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A Mover's Survival Kit

Any mental therapist worth her weight in neuroses will tell you moving from one residence to another is as stressful as a birth, death, marriage, divorce, or taxes. (It's April 14 -- do you know where your return is?)

But I don't need to visit a counselor to find that out. First of all, I'm married to one. And second, the counselor and I moved our stuff and our kids an hour south to quaint, congested Fredericksburg, Va. Though we love the bigger digs (we no longer have to choose between having a play area for the kids or having a dining room), my hair has moved even closer to being an endangered species due to upheaval caused by our change of addresses.

We made some smart decisions, but we also made some mistakes. If you'll be pulling up stakes soon, here's a list of tips that will make your move as easy as possible. Some come from our experience, and others come from the uber-helpful people on the Living Below Your Means discussion board, who have provided literally hundreds of time-saving, money-saving, and hair-saving tips on moving.

Move yourself or get help?
This is the biggest decision you'll have to make about your move. Your choices range from paying someone to do everything (packing, loading, and moving) to a complete do-it-yourself job (hello rental truck and back pain). The price difference between these options is thousands of dollars, but the stress difference is also considerable.

We chose a middle option: We packed our own boxes, rented and loaded a truck, and drove it to our new house. However, once there, we hired movers to unload the truck. Most moving companies offer this service. The folks we hired charged $90 an hour, with a three-hour minimum -- and that's all they needed.

So, our total bill for moving was $700 for the truck, supplies, gas, and moving help, as opposed to the almost $2,000 we were quoted from a moving company. Also, this strategy worked for us because we could get help from friends (thanks, Dennis and Mary!) on one end, but didn't know anyone in Fredericksburg.

As you contemplate your mode of moving, here are some other considerations:

  • If you decide to rent a truck, do not use U-Haul. We had a rotten experience -- the customer service is atrocious, and they tried to charge us twice as much as they quoted us online (luckily, we kept all our paperwork). Many posts on the Living Below Your Means board indicate that our experience is far from isolated. There were also a few complaints about Ryder (but not nearly as many), and nothing but good reviews for Penske and Budget.

  • If you're not comfortable driving a large truck 1,000 miles, there are companies that will park a semi in your driveway for a day. You load it up, they drive it, then you unload on the other end.

  • It's very expensive to have someone else pack your stuff (the cost for tape and wrapping alone can be outrageous). However, if you pack yourself, the moving company may not be liable for any broken items. Find out beforehand. And consider having pros pack very fragile and/or expensive items.

  • If you hire a moving company, number your boxes and keep a detailed list of what's in each. Boxes have been known to disappear in transit, especially if the company will also be storing your stuff.

  • Get a written estimate from the moving company as well as a very clear explanation of how much over the estimate you might have to pay. Many people have horror stories of $3,000 estimates turning into $5,000 price tags.

  • Check out the reputation of a mover with the Better Business Bureau and the local regulatory agency.

  • Find out if your mover has insurance to cover the stairwells they destroy while carrying your piano.

  • If you can, don't move during the summer. That's peak relocation time, so all services are more expensive. Also, moving mid-month is cheaper.

  • Check out HomeFair.com, HomeStore.com, or MonsterMoving.com to compare quotes from moving companies. And for some consumer-oriented info -- including news, horror stories, and advice about how to avoid getting scammed -- check out MovingScam.com.

General moving tips

  • Keep important paperwork (moving contracts, settlement papers, important phone numbers, etc.) in one folder and in one place -- perhaps your glove compartment so it won't accidentally get packed. Save your receipts. Your move might be tax-deductible.

  • Be ruthless about getting rid of stuff. Sell it on eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY  ) or at a yard sale, donate it and get a tax deduction (if you itemize), or just throw it out. You'll have less to move, less to unpack, and perhaps extra money in your pocket.

  • Get good brand-name tape. I bought cheap tape and spent too much time trying to find the end after it split.

  • Avoid overpacking boxes. Mix heavy stuff and lighter stuff to make boxes more manageable. If you're packing the truck yourself, put heavy stuff on the bottom and toward the front, and don't put all the weighty items on one side.

  • Pack medicine, perfumes, and other liquids in leak-proof containers. Some of our medicine bottles broke -- what a mess!

  • Pack mirrors, lamps, pictures, computer, stereos, and TVs in your car, where they won't get squashed by shifting items in the moving truck. Plus, you can keep an eye on them.

  • Don't move any food items that could contain bugs, like opened pastas or grains. Not a good house-warming present for yourself.

  • Use plenty of blankets to protect furniture. It's often cheaper to buy them from Home Depot (NYSE: HD  ) or Lowe's (NYSE: LOW  ) -- or even a thrift store -- than renting them from a truck company.

  • Get boxes from friends who have moved, from liquor stores (great boxes for glassware if it has the grid compartments), and from office supply stores. Boxes from movers and truck companies are comparatively more expensive.

  • Label boxes clearly, and on all sides. If you are re-using boxes from a friends' move, cover over the old labels. Some of our stuff ended up in the wrong rooms because the movers followed the old labels.

  • If you have the measurements of the rooms in your new residence, you can create maps of each room that indicate where your furniture will go. Making these decisions beforehand will cut down on deliberation time as the movers or your friends stand in the doorway holding a desk. Post the maps on the door of each room so you won't have to move things later.

  • Keep a host of cleaning supplies (paper towels, rags, window cleaner, furniture polish, broom, mop, etc.) aside in a bucket. As you move, you might have the urge to wipe down a bookshelf or clean a mirror. Also, you'll have to spruce up your old place before the new residents move in, so you don't want to pack your cleaning accoutrements.

  • If you are moving yourself, rent a dolly or hand truck, perhaps two if you'll get a lot of help. It's worth the $10-$20.

  • Many truck rental companies offer discounts for online reservations and AAA members. Also, the U.S. Postal Service moving packet has coupons.

  • It might be cheaper to ship some stuff via UPS (NYSE: UPS  ) , Amtrak, Greyhound, or the Postal Service (especially books at the book rate). Compare the cost per pound shipping rate to the moving rate.

  • See if you can arrange for carpets to be cleaned before you move in, while there's not much stuff in your home. Once the moving begins, lay mats down over the carpet since you and the movers will be tracking in and out for hours. It's also easier to paint when there's not much stuff around.

  • Make sure you prepare your young kids ahead of time. Read stories about moving and explain who will be around on moving day and where your children will be. Be prepared for disruptions to their sleep during the first few days to a week in your new home.

  • If you and your spouse will be moving in separate vehicles, strongly consider having two cell phones or two-way radios.

  • A couple of weeks before you move, remember to call utility companies to cancel services at your current residence and arrange for services in your new residence.

  • Right before you move, pack the clothes and toiletries you and your family will need for the next week in suitcases. Keep them with you, and keep them handy.

  • Think of everything you'll need immediately once you move to your new house, pack it all separately, and put the box(es) on the truck last (or in your car). Such items might include a pot, a few plates, bowls, and utensils, a can opener, diapers, toilet paper, a couple of towels, sheets and blankets, pet supplies, and some food.

Have some tips of your own? Post them on the Living Below Your Means discussion board. And for great tips on mortgages, home buying or selling, and maintenance, visit the Fool's Home Center.

Robert Brokamp would like to thank all the great people who make the LBYM board such a wealth of outstanding information. The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.


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