The Cost Breakdown of my Interstate Move for Grad School
A few months ago, I moved 400 miles from Boston to southern Maryland to start my PhD in Clinical Psychology at the University of Maryland. I knew moving is expensive, but it ended up being more expensive than I’d expected, including quite a few costs I didn’t anticipate.
The costs of moving can be a huge barrier to starting grad school. Moving costs should be included in graduate assistantship offers, especially for students who qualify for application fee waivers! Grad school isn’t accessible if you can afford to apply but you can’t afford to go. In the meantime, moving is stressful and expensive. If you’re thinking about moving for grad school, hopefully this overview of what my move cost will help you plan.
Definition of Moving Costs
I included in my definition of moving costs any expenses I incurred that were part of the process of moving that I wouldn’t have had to pay had I not moved. This included things I had to buy for the move itself (e.g. packing supplies), the truck rental, travel costs while on the road, and administrative costs of becoming a resident in a new state. I included deposits in this definition because deposits were money I had to be in possession of in order to move, and there’s no guarantee I’ll get that money back.
I was in a unique financial position because I worked a high-paying job at a tech company for more than a year before starting grad school. Most jobs in research, the kind that best prepare you for grad school, pay significantly less, so my opportunity to work a job where I could readily save is a rare one.
My move was also more expensive than it otherwise might have been because I am disabled. I can’t carry heavy things like boxes because my wrists dislocate, so I had to hire movers to load and unload the moving truck. I also need a car in grad school because I have medical appointments throughout the state, and getting to them on public transportation isn’t feasible. Owning a car, and moving with a car, is expensive. Here’s a tangible example of intersectionality: My life as a disabled grad student is feasible because I have socioeconomic privilege. If I were a low-income student and having a car wasn’t feasible, being disabled would have a drastically different impact on my life.
The Basics of my Move
My mom came in from out of town to help me with the move.1 We rented a 10-foot UHaul and a tow dolly and towed my car behind the moving truck. Movers came to pack the truck and we drove halfway to my new place that day. We stayed in a hotel, drove the second half the next day, and had movers come to unload the truck.
In total, the move cost $3,685. Here’s a treemap showing the cost breakdown:
Here are the expenses, in order from most to least expensive:
- Redundant rent. My old lease and my new lease overlapped one month, and my old roommates didn’t feel comfortable having a short-term subletter. Paying double rent for most of the month was my biggest single expense.
- The security deposit at my new place.
- The UHaul rental.
- The movers’ base rate.
- Car title & registration. Transferring my car title and registration to Maryland cost nearly $300.
- My mom and my hotel on the drive down.
- Discarded internet equipment. This is an unfortunate tale I shall detail below.
- Gas. Big truck, big gas tank, big gas bill.
- Car tow dolly rental.
- My share of the deposit for our new electricity company. We’ll get it back if we pay our electric bill on time for a year.
- Tipping the movers. Abolish tipping. Pay workers living wages as their base salaries. Alas, until then, we shall tip.
- Truck parking permit. In Boston you have to pay to reserve 2 parking spaces in front of your house on the day of your move for the moving truck.
- Maryland driver’s license. It has the Maryland flag on it. Much more fun than the Massachusetts licenses.
- Car inspection. Unlike the annual inspections required in Massachusetts, in Maryland you only have to get your car inspected once ever and the inspection is thorough. My car did not pass. I didn’t include the costs of the repairs here, just the inspection itself.
- Tolls. We drove through 6 states. New Jersey had the most expensive tolls.
- Meals on the road.
- My share of the internet setup costs.
- Packing supplies. I believe the only supplies I purchased were 2 rolls of packing tape and a mattress bag. Thank you to my neighbors who provided all the other materials I needed.
- Padlock to lock the UHaul so all my belongings were not flagrantly stealable in the hotel parking lot while we slept.
- Change of address. The USPS charges $1.10 to forward your mail to your new place. On behalf of the new tenants at your old place, please remember to have your mail forwarded.
Things that went smoothly:
- All the advice I read on the internet included this, but I’ll say it again: donate things you don’t want before you move. What the internet advice didn’t mention was how you’re supposed to know what you want and don’t want when you’re about to start a whole new life. I leave that up to you. But you probably have a bunch of clothes you kind of hate that you can give away.
