Five ways to save money when moving unexpectedly

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I am sorry for the radio silence but, as I mentioned in my last post, I have been moving and unpacking and organizing and purging and doing all of the paperwork that comes with a move.  Moving is hell and this move was an unexpected one, so I had no time to prepare.

What can you do when you unexpectedly need to move?  Well, you can do what I did and spend a lot of money unnecessarily.  It was like in the chaos and stress I forgot that my budget existed.  Or you can learn from my mistakes and consider these five ways to save money when an unplanned and unexpected move becomes part of your life.

  1. Focus on what you really want to keep when packing

If you have time to plan ahead, you can often arrange to borrow a vehicle or two from friends to transport your things.  No planning usually means a moving truck.  The bigger the vehicle you rent, the more you’re spending both for the rental fee and gas to refill the tank.  Less stuff means a smaller truck or van.

I ended up using a Uhaul van and the vehicle of one of my helper’s.  I lucked out that they had room in their personal car to transport more of my things.  If not, my choices would have been to make more trips with the van costing me more in gas or get a larger truck for a higher rental fee.

2. Pack a go-bag first with essentials

Pull together clothing you need for the next few days and essential personal care items.  There is nothing more demoralizing than not having clean clothes or basic items to stay fresh.  It’s a waste of money to have to buy these things when you know that you already have them . . . somewhere.

I did buy these things.  While I am very happy with one of the pairs of pj pants I ended up with, ideally I would have saved my money by having access to the essentials that I already owned.

3. Avoid takeout with shelf stable or cooler foods that don’t require cooking

When you are exhausted from moving and unpacking, cooking is the last thing many of us want to do.  Especially if you haven’t unpacked the kitchen boxes yet.  Being in transition can mean a lot of take-out.  Rather than having lofty goals of eating home cooked meals in this time of upheaval, accept your limitations.  Shelf stable foods or refrigerated items that can be eaten without cooking can be a lifesaver to your budget.  Salads, sandwiches, and hummus are examples of meals that are simple and require no cooking.  You can spend a bit more for items at the grocery store that are already cooked and can spice up some meals.  These items are a bit more costly but still less expensive than take-out.

I was overwhelmed and ate a lot of take-out meals along with buying lunch at work.  It was very expensive and something I am definitely planning to avoid next time.  I did eventually pull myself together and get some sandwich fixings for lunch at work.  Dinner at home was easier by then because I had unpacked my pots and pans.

4. Don’t think that everything needs to be perfect at your new place right away

After sudden upheaval, it can be tempting to get everything perfect at your new place as soon as possible.  This can mean buying new items of furniture or decor.  If you can wait, you can find deals at thrift stores or yard sales instead of buying new from a store.

I bought several things from the store that I thought I needed right away.  Later I realized that I could have waited and looked for a used option.  The stress of moving made me think I needed a solution now.

5. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for help

Most of us are comfortable asking friends to help schlep our boxes from one place to another.  You pay them with food and beer and joke about how it’ll be your turn to help next time.  It can be another thing to ask for a couch to crash on because you don’t have a new apartment lined up yet.  You may need help packing your things because you need to be out of your home yesterday.  While it can avoid perceived awkwardness to stay at a hotel or pay a moving company to pack your things, it will also cost you.

I enlisted my moving helpers to help me pack on the same day.  It was extremely chaotic, but it worked out somehow.  While I was looking for a new apartment, I did accept an offer from a friend to sleep on their couch.  I felt awkward because it was all happening so fast and I did not want to impose, but my friends wanted to help.  If our positions were reversed, I would have made the same offer.


So the conclusion is that even in the midst of stress and chaos because our lives are being uprooted without warning we can still find ways to keep our spending in check.  While it can be emotionally satisfying in the short term to buy those things, we may need that money later.  I offer my own experience to show that it’s not easy and I am certainly not perfect.  However, perhaps these thoughts will help us the next time.