What Is the Cheapest Way to Move?

At a glance

Every dollar counts these days. If you plan ahead, you can save hundreds—or even thousands—of dollars on your upcoming move.

The two most affordable moving options are rental trucks (like a U-Haul) and moving containers (from PODS, for example). Renting a moving truck is your cheapest option (by about 300%) if you’re traveling locally.

Going across the country? Most companies tell you rental trucks are cheaper, but they don’t include travel costs (like gas and lodging) in your quotes. When you add in those expenses, moving pods are often less expensive by about 10%—or upwards of $400 for a coast-to-coast move.

If you want to know more about how moving containers work, read our guide to moving pods.

Info box icon

WHEN TO USE FULL-SERVICE MOVERS

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.

What is the cheapest way to move locally?

The cheapest way to move locally is to rent a moving truck and do everything yourself. Our research shows that it’s nearly three times less expensive to use a rental truck versus a moving pod.

Put another way, a move of 421 miles costs approximately $1.73 per mile if you use a rental truck. A moving container sets you back $4.66 per mile. That’s such a significant savings that the comparison isn’t even close.

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 pods costs (local move)

Total costCost per mile
Rental truck$730$1.73
Moving pod$1,960$4.66
Rental truck
Moving pod
Total cost Cost per mile
$730 $1.73
$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.

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.

Bullhorn

GET A LITTLE HELP

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? Learn more about our favorite moving labor companies.

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
DIY Our top moving labor companiesOther moving labor companies
Loading and unloading (per hour)$0$47$77
½ day* $0$946$1,530
Loading and unloading (per hour)
½ day*
DIY Our top moving labor companies Other moving labor companies
$0 $47 $77
$0 $946 $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

SAVE MORE WITH A BUDGET DISCOUNT

Budget Truck Rental offers more discounts than any other rental truck company. From savings just for military members to student discounts, see why we like Budget.

What is the cheapest way to move across the country?

The cheapest way to move cross country is to use moving pods. Our research shows it’s about 10% less expensive to use a moving pod than a moving truck for a distance of 2,000 miles or more because you save on travel costs like food, lodging, gas, and rental truck mileage fees.

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 pods 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 pods vs. rental trucks costs (long-distance move)

Total costCost per mile
Moving pod$4,250$1.94
Rental truck$4,620$2.11
Moving pod
Rental truck
Total cost Cost per mile
$4,250 $1.94
$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 pods is compounded by significantly diminished traveling costs (e.g., no rental truck mileage fees, no overnight hotel stays, etc.).

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

Get money

SAVE MONEY ON PACKING MATERIALS

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 pods 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 moving pods.

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 $43.73 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
DIY U-Haul Moving Help®
Loading and unloading$0$880
Packing and unpacking$0$960
Total$0$1,840
Loading and unloading
Packing and unpacking
Total
DIY U-Haul Moving Help®
$0 $880
$0 $960
$0 $1,840

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 pods 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 pods can be your least expensive long-distance option is because you don’t dish out money for food, gas, and hotels.

Moving pods vs. rental trucks travel costs
Moving podRental truck
Meals and lodgingN/A$728
Airfare$517N/A
Gas and mileage feesN/A$563
Total travel-related costs$517$1,291
Meals and lodging
Airfare
Gas and mileage fees
Total travel-related costs
Moving pod Rental truck
N/A $728
$517 N/A
N/A $563
$517 $1,291

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 pod and rental truck companies typically suggest that moving trucks are your cheapest option.

But when you factor in travel-related costs, moving pods 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 pods are your most affordable choice for moves of thousands of miles.

Light Bulb icon

MOVING PODS DOUBLE AS STORAGE UNITS

MOVING PODS DOUBLE AS STORAGE UNITS

For a monthly fee, you can leave your belongings in a moving pod 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 pods 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 pods.

For long distances like a cross-country move, moving pods 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

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 pod.
  3. Hire professional movers to take it for you.

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. Learn more about our favorite long-distance moving companies.

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.

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.

Recommended resources

Best rental truck companies

Check out one of our favorite rental truck companies if you’re moving locally:

Best moving container companies

Here’s our list of the best moving container companies if you’re planning a cross-country move:

People also asked . . .

About Kurt Manwaring

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, Country Living, Good Housekeeping, Heavy, Slate, and Yahoo! Lifestyle. He would love to hear about your moving experiences and questions at kurt@move.org.