How Much It Cost To Move Across the Country

We did it!

We moved from the East Coast to the West Coast, from New York to Santa Barbara, from sea to shining sea.

This included selling all of our furniture, shipping our car, packing our stuff, and — last-but-not-least — trundling our cat along for the ride.

Are you curious how much it cost us to move across the country? Me too!

The Logistics Of Our Move

Now that we are here, I finally have some time to crunch the numbers and see exactly how much money we spent. As readers of this blog know, my partner and I are rather frugal. We will generally try to finagle the best prices– even under high stress situations like a move. That said, we also had a lot of help from family, which was an enormous life-and-money-saver. We so appreciated the help because the move itself was a bit complicated.

Last year when we moved from Portland, we left all of our furniture and lots of our things with our relatives, who graciously gave up their garage space for free.

In our plan, Mr. Mechanic flew to Portland, met up with family there and loaded up a trailer with our things. Then he drove down from Portland to Santa Barbara with his folks. Meanwhile, I flew to Denver to see my family, taking the cat with me so the little creature could spend fewer hours in a car.

Our moving routes

June Expenses – Non moving related

First, let’s get June expenses accounted for.  As usual, these are expenses for just me.

Item Amount Mechanic Musings
Final Month’s Rent $488 Prorated amount as we moved on the 24th and arrived with just a couple days left on the end of the month. We have received notice that we will be getting our full deposit back!
Groceries $101 We did our best to eat through everything in our cabinets before the move, but found ourselves going to the store for milk, eggs, and other fresh ingredients.
Donation $100 Advocacy group
Restaurants $38 Before leaving our little town, we had a couple of restaurants we wanted to be sure to eat at one last time.

We splashed out with a gift card at the lakeside restaurant!
Craft beer $9 Wanted to try some final flavors from the local brewery.
Internet $23
Total $759 This was the total I spent in June on non-moving-related expenses.

That’s cool and all, but none of those expenses went towards the move, and that’s what we are all here for!

Cross-Country Moving Expenses

Unlike my usual expense reports, these amounts are the total spent by Mr. Mechanic and me. It made accounting much simpler to collect all of the costs before we sit down to split them down the middle.

Item Amount Mechanic Musings
Car shipment $1,300 We decided to ship the car rather than driving, for many reasons. First, when we were planning the move we only had 3 days between Mr. Mechanic’s final work day in NY and his first in CA.

The drive is at least 5 days long, and between paying for fuel, food, accommodation, and taking off more time from work it would have nearly cost the same as just shipping it. On top of that, we moved with a cat who hates car rides, so taking a shorter journey seemed kinder to him.

There is a 100lb limit for packing household goods in the car, we made the best of it and hid our valuables under blankets!
U-Haul trailer $156 For moving furniture from Portland to Santa Barbara.
Fuel from Oregon to California $204 Mr. Mechanic and family drove our things from Portland to Santa Barbara.
Family dinner $127 So glad we got the chance to take the family out to dinner as thanks for moving. Their help was invaluable (and we certainly owe them more than just one dinner!)
Package shipping $192 We shipped 9 boxes through UPS using their affordable flat-rate option (about $25 for one box the size of a microwave, with contents weighing less than 70lbs) and also each checked 2 large 50lb boxes through Southwest.
Packing supplies $8
Mail forwarding $3 Updated mail forwarding via USPS. What a great service.
First grocery run (Ralph’s) $101 I got the basics: butter, trash bags, laundry detergent, peanut butter, yogurt, cheese, bagels, bread, ham, cereal, milk, cat food, etc.
Second grocery run (Costco) $260 Rice, toiletries, syrup, photo hanging supplies, soap, snacks, salsa, pesto, coffee, bruschetta, eggs, goat cheese, bacon, Italian meatballs… yum.
Third grocery run (Trader Joe’s) $170 All of our favorite things! Frozen meals, pastas, cheeses, vegetables, salad dressings, salad fixings, condiments, basil plant, etc.

Our basil plant is doing great in the California sun.
Flight $0 I knew we would be moving cross-country via Southwest so I signed up for a rewards credit card earlier in the year. (For those who are interested, the flight was 13k points.)
Ticket for cat’s flight $190 It costs $95 to fly with a cat in the cabin, and I took a stop in Denver to visit family, so I paid this twice.
Renting a car $85 We knew we wanted to fly Southwest for the baggage allowance and flexible pet policy, but that meant renting a car from LAX to Santa Barbara. This included insurance as none of my current credit cards have those benefits.
Cart fee $6 I looked outside at LAX for an abandoned luggage cart, but I couldn’t find one. I needed to get to the rental car company with my bag, a cat, and a 50lb box with no handholds, so I decided to cough up for the cart.
Facebook marketplace $105 When we arrived in SB, I immediately started hunting the local Buy & Sell groups on Facebook. I picked up a Brita water filter ($10), a black picture frame ($5), drying rack ($15), cat shelf ($15), IKEA queen sofa bed ($50), and two window racks of plants ($10). Hoping to getting around to documenting everything we bought second-hand during the move in another post!

The sofa bed was the most expensive purchase (so far).
Goodwill $37 Vacuum, water boiler, clothes hangers, throw pillow, butter dish.
Dollar Store $21 Kitchen sundries like foil, cling wrap, ketchup, and house things like plunger, waste baskets, and floor protector felt pads.
Amazon $8 Sonicare Toothbrush heads
World Market $10 Tea bag holder, sambal, and a new knife.
Total $2,984 This is the complete cost for moving cross-country, including stocking up our kitchen! We will split this cost, which comes to ~$1,500 each. That’s not nearly as bad as I was expecting!

