Last summer, I was almost certain I’d be moving from Kansas City, Missouri to St. Petersburg or Tampa, Florida. I’d already researched housing costs online, and I’d visited St. Pete on vacation. Still, I knew a scouting trip was in order.
So, I booked an Airbnb home in Tampa for the month of June. St. Pete was only 25 miles away, a 20-minute drive, I assumed. I’d be working as a freelance writer during my stay, but I also envisioned daily beach walks to clear my mind and plan my new life. What I got instead was a big dose of reality about what it costs to live in St. Pete versus what I’d calculated from afar.
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Here’s what I learned, along with a few money-saving tips for scouting a city before you relocate.
Questions to Ask Before Relocating
Before you start boxing up decades’ worth of possessions for the big move, make sure you’ve thoroughly checked out what your life will be like in the new city you’ve chosen.
How much will I pay for housing?
Housing is one of the biggest expenses you’ll face when you relocate to another city, so make sure you know the cost of buying a home or renting before you make up your mind. A good place to start is Realtor.com, where you can find the average price for a home in that area and look up asking prices for the size and style of home you want. Contact a local real estate agent to get an even better idea of what to expect.
Curious about renting? Check out Sperling’s Best Places and AreaVibes for average house and apartment rental rates.
What is the cost of living index?
To get an idea of how much everyday expenses like groceries, auto repairs, utilities and healthcare will cost in a city, perform an online search for “cost of living” and the name of the city or town. For a good overview of the cost-of-living index in a city, search sites such as Sperling’s Best Places, AreaVibes and the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC).
What’s the crime rate?
The last thing you need is to move to a new city and be scared to leave the house. Plus, living in a neighborhood with high crime will mean higher car and home insurance premiums.
So, search online for a city’s crime rate before you start house shopping. Check Sperling’s Best Places, AreaVibes and similar sites for information on crime. Call the local police department for the scoop on types of crime and frequency of incidents in the city’s neighborhoods.
How happy are the residents?
What good is it to retire to a sunny climate if a majority of people are cranky and dissatisfied? To get an idea of how happy residents are in a particular city, look up the city on Sharecare’s Community Well-Being Index. Who knows? Your research may reveal other, more desirable relocation destinations.
Will I receive a break on state or other taxes?
There are nine states that don’t levy a state income tax: Alaska; Florida; New Hampshire, Nevada; Washington; Wyoming; South Dakota; Tennessee and Texas. New Hampshire and Tennessee do tax interest and dividends, but Tennessee plans to eliminate that tax in 2021.
Other taxes to consider: Property taxes, estate and inheritance taxes and local taxes, which can be excessively high in some cities.
Would seasonal travel to this location be more affordable?
Moving across the country or even one state over is expensive and a major hassle. You have to pay movers thousands of dollars, deal with selling your house and purchasing a new home, get used to finding your way around a new city, find new doctors and make new friends.
So, don’t overlook the option that could be the best of both worlds if warmer weather in winter is your main objective: The life of a snowbird.
You may find spending $5,000 to $10,000 to rent an Airbnb or other vacation rental in Florida or Arizona for two or three months in the winter much cheaper than buying a new home and all the expenses that come with it. Bonus: You won’t have to suffer through months of 110-degree Arizona summer days or hot, humid Florida weather the rest of the year.
Does the state tax social security benefits?
If you’ll be drawing Social Security when you retire, make sure you check whether the state you’re eyeing for retirement taxes a portion of your Social Security benefits.
Twenty-six states and Washington, D.C. don’t tax Social Security benefits, but many states tax a portion of benefits, according to the Tax Foundation, a nonprofit independent tax policy organization. Some states tax benefits but also offer exemptions based on age or income level.
How can I “try out” the city before making the big move?
It’s easy and smart to live for at least a month or two in the city where you plan to move with Airbnb and other vacation rental platforms. So, book a home or apartment for a month or two and scout the city for yourself, paying close attention to grocery prices, gas prices, crime reports on the TV news and other livability factors.
