Back to school: Should you rent a U-Haul or pay movers?

mother and daughter unload trunk of car
Some people need more than mom's minivan to get to school.
Ariel Skelley/Riser/Getty Images

Another summer over and it's time to go back to school. Unfortunately, in discussing things with your roommate, you drew the short end of the stick, and you're responsible for all the big items that will make that dorm room feel like home. Your roommate will be able to pull up to the front door of your dormitory with all his stuff loaded up in the back of his mom's station wagon, while you have to figure out a way to get the futon, the big-screen television, the microwave and the minifridge back to school. That's on top of your clothes, comforter, desktop computer and textbooks. There's also the lifetime supply of laundry detergent that your mother insists upon sending with you, a talisman she believes will protect her from loads of dirty clothes coming home at fall break. And don't forget your tuba for marching band!

Clearly, this will take a ride with a larger load capacity than your parents' two-door sports car. But what to do: rent a moving van or pay movers to do it for you? This is the kind of tough decision you didn't expect to have to make until your first pop quiz!


This decision, like the correct answer in a pop-quiz situation, will require a little research and homework. Ultimately, we can't tell you the right answer, and we can't even plug in all the numbers for you -- after all, we may never write another article again if we got estimates for every moving job. But we can tell you some of the factors that you should consider that will make solving this equation a little easier. Get your No. 2 pencil and notepads ready, and turn the page.

Getting the Best Deal on Moving Costs

people move a chair
Do you have fair-weather friends when it comes to moving furniture?
David De Lossy/Photodisc/Getty Images

Obviously, cost may be one of the defining factors in your choice of how to move back to school. To determine the cost, you'll need to get on the phone or head to the Internet, where you can gather quotes from a variety of movers and rental van places. Search out both local and national options, depending on how long the move is. Be extremely upfront with any company that you get a quote from. If you don't tell that moving company about the minifridge in hopes of getting a cheaper quote, for example, they'll find a way to charge you for it later.

Additionally, you should explore a variety of options with each company. For example, some moving companies will drop off a pod or a truck that you pack yourself, and then they do the driving. It may be a better deal to pay by the weight of your stuff instead of by the hour. These factors will differ depending on which companies you're dealing with.


Let's say the movers are more expensive than the moving van, as will likely be the case. There are a few things to consider in deciding whether to spring for the extra expense. For one, if you live on the fifth floor of a building that has no elevator, then the extra dough may seem well worth it to you and especially to the people that you've roped in to help you move. And if you haven't found anyone to help, then you might really need to rely on the kindness of those movers, though you are of course paying for the privilege of their kindness. So think about whether Dad has a heart condition or Mom can't take steps -- if you're the first one back to the dorm, you might need more help than they're able to give. And before you commit to carrying your tuba up five flights of steps, make sure you have a driver lined up. Your first-day-of-school jitters may completely disappear in the face of having to drive something so large and unfamiliar as a moving van.

Well, just like the school that you decided to go to, this decision is one that only you can make. You know what's best for you and what your needs are. So while you ponder, and while you sit on hold with moving companies and rental van places, check out the stories and links on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links


  • Miller, Alan C. and Myron Levin. "Driving with rented risks." Los Angeles Times. June 24, 2007. (Oct. 13, 2008),0,4383195.htmlstory
  • Movers Directory. "Hiring a Moving Company Versus Do-It-Yourself Moving." (Oct. 13, 2008)
  • RPS Relocation. "Moving and Storage." (Oct. 13, 2008)