Tips for Moving on the Cheap
Keeping Within a Tight Budget
Understand the estimating process. If you're moving long distance, you can and should get a flat fee. Get it in writing, or it will never have happened. If you're moving locally, you may get a flat rate or an hourly rate. Whenever possible, get a flat rate and well-defined extras, like cartons, packing tape, and so forth. Understand that the lowest rate won't necessarily yield the best price - it all depends on the skill of the movers, the number of hands, etc. Factor references into your hiring decision.
Buy your own packing supplies. Packing supplies are expensive, often adding hundreds of dollars to even a small move. Movers tend to mark them up immensely, so it's well worth it to shop around - even if you plan to have the movers pack for you. Of course, you can get free (but generally lousy) boxes from supermarkets and liquor stores, but a better option is to scan local bulletin boards or the "free stuff"¯ section of www.craigslist.org, where you can often score boxes, bubble wrap, etc. from people who have just moved. You might even try posting an ad or a flyer offering a little cash, or contact a box manufacturer who - for a usually-reasonable minimum purchase - will be more than happy to ship boxes, tape, and packing material right to your home.
Get creative. Bubble wrap is stunningly pricey, but newspaper can often do the job too. Use your towels, t-shirts, pillows and linens to pad breakables. You'll save on supplies and you'll have fewer boxes to move too.
Donate your castoffs to the Salvation Army or another charitable organization that will come and pick up your old, reasonably well-preserved goodies. It'll cut back on your labor costs, and you'll get a tidy tax write-off to boot. (Of course, like everyone else in New York, they're always booked solid weeks in advance, so call early.)
Be organized. Remember that if you're paying by the hour, every minute wasted is costing you. Make sure everything is ready for the movers. Group boxes near the entrance. Have a game plan, and make sure to tell the foreman if they can skip wrapping the couch or whatever. Offer to ride in the truck, or give them your cell number and written directions to your new address.
There are also independent movers willing to work more informally than some of the larger companies. Using them could be risky, as they may not be licensed or insured. If all goes well, you will have saved some money, but if something gets broken or lost, or someone gets hurt, the costs can quickly outweigh the benefits. So you're taking the safety of your possessions in your own hands, but if you've got more futons than Faberge eggs, it might be worth it to forego the protections of a formal arrangement, and get a flat rate from an independent mover. You may want to check out their credentials though on a consumer advocate Web site like www.movingadvocateteam.com or through the city's Department of Consumer Affairs. Certified movers can also be found on the American Moving and Storage Association web site at www.craigslist.org. (Check the "furniture/moving sales"¯ section to locate a thriving cottage industry.) Even if you're using a "real"¯ company to do the bulk of your move, some people find these independent operators very useful if you have, say, a single armoire that needs to go to your Aunt Edna's place across town.
In the end, it takes a bit more elbow grease to keep costs down, but it can be done. New York City's expensive enough as it is: it's nice to know you can move your shirt without losing it.