This brings my total expenses in June to $2,251.

Given the fact that this included uprooting our lives, scrambling with logistics, and moving across the country, it’s not nearly as bad as I thought. Also, we made some money back by selling our bikes, furniture, and other items in New York before we moved, which helped offset the costs.

Starting to get rid of things and beginning to pack.

Assistance from our families definitely made a difference as well. We would likely have made different choices if we didn’t have a place to reliably store our stuff for the year. Plus, I enjoyed the respite with my family before heading out to California.

This is our view from the Royal Arch trail in Boulder, CO

That said, July will also likely be a spend-heavy month as we continue to furnish our new place and replace some of our things. For example, we sold our 32″ TV in NY and are looking to upgrade to a larger one, and we still need a dining room set and coffee table. After July is over, we expect to be a bit more settled in and hopefully our expenses will settle as well!

What About You?

Do you know how much you spent on your last move?

Was there anything unexpected about our spending during a move?

What are your favorite moving tips?

Share in the comments below!

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10 Comments

  1. Wow, that was a frugal move! I especially liked your graphic of the flights. It reminded me of Sleepless in Seattle with the flights back and forth! I am interested to see possible future blog posts about how much it will cost you to furnish your new place – assuming it came unfurnished. I liked your priority buys – cat shelf, water filter jug and picture frame! I suppose it depends on what you can find at the time though and when you need everything then it doesn’t matter which order to get things in. Congrats on the move:)

  2. That’s definitely a more frugal move than if we had to get the rest of our furniture from NY to FL. When we did our move this past Dec, we opted to leave most of our big pieces of furniture in NY and buy in FL. Other things we piled into the car in separate trips. We have several forever pieces in NY so if we downsize to just 1 location I would have to move these out here, and I’m sure it will cost more than your move. We have a baby grand piano that I’d like to keep in the family, and just moving it within NYC, cost almost $1,000.

  3. Yep, you definitely seemed to have cut the right corners to keep that move cost down. Good job!

    Our last big move was into our current place in 2013. It wasn’t terribly far, either. Our biggest expenses were related to our moving truck.

    I think the best tip is just to give yourself *absurd* amounts of time ahead of the move to pack, declutter, plan, and prepare the space you’re moving into. That seemed to really drive down costs for us since we didn’t move extra crap and we had a plan for what we needed, what was going where.

    I remember our first evening when we started unloading the truck (ourselves, no help!) at arrival.

    We got the valuable items into the house, in boxes. We unloaded the mattress onto the bedroom floor. Found the sheets, locked the truck up, and went to sleep on our new bedroom’s floor.

    Happy times. Congrats and excited for you to have a whole new area to explore and lots of “firsts”!

  4. Props to you for managing most of the physical moving yourselves! We used movers for both of our cross country moves – ate a lot more budget but there was no way we were managing it with an 18-month old and tight timetable on the first move and me pregnant for the 2nd. Also I think you got a great deal on your car move – we shipped a car from NJ to CA – I can’t remember what we paid exactly but I’m pretty sure it was more than that. ALSO they didn’t pick up the car on our move day like they were supposed to, so we had to park it at my dad’s house for *two weeks* before they finally picked it up (and then another 1-2 weeks to cross the US.) Isn’t moving fun. 🙂

    1. An 18-month-old plus being pregnant would definitely have changed our plans. For one thing, we had to do a ton of heavy lifting. It was bad enough with a cat, but flying alone with a baby would be a whole different challenge. As for car shipping– they didn’t pick ours up on the day of either, and didn’t answer any of our calls. It was crazy stressful, as we had to leave the car for 1.5 weeks with one of Mr. Mechanic’s colleagues whom I’ve never met. He is on a surgery rotation too which meant that it wasn’t likely that he’d even have the flexibility in schedule to load the car for us. Also, the whole car shipping industry is built on a ton of layers, and we actually agreed to paying $1,100 but when the car arrived they wouldn’t unload it until we paid what they had agreed to with the broker, which was apparently $1,300. It was a huge pain but ultimately I still felt like it was a rather fair price for cross-country shipping and we were just glad to have a car after weeks without it trying to move in! Moving is quite fun 🙂

      1. Oh no… yes this was pretty much our exact experience. And the car desperately needed a bath on arrival! But just to having it back again was a huge relief. Glad you made it safe and sound!

  5. Med schools need to modernize their residency programs. Still baffles me what residents are told to do for licensure. Bravo to you two. This is sacrifice To the enth degree.

  6. I remember moving from Virginia to California and pricing my options to get my vehicle there. I ended up turning it in to a vacation and drove myself. But the second cheapest option was to have a college student drive it for a fee. Did you consider that?

    1. Turning it into a vacation would have been a nice option had we more time and no feline 🙂 I’m glad it worked for you! We did consider getting someone to drive it. In fact, a family member was up for an adventure after being laid off, but we would have had to pay for their flights and accommodations, plus there would have been more wear on the car. In the end, we were moving in a pandemic so it didn’t seem reasonable to ask anyone to drive across the country during that time. However, it’s another option for folks to think about when transporting during “normal” times.

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