Reduce the Financial Stress of Moving to a New City: A Checklist

A woman looks at the building structure of a building in downtown St. Petersburg, Fla.
Pauline Bourque, of Montreal, Canada, looks at the building architecture on Central Avenue during a St. Petersburg Preservation walking tour in downtown St. Petersburg, Fla. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

So you’ve made the decision to uproot your life and move to a new city. Congrats on your exciting new adventure!

But before you pack up and hit the road, there are some things you ought to do to make sure you can afford this upcoming transition. Dreams of a new start are great, but you don’t want to be overwhelmed by moving costs or everyday expenses in your new town.

Add these six steps to your checklist when moving to a new city.

1. Research the Cost of Living 

The expenses of everyday life differ from Lansing, Michigan to Los Angeles or from St. Petersburg, Florida to Seattle. When planning your relocation, you need to factor in cost-of-living changes — especially if you’re moving to a different region of the country or from a small town to a major metropolis.

If you’re itching to move but don’t have a specific city in mind, check out this list of affordable cities for millennials.

Free cost-of-living calculators (like this one from Payscale) give you a broad idea of how expenses differ and what income you’d need to maintain a similar lifestyle.

You can supplement this research by digging into specific budget categories. Check rental or real estate listings to gauge housing costs. Look up grocery store circulars in your desired zip code for food prices. Call your auto insurance company and other competitors to get quotes for your new area.

Pull out your budget to identify other significant monthly expenses. If you’ve got young kids, you’ll want to look up child care costs in your new city. If you dine out often, check out restaurant menus online.

2. Determine Your Net Salary 

Many times, moving to a new city is the result of a job offer. Hopefully, you’ve secured employment before relocating and negotiated a fair salary based on your education, experience and industry standards in the region. (And don’t forget to ask your new employer about relocation benefits!)

Once you’ve got that salary figure, though, it’s important to translate it to your actual take-home pay. That’s the money you’ll work with each month to pay bills, buy necessities and treat yourself.

The time is always right for the right job. Browse the latest work-from-home gigs in our database, updated every weekday.

Free salary calculators (like this one from ADP) can help you predict how much you’ll get from your paycheck after taxes, Social Security, Medicare and other deductions are taken out.

If you’re moving without a secure gig in place, your first priority should be finding a job in your new city so you don’t deplete your savings or go into debt covering your living expenses. Consider taking on a couple side hustles in the meantime. Expand your search to remote jobs if you’re not finding luck with local opportunities in your field.

3. Budget for the Move

A Uhaul truck is photographed at dusk.
Using a small truck for a local move might cost you $20 to $40 plus mileage and fees. But if you’re moving to a new city across state lines, you might end up spending several hundred dollars for a one-way drop-off. Aileen Perilla/The Penny Hoarder

The act of moving itself can be an expensive endeavor. Whether your new city is a couple counties over or across the country, plan for all the associated expenses, which might include:

  • Boxes and moving supplies: Places like U-Haul and Home Depot sell moving boxes for about $1 or $2 per box — as well as extras like packing tape and cushioning material. To save money, use empty boxes you already have, or scrounge up some from friends. You can also ask local businesses if they’d give you their old boxes for free rather than trashing them.
  • Moving truck: Using a small truck for a local move might cost you $20 to $40 plus mileage and fees. But if you’re moving to a new city across state lines, you might end up spending several hundred dollars for a one-way drop-off.
  • Professional movers: You may find prices as low as $25 per hour per mover for a local move, or you could spend a couple thousand dollars to ship your belongings cross-country.
Pro Tip

Make sure your new home is one you can comfortably afford. Personal finance experts recommend budgeting no more than 30% of your income on housing.

Settling into a new apartment will also carry upfront costs. Factor these into your moving budget:

  • Application fees: You’ll likely need to shell out at least $25 to $50 per rental application, but the price could be more depending on where you live.
  • Security deposit: Your landlord may charge the equivalent of one month’s rent to put in reserve in case you cause damage or default on the rent.
  • First (and possibly last) month’s rent: You’re expected to pay your rent for the month before getting your keys — though that amount may be prorated if you’re moving mid-month. Some property managers will also ask that you pay your last month’s rent in advance.
  • Pet fee/deposit: If you’re moving with a pet, you could end up getting a couple hundred dollars tacked onto your move-in expenses.
  • Utility deposits: Many utility companies will ask you to put down a (usually refundable) deposit before switching electricity or water over to you. That amount may vary based on your credit score. If you have a stellar credit history, you may be spared of paying a deposit.
  • Service installation fees: When setting up services like cable or internet, you can expect an installation fee to be added to your first bill.

If you’re able, give yourself ample time to save up for the cost of moving to a new apartment

If you’re planning to buy instead of rent, our guide to homebuying will help walk you through the process. Spoiler alert: It will take significantly more time, money and paperwork than renting. 

FROM THE SAVE MONEY FORUM

4. Sell Unwanted Items Before You Move

Pare down your belongings to reduce moving costs and make some much-welcomed extra cash. Besides, it just doesn’t make sense to bring that lamp you totally hate to your next home.

As you’re packing up your stuff, set aside anything you don’t like or have use for — as well as things that are broken or missing pieces. Be realistic about whether you’ll fix or find a purpose for these belongings in the future.

Separate these items into piles for trashing (or recycling), donating and selling. You can sell belongings online on sites like Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace and OfferUp.

Alternatively, you could hold a garage sale to offload your unwanted gear for a small profit.

5. Plan Your Commute

As you settle into your new digs (or even before you arrive), map out how you’ll get to work, school or wherever else you’ll travel regularly. Commuting costs may seem minor on a day-to-day basis, but those expenses add up.

To calculate how much you’ll burn in gas, divide the gas price in your new city by the number of miles per gallon (mpg) your vehicle averages. Multiply that figure by the number of miles you’ll drive in a month to get a rough estimate of your monthly commuting costs.

Pro Tip

These tips to save money on gas will help you reduce your commuting costs.

Of course, that amount doesn’t factor in parking, tolls, vehicle wear-and-tear or fluctuations in gas prices and your car’s mpg, so consider it a conservative estimate.

To save money, you might want to consider other options for commuting to work, such as biking to the office (if you live close enough) or using public transit.

6. Find Budget-Friendly Things to Do in Your New City

A man gives a guided tour of downtown St. Petersburg to three people.
Peter Belmont, left, of St. Petersburg Preservation, gives a tour of the Central Avenue area in downtown St. Petersburg to Peentz Dubble, Pauline Bourque and Lance Olson. The tour costs $10 and it can be an affordable way to get to know your new city. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

Moving to a new city can wipe out a good portion of your savings. So if you’re amped to visit local attractions, dine at neighborhood restaurants and attend events in the town you now call home, you have to get creative so you don’t further drain your bank account. 

Choose low-cost or free things to do as you explore and get acclimated. Walk through your city’s downtown or other neighborhoods of interest (or take a guided tour) and check out the local businesses, street art and public parks. Your visitors center is a great place to go for information about hot spots and annual events — even though you’re not a tourist.

Check sites like Groupon and LivingSocial for discounts on experiences in the area. Museums and other attractions may offer reduced-admission days or discounts for residents. Browse their websites for info or call to inquire.

Want to check out all the hot local restaurants with the great Yelp reviews? Take advantage of happy hour specials, order appetizers instead of entrees or dine at lunch rather than dinner to avoid overspending.

Getting involved in your new community by volunteering, taking a class at the library or attending a Meetup with other residents who share a common interest is another great (and affordable) way to help you adjust to your new city.

Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.