Moving Checklist: How to Plan for the Unexpected

My husband and I are meticulous budgeters. Every expense is categorized and accounted for, from our monthly Netflix bill to our yearly charity contributions. We even have separate accounts for discretionary purchases. So when we recently planned to move from our apartment in Denver to a newly-purchased home in Indianapolis, we assumed the budget we’d cooked up would be right on the nose.

We were so, so wrong.

It’s not that we went over budget by a catastrophic amount, but the amount of surprising little expenses we encountered was staggering. The act of moving your entire life across the country is so complicated that it becomes almost impossible to predict exactly how much money you’ll spend – and that’s assuming everything goes right. If your car dies on the highway or your new place isn’t ready when promised, it could end up spelling disaster for your budget.

That’s why it’s so important to prepare for every little expense accordingly. You may never be able to account for all the variables, but you can ease the anxiety of moving by drawing up the most detailed budget possible.

If you’re about to move, here are some surprise expenses you may encounter.

Eating Out

My friend Ellie moved into a newly-purchased house a few weeks before we did. She mentioned that she and her husband had spent hundreds of dollars eating out during the course of their move. They still had a month left on their apartment lease after closing on their home, and they used that time to paint the new place, refinish the floors and complete minor repairs before moving in.

During that time, they ate out almost every night. They were both so tired after working for hours on end that the idea of cooking a meal was just too exhausting – and food ended up being one of their largest moving expenses.

I was really confident that my husband and I would be able to stay responsible about our eating habits during the move, but our experience has been exactly the same. We’ve been eating pizza, frozen meals and Chinese food more often than not.

Even if you’re normally meticulous about meal planning, sometimes you just don’t feel like spending time in the kitchen after a long day of packing or installing light fixtures. With our new home still in shambles, I’d rather spend an hour assembling furniture or hanging up pictures than cooking a healthy and frugal meal.

Eating out isn’t the only food-related expense we’ve encountered. When you move across the country like we did, you might have to leave behind groceries if there’s not enough room in your car or moving truck. Replacing that food adds up quickly.

Food expenses can be hard to avoid, but you can mitigate the cost by asking friends and family for a little help. If you know someone who loves to cook, they may be willing to prepare frozen meals for you ahead of time to defrost as needed. Beyond that, just try to choose reasonably frugal options and settle back into a more sustainable routine as quickly as possible.

Lost or Broken Items

The chances of losing or breaking something during a move is almost 100%. Sometimes it’s just a dinner plate or a picture frame – sometimes it’s your work computer or a rare antique vase. This expense is hard to predict and even harder to plan for, but there are some things you can do.

If you’re moving on your own, Make sure to properly secure your items and take an inventory of everything important. It can help to separate everything by category and clearly label all your boxes. Set aside a hundred dollars or so in your budget to deal with anything getting damaged or lost.

If you’re using movers, chances are they offer some form of insurance to cover damaged items, and some moving companies offer coverage with no extra charge. You’ll usually have to pay a deductible before the insurance kicks in, but that’s better than not being covered at all.

Buying extra insurance when you’re renting a moving truck is also a good idea. You never know when you’ll accidentally scrape the truck backing out of the driveway or a stray rock will skip up and hit the windshield. Basic supplemental insurance costs approximately $ 100, but can save you from paying thousands in damages.

Transportation Expenses

When calculating moving expenses, I forgot to add a significant category: gas. It sounds harmless – and might be if you’re just moving across town – but it can add up when you’re travelling across state lines.

My husband and I share a 2005 Toyota Corolla that gets decent gas mileage, and the entire Denver-to-Indianapolis move only cost us $ 90 in fuel. What I failed to consider was the moving truck, which had much lower gas mileage at about 12 miles a gallon. We spent $ 322 on gas for the truck, an expense I definitely wasn’t planning on.

If you’re moving a long distance like we were, and driving a car with poor gas mileage, remember to calculate those costs beforehand. I like using the ​GasBuddy Trip Calculator tool​, which takes your car’s specific miles-per-gallon into account.

It’s also a good idea to get a tune-up before you drive hundreds or thousands of miles. We paid for an oil change before the move and had the mechanic examine our car to make sure it wouldn’t break down on the highway.

Even so, a few hours into the drive, our sedan’s check engine light came on. It ended up being a glitch, but a more serious issue could have cost hundreds or even thousands – and completely screwed up our moving timeline.

Lost Productivity

Unless your company is transferring you across the country, you probably have to take time off work for a move. If you’re self-employed like my husband and I, moving takes up a lot of time during which you can’t work. We spent a whole week packing, driving to our new location, unpacking and decompressing from the stress.

If your income will be affected by the move, make sure to factor that into your budget. Be generous when calculating how long the move will take, remembering that it usually ends up taking more time than you bargained for.

Other Considerations

Moving doesn’t necessarily cost a lot because you have to rent a truck or pay for professional help – it’s all the little costs that add up into a full-blown budget disaster.

Here are a few smaller surprise expenses we encountered:

Tips for Movers

We hired movers to load up our moving truck in Denver, and then later to move us from our temporary apartment to our new house. We tipped the movers each time, $ 25 each in Denver and $ 40 in Indianapolis to account for 100 degree weather. That ended up totalling $ 115 in tips. Tipping is optional and some consider it unnecessary, but both sets of movers did a great job and I wanted to thank them for being careful with our possessions.

If you’re going to hire movers, plan on tipping them unless they’re being blatantly lazy or reckless. At the very least, have some bottled water and snacks for them.


We were lucky to have a friend who worked at a grocery store and rounded up enough boxes for the move. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough blankets and towels to wrap our valuable and delicate items. We ended up buying blankets from the moving company the day of, costing $ 15 each and $ 75 in total.

We also had to buy extra tape, a tape gun and a sturdy lock for the moving truck so our items wouldn’t get stolen. The total cost for those extra moving supplies was $ 105.

Another minor purchase that we didn’t plan on was an air mattress. We packed up all our belongings the day before we moved, so we didn’t have a bed to sleep on. I rushed to Target to pick up a $ 50 air mattress. It wasn’t incredibly comfortable, but cheaper than a last-minute hotel room.

Waiting Too Long to Book

The sooner you book a moving truck, the better. Prices increase the closer you get to the move, and you’ll end up paying hundreds more if you procrastinate. I learned this the hard way when I rented the truck for our 2015 cross-country move less than two weeks before the big day. Our total cost ended up being $ 1,210.

Afterwards, a friend of mine told me she saved hundreds by booking months out. I tried her tactic when we moved out of Denver, reserving the truck in February for our May move. We booked the same size truck, used the same rental company, drove the same distance and paid $ 350 less.

Plus, the moving truck company didn’t make us stick to our original moving date. We could change the day for free once we had the reservation. As soon as you decide you’re going to move, find a rental company and choose a reservation. You’ll save hundreds and won’t be scrambling at the last minute.

*This blog post does not constitute, and should not be considered a substitute for legal or financial advice. Each financial situation is different, the advice provided is intended to be general. Please contact your financial or legal advisors for information specific to your situation.

MintLife Blog