Like what you see after “living” in that potential relocation destination? Then it’s time to start packing for a new life.
Things to Consider Before Moving
Vacation isn’t reality
On my vacation to St. Pete the prior year, I sipped coffee during morning beach strolls and gazed at the waves all day. This trip, I was there long enough to get a pelican’s eye view of day-to-day life.
For one thing, my estimated 25-minute drive from Tampa to St. Pete’s beaches was actually a 45-minute commute each way, longer during rush hour. Even with my compact car, I burned through two or three tanks of gas every week.
Tip: When choosing accommodations for your scouting trip, look up the “driving time” to the areas where you’ll spend most of your time on an app such as Google Maps.
Look a little harder for the right place to stay
I booked the Airbnb in Tampa because it accepted dogs. However, I learned after I arrived that I could have rented a pet-friendly apartment one block from the beach for the same price. Not only would I have been happier, I’d have saved a couple hundred bucks on gas.
Online real estate photos can be deceiving
During my online house hunting, I found lots of modest but cute homes in the $120,000 to $150,000 range. However, when I toured those homes, I was in for a surprise. Sure, I could get a house for $140,000, but it was wedged close between two neighbors, the homes needed updating and the neighborhoods were sketchy.
Tip: Before you relocate, make sure you tour several open houses or showings first to get an idea of what kind of home you can get for your money. When perusing online listings, check out neighborhood crime and other statistics on sites like Neighborhood Scout and CityProtect.
Food prices matter
I thought that if I could buy an inexpensive home, I could work around the higher cost of living. However, I didn’t realize how expensive groceries would be until I lived in Tampa for a month.
At the local Publix, many items were double the price that I pay in the Midwest. Gasoline was about 20 cents more per gallon. I could buy two meals in a moderate restaurant in Kansas City for what I’d pay for one dinner in Tampa.
Tip: Bring groceries if you’re staying somewhere with a kitchen. Also, find the nearest discount grocer. I quickly switched from Publix to Save-A-Lot after paying $5 for a bag of lettuce. Also, ask the locals about affordable restaurants. I found a cheap and excellent taco place by asking a fellow CVS customer where I could get a good taco.
Stick around long enough
I stayed in Tampa for 30 days. By week three, I’d learned shortcuts to avoid traffic, found a favorite coffee shop and explored smaller, inland towns that may warrant another scouting adventure later.
Tip: Stay at least a month if you can, since it takes a couple of weeks to get oriented. By the time I left, I knew my way around and may have warmed up to the area if I’d stayed longer.
Once I realized how much it would cost me to live in Florida, I flew out of Tampa faster than a seagull diving for a French fry. Before you relocate to a new city, take a scouting trip to make sure it fits your budget. Just don’t forget to save a little money along the way.
Save Money When Moving
Moving may have been a bungee snap when you were young and could move all your possessions in a couple of carloads with the help of a borrowed pickup truck. However, now you’ve accumulated a houseful of stuff, and moving isn’t as simple. And it’s not cheap, either.
Moving companies are expensive, and even if you rent a truck and do it yourself, incidental costs for fuel, moving supplies, and food for friends lending a hand add up. But what if you could cut moving costs? Find out seven ways to save money when moving.
1. Score free moving supplies
Don’t buy moving boxes, tape, packing peanuts, or other moving supplies before checking online to see if you can get them free. Look on Craigslist and other online marketplaces for people looking to repurpose boxes and old moving supplies from a recent relocation.
You can also get free boxes from retail or grocery stores. Liquor store boxes are especially good for moving books and other heavy items.
2. Compare moving companies
As with any profession, rates are all over the place with moving companies. However, while it’s tempting to choose the lowest bidder, don’t base your selection on price alone. Call at least three or four movers for rates and then vet them further before making a choice.