- I started scoping out the Everything Free Facebook pages for packing supplies a few months before my move. Lots of people post their leftover moving supplies, and I was able to get almost everything I needed from a very generous neighbor who had extras from his move overseas.
- I asked neighbors for their old newspapers instead of buying packing paper. Heads up that you’ll probably need a lot.
- We didn’t ever back up the truck. With the car in tow, backing up is a nightmare. We just picked a hotel that had enough space in the parking lot that we could pull in and out without backing up.
- All my plants rode with us in the front of the truck. The internet advice said not to move with plants. This struck me as equally sad and unnecessary, so I ignored this advice. I was moving during the summer and the back of the truck isn’t temperature controlled, so we packed all 18 of my plants in a milk crate with a box stacked on top and they rode between us in the front of the truck. They all survived the journey and my burro’s tail is thriving in my new place, which gets tons of light!
Things that did not go smoothly:
- We had a surprisingly hard time finding an app to map truck routes, and navigation was more stressful than anticipated. New York City + construction + nighttime + very confusing signs about where trucks are and aren’t allowed = very stressful and chaotic. We were glad there were 2 of us in the truck so there was someone to provide navigation support.
- A WiFi Nightmare. Since I was in touch with the previous tenants, I tried to have the old tenants just transfer their WiFi account over to us instead of having the whole system uninstalled and reinstalled, and the plan backfired horrendously. It seemed to go smoothly until I got to the new place and there was no WiFi equipment. It turns out the old tenants left a bunch of stuff when they moved out. The landlord told the cleaning crew to throw everything out. The WiFi equipment was tossed. I had to pay for it. We also paid for that same equipment to be reinstalled. Big oops. On the bright side, I got an excellent odd compliment from an agent at the Wifi company: “You’re a very calm person given this nightmare situation.” I’m really going to take that to heart.
Other Misc tips:
- Things you might not realize you’ll need: a padlock to lock the moving truck if you’ll be away from it at any time while it’s full of all your worldly possessions. An aux cord to play music in the truck. I hadn’t thought about aux cords in years, but suddenly I wished I had one.
- Label everything that’s in every box. This advice seems obvious and I read it everywhere and then didn’t follow it. Believe me, there will come a moment when you want to shower, you’re surrounded by boxes, and you won’t remember that you stuck your towel in with your lamps. Write it down.
- Anticipate significant move-adjacent costs. You’ll need stuff at your new place, including bizarrely expensive things like decent trash cans. Groceries are also still more expensive every month as I gradually buy all the spices and other staples I had on hand in my old kitchen. Then there were the car repairs necessary to register my car in Maryland. Moving is expensive, and life is also more expensive for a while when you’ve moved.
I also wanted to see the costs by cause. For example, a handful of the costs were incurred because I was moving with a car. Here’s the same treemap with the colors indicating the cause of each cost:
And the treemap rearranged so each cause has one section of the map:
I’m proud to report that “oops” was among the smaller cost contributors.
The cause of costs leads me to the question, “who got my money?” Here’s the graph for that. Here, I’ve separated the deposits from the money I definitely won’t be getting back:
And now the same graph with the sections arranged by who got the money, with deposits once again marked with “(Returned?)” and separated from other costs.
Even when we exclude the security deposit, landlords got the largest share of my moving costs. UHaul got the second-largest share of what I spent on moving. I generally prefer to support smaller, local companies, but I chose convenience and simplicity over supporting local businesses in multiple places during this move. Moving is so overwhelming, it can be a hard moment to live out your values. I am glad I supported two local moving companies at least.
Moving is expensive even if you do everything reasonable to minimize costs. If we want access to grad school to be equitable, we need to offer financial support for students who need to move to start a program.
My move not only took a lot of money, it also took a lot of help. Moving is one of those things you can’t do alone. My neighbors gave me leftover boxes, tape, and bags full of newspaper. My friends helped me organize and donate what I owned and convinced me to finally give away all those shoes that hurt my feet. My new roommates cooked for me and my mom when we first arrived and had no food. And my mom was there for all 400 miles, and so much packing and unpacking on both ends. Thank you to everyone who helped, in ways big and small.
P.S. As usual, here’s a link to see my code.
File under: yet one more thing I will never be able to adequately thank my mom for.↩︎