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Is It Cheaper to Hire Movers or Do It Yourself? We Do the Math

It probably won’t come as a shock that renting a truck, packing it with all of your belongings and driving it to your new home is cheaper than hiring someone to do all of that for you. What is surprising is how much cheaper it is: After getting quotes from three different moving companies for a variety of moves, I found that doing it yourself will save you about $1,000 for a local move and as much as $5,000 for a cross-country move.

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In general, you have three options for moving your belongings: Rent a moving truck and do everything yourself, pack a moving container and have it shipped, or hire a professional moving company to do everything. To determine the cost of each option, I collected quotes for moving a two-bedroom apartment over a variety of distances. 

Keep in mind, moving quotes are highly personalized — especially when it comes to hiring professionals — and you’ll probably need to provide a moving company with a detailed inventory or conduct an in-home tour to exactly see how prices will break down for your move.

Rent a moving truck and do it yourself

Move distance Average truck rental Gas cost Total cost
10 miles $44 $4 $48
100 miles $343 $36 $379
500 miles $799 $182 $981
1,000 miles $1,036 $364 $1,400
3,000 miles $3,102 $1,092 $4,194

These truck prices reflect the cheapest options available from three of the most popular rental companies. These are the simplest packages available for a 15- or 16-foot truck rental — no insurance, no packing supplies and no car towing. (Learn more about picking the right rental truck size here.)

The amount of time you have with the truck typically depends on how far you’re going. For a move from Seattle to Bakersfield, for example, U-Haul gives you five days and 1,218 miles. Other companies, like Penske, give you unlimited mileage for long-distance moves. 

I also factored in current average gas prices ($3.64 per gallon) and fuel efficiency for a 16-foot truck (about 10 mpg). For a 3,000-mile move, you’ll need to factor in an extra $1,092 for fuel.

Cost of renting a moving container

Move distance Average cost
10 miles $578
100 miles $1,350
500 miles $1,459
1,000 miles $2,371
3,000 miles $3,238

Moving containers split the difference between a DIY move and hiring professionals. The company drops off a portable storage unit at your home, you fill it with your belongings, and the company ships it to your new home. Most moving containers like PODS and U-Box also offer loading and storage services that will add to the final cost.

Cost of hiring professional movers

Move distance Average cost
10 miles $1,407
100 miles $1,617
500 miles $4,398
1,000 miles $5,641
3,000 miles $9,061

The prices above show the average quotes I got from three different moving companies for full-service moves. You pack, and they load, drive and unload. There are a number of other factors that can impact these prices (more on that below) but these are the ballpark figures you can expect to pay when hiring professional movers.

So, what’s the cheapest way to move?

Move distance Moving truck Moving container Professional movers
10 miles $48 $578 $1,407
100 miles $379 $1,350 $1,617
500 miles $981 $1,459 $4,398
1,000 miles $1,400 $2,371 $5,641
3,000 miles $4,194 $3,238 $9,061

Unsurprisingly, the cheapest way to move involves lifting those heavy boxes and furniture yourself. For almost every distance of move, renting a moving truck and driving it yourself is going to save you the most money.

The one exception to this rule is for long, cross-country moves. If you’re going from one coast to another, using a moving container may end up being slightly cheaper than renting a truck and driving it yourself. That’s largely because you’re paying for gas out of your own pocket when you rent a truck, which can add more than a thousand dollars to your final cost.

Other cost factors to consider when moving

Add-on Cost
Packing supplies $200
Packing services $500 to $1,800
Moving insurance 1 to 2% of total coverage
Truck rental coverage $14 to $235
Hotels $206 to $618
Car towing $69 to $511
Car shipment $700 to $3,400
Tip for movers 10 to 20% of total bill

Unfortunately, moving expenses don’t end after you put the deposit down with your moving company or truck. Here are some additional costs you’ll want to budget for as you’re comparing your options.

  • Packing supplies: U-Haul and Lowe’s sell two-bedroom moving kits for about $200, and they include everything from boxes to packing tape to mattress covers. You can cut down on these costs by hunting for free moving boxes or using towels and bedding as cushioning instead of foam or bubble wrap. 
  • Packing services: Most professional moving companies offer packing services for an extra fee. Packing services added on between $500 and $1,800 to my moving quotes for a two-bedroom apartment. 
  • Moving insurance: Every moving option I looked at offered some sort of moving insurance add-on. Interstate movers are required to insure your belongings by the monetary value of their weight — 60 cents per pound — but you can also opt for extra coverage. 
  • Truck rental coverage: Your credit card or auto insurance policy probably doesn’t cover a rental truck. U-Haul offers two protection packages: $14 or $28 for a local move, and $168 or $235 for cross country.
  • Hotels: If you’re driving a moving truck across the country, you’ll want to factor in the price for lodging as you go. Average hotel prices are currently $206 per night, according to the travel site Hopper
  • Car towing: If you rent a moving truck, you’ll have the option to tow your vehicle behind it for the length of the trip. Depending on the type of car and distance, this can add on as much as $500 to your moving costs.
  • Car shipment: The cost of shipping your car can vary considerably based on its size, the distance it’s going to travel and whether you choose enclosed or open shipment. 
  • Tip for movers: How much you tip movers is a personal choice, but a good rule of thumb is to plan on spending between 10% and 20% of the total bill. 

Bottom line: Moving is expensive

No matter how much of the heavy lifting you do yourself, it costs a lot of money to get your life packed up for somewhere new — especially if the new place is all the way across the country. In those situations, you might be better off selling or donating furniture before moving so you don’t end up paying more to ship your old couch than it’s worth. 

For more tips on reducing costs, check out these six tips for moving on a budget.