consultant to the Move.org team. He specializes in taking complicated issues (like moving) and presenting them in a way that everyone can understand. His writing has been featured in hundreds of publications, including USA Today, Martha Stewart Living, Country Living, Good Housekeeping, Heavy, Slate, and Yahoo! Lifestyle. He brings a BS in sociology and an MPA (masters of public administration) to the Move team. He would love to hear about your moving experiences and questions at kurt@move.org.