Moving Opportunity Cost Calculator

  If there’s one thing that is consistent across human nature, it’s that people love saving money. If we can DIY-it, we will. Moving is no exception.’ In attempting to “hack” moving, we cram the family Subaru so full of boxes that we can’t see out the windows and still don’t have room for everything. […]


If there’s one thing that is consistent across human nature, it’s that people love saving money. If we can DIY-it, we will. Moving is no exception.’

In attempting to “hack” moving, we cram the family Subaru so full of boxes that we can’t see out the windows and still don’t have room for everything. We hold moving “parties” where we bribe friends with soggy pizza and watery beer into helping us pack up our most precious belongings before high tailing it out of town.

If only there were an easier way… like if we could pay someone else to do that work for us… oh wait, there’s an entire industry built around helping people move!

So why doesn’t everyone hire a moving company any time they relocate? Well, if you’re like most people, it’s probably because you think you can’t afford to. But, also like most people, you’re likely forgetting to factor in some sneaky costs that go into a DIY move.

These include factors like lost wages, vacation time, and sanity and are what economists call opportunity costs – the loss of potential gains from choosing one alternative over another. By the time you start considering the opportunity costs of moving yourself versus the gains from hiring out that work, a full-service move starts looking more and more affordable.


Full-service versus self-service moving

Just over one third of people choose to hire professional movers, a category which includes full-service moving companies, freight companies, and container moving companies. That means that most people opt to move themselves – either by renting a moving truck (45%) or using their own equipment (22%).

One of the biggest reasons that people go the DIY route is because they assume using a full-service company would be too expensive. And it is true that such all-inclusive services can come at a premium. But what many people don’t realize is that full-service moving may not be as expensive compared to DIY moving as it sounds. Before we get into the reasons why this is the case, let’s first take a moment to understand exactly what we mean by full-service as well as some of the pros and cons.

As the name implies, a full-service moving company handles the entire move, from packing and loading your belongings to transporting them and unloading them at your new home. Because the movers manage every aspect for you, it’s relatively convenient and stress-free. And because you have a team of professional movers working for you, it’s also the fastest, most efficient way to get your things from point A to point B.

On the flip side, a big downside of moving yourself is the amount of time and effort that goes into it. Because it’s just you – and maybe a couple of those friends you’ve bribed – doing all the heavy lifting, it’s going to take more time and put more strain on you, both mentally and physically. In other words, it’ll take longer, be more stressful, and potentially lead to a pulled back.

But on the plus side, you’ll be able to skip the gym and save more money than you would using a full-service moving company.

Or will you?

To understand the true price of a DIY move, we need to look closely at some of the hidden costs that make renting a truck or using your own transport not quite the budget-friendly option you’d imagine.

Trade offs: Opportunity costs of the DIY


One of the biggest hidden disadvantages to a DIY move is loss of income from not working. If you’re taking time off of work to pack up and move, that’s time you’re not spending earning money.

To get a more realistic sense of the true monetary cost of missed work, take your hourly wage and multiply that by the number of hours you anticipate needing to pack, load, transport, and unload all of your stuff. Then compare that to what the professionals are charging, keeping in mind that local moving companies charge anywhere from $65 to $250 per hour.

It gets a bit trickier when looking at rates for a long-distance move, as those are determined by the weight of your household goods and the distance being traveled. The approximate cost of moving a house long distance can range from $920 up to $15,000+ depending on the size and mileage.

If your opportunity cost of lost wages is significantly lower than what you’d be paying the professionals, a DIY move might be a more cost-effective option.

But that’s only part of the equation.

Loss of vacation time

Let’s say that to avoid the whole problem of lost wages, you opt to use vacation time to complete your move. Whether you’re using paid time off or taking advantage of a holiday, there’s still an opportunity cost. The PTO that you’re using to move is time off that can’t be put towards an actual vacation.

And if you’re timing your move to coincide with a holiday, that’s time that you won’t be able to spend celebrating with friends and family. In either case, you’re giving up valuable rest and relaxation time for an activity that is anything but restful or relaxing. Which brings us to our next point.


Moving is stressful – a 2020 survey found that 45% of Americans rate moving as the most stressful life event, even more so than getting divorced or going through a breakup (44%) and getting married (33%).

While moving is probably always going to be anxiety-inducing, those who rely on professional movers to do the heavy lifting seem to fare better than those who go it alone. The same survey found that of people who did their last move themselves, 43% would not do it again, whereas of those who hired movers, 94% claim it was worth every penny.

While it’s hard to assign a monetary value to the cost of stress, it’s safe to say that peace of mind is priceless. If you’re an A-type that throws back stress smoothies for breakfast, it may be that exchanging a bit of stress for a less expensive move is worthwhile. But if even thinking about moving is making you sweat, you might find that a DIY move is more trouble than it’s worth.


Closely related to the above are planning considerations. As with every factor we’ve looked at, much of the cost associated with this is unavoidable, regardless of the type of move. But certain kinds of moves require more planning than others – cross country versus in-town, for example.

This is an area where hiring a full-service mover provides a ton of value. They handle the details and logistics so that you can worry about other things – like picking out drapes for your new house. This not only saves you time and money, but it also means that when things inevitably go wrong – like the sectional not fitting in the truck or running into inclement weather – it’s not your problem to deal with.

As professionals, these guys move for a living and know the ins and outs of the business. They’ve encountered every scenario and therefore understand how to plan so as to minimize the chance of things going wrong in the first place.

Accident risks

Speaking of things going wrong… while no one envisions their move literally going off the rails – think driving a U-Haul through Western Oklahoma in a construction zone in the rain in the middle of the night – you should still be prepared for it. If your truck gets a flat or is broken into, you’ll be left to fix the problem on your own.

That’s why insurance is critical. Most moving companies will offer different types of policies with varying degrees of coverage, so it’s important to understand what type best suits your needs. The bare-minimum coverage, called released value protection, is included in most moving contracts. Up a tier is full-value protection for items lost, destroyed, or damaged during the move, which costs about 1% of the total value of your belongings.

While you can often purchase insurance for a DIY move, coverage may not be as extensive and is more piecemeal. If you have homeowners or renters insurance, check whether the policy covers any lost, stolen, or damaged items (typically only covers ten percent of your belongings’ value).

If you’re renting a truck, you can purchase insurance through the rental company that covers the truck, cargo, and passengers. There are a number of additional options available to purchase on an as-needed basis, like trip transit insurance and storage unit insurance. Just remember that the costs for all these different policies will add up.

Other costs

Many moving companies will charge additional fees, such as a fuel surcharge that is either a flat rate or, for interstate moves, calculated based on the national average price of diesel fuel and the weight of your shipment.

On the other hand, if you’re renting a truck, you’ll be filling up yourself, including a top off, as most companies require that you return the truck with a full tank. Other things you’ll need to budget for when moving yourself, particularly for longer trips, are meals and lodging while on the road.

To hack or not to hack

At the end of the day, choosing to go the full-service versus DIY route will depend on the details of your move and your individual circumstances. If you have a one-bedroom apartment and are just going across town, it’s probably feasible to handle it yourself over a weekend.

For bigger and/or longer distance relocations, it might make sense to pay a bit more for the professionals to shoulder the hassle and hard labor.

In either case, consider the tradeoffs and weigh your options carefully before deciding whether hacking your move is worth the time and effort. Even if your bank account doesn’t initially thank you, your back certainly will.

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