Search the Better Business Bureau for ratings and complaints, along with Yelp and other online review sites. Make sure you understand exactly which services are included – or not included – for the rate.
3. Negotiate with movers
Don’t simply assume that moving company rates have no wiggle room. What have you got to lose by trying to negotiate a lower moving fee?
If one moving company offers you a lower rate, ask another mover if you prefer to match or beat it. If a mover’s rate is more than you can afford, ask about ways you can lower the rate such as doing your own packing or disassembling and reassembling furniture yourself.
4. Pick the right time to move
Ask the moving company if the price is lower during the week since some moving companies charge more to move on a weekend. Even the time of year you move can make a difference.
Summer months are the busiest for movers since many families choose to move while the kids are out of school. Do your research before contacting moving companies, and if you can, choose a day or month when costs are lower.
5. Price a moving container
You’ve seen those big metal moving containers parked in someone’s driveway for a few days while the residents load them up for a move. Depending on your situation, you may find the moving container option less expensive than hiring a moving company or renting a truck, especially if you’re moving a long distance.
If the cost seems high, factor in the money you may save on gas and other long-distance moving costs. Just like with moving companies, make sure you shop around for a good rate and good reviews.
6. Have a sale
When you host a garage or yard sale, you not only lighten your moving load (and cost) but also earn cash to pay toward moving expenses. If you start early enough, you can even get a jump on selling stuff online so there’s less to drag outside for your big sale.
7. Go the DIY route
It’s a lot more work to move, but the savings can’t be beaten. A DIY move isn’t for everyone, but it can’t hurt to compare the cost of DIY versus professional movers to see how much you can save. With a long-distance DIY move, don’t forget to include the cost of meals, hotels, gas and one-way truck rental fees.
You can also shoot for a hybrid version, doing your own packing instead of paying movers to pack or renting a truck but paying a moving crew to load and unload it.
Common Moving Company Scams
According to the Better Business Bureau (BBB), consumers filed 1,100 complaints with the BBB against moving companies in 2021. Moving scams reported to BBB Scam Tracker increased in 2021 by 216 percent from 2020, and consumers reported more than $730,000 lost to moving scams.
If you’re moving to a new place, whether you’re headed across town or relocating to a new city, you’re wise to shop around and do your homework before entrusting your valuable possessions to a moving company.
Here are the three most common moving scams, according to the BBB.
- Movers who never show up after giving you a quote and pocketing your deposit
- Movers who provide a quote based on estimated weight/load and then claim the load exceeds that weight on moving day, asking or an additional fee
- Movers who give an estimate, show up on moving day and load your belongings but fail to deliver at the destination or hold your belongings “hostage” for an additional fee
“Do not be afraid to ask questions about anything you don’t understand, says the BBB. “If the moving company either can’t or won’t answer your questions, look for another company. Trust matters when hiring a moving company.”
5 red flags of a moving scam
- If a mover has no information on its website about licensing or insurance, that’s a bad sign, since the mover may not have the proper policies in place to protect your belongings.
- Legitimate moving companies typically have their own trucks. If the movers show up in a rented truck, the company may not be legitimate.
- The mover provides an estimate over the phone without visiting your home for an on-site inspection of the load.
- When a mover asks for a huge down payment or the full amount before moving day, don’t pay it. That’s a strong indicator of a fraudulent business.
- If the mover you want to hire for a move to a different state has no licensing with the U.S. Department of Transportation, that’s a red flag for potential trouble ahead. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) requires all interstate moving companies to have an identification number issued by the FMCSA.
“Make sure to carefully read the terms and conditions of the contract, as well as the limits of liability and any disclaimers. The pickup and expected delivery date should be easily identified,” says the BBB.
“Do not be afraid to ask questions about anything you don’t understand. If the moving company either can’t or won’t answer your questions, look for another company.”
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Article last modified on March 21, 2023. Published by Debt.com, LLC