It's the time of year when many people are thinking about making big changes, and few can cause more stress than moving.
Job-related relocations typically begin picking up in January and peak in the July-September quarter, according to personnel firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc.
Whether it's starting fresh at a new job across the country or trading up into a nicer home in the suburbs, moving can be a challenge for even the most organized households. And the costs that go into preparing and safely transporting one's belongings can add up fast.
Here are some tips on how to save money on your next move:
1. Lighten the load
The best way to cut expenses is to reduce the amount of stuff you need to move.
More stuff means you'll need to rent a bigger, more expensive truck. And moving companies typically set rates based on a combination of how much your belongings weigh and how far they need to be moved.
If you are moving from New York to Los Angeles, you can't do anything about the distance. But you can take fewer items.
Consider a garage sale or look into organizations that accept furniture donations.
2. Avoid a summer move
It's best to avoid moving from mid-June through mid-September.
"That's the time of year kids are out of school and moving companies are stretched very thin," said Eric Reed, director of corporate business for AIReS, a relocation management company.
This heightened demand enables moving companies to increase rates between 10 percent and 20 percent, on average, Reed said.
It's also cheaper to move in the middle of a month, than at the end, when apartment leases tend to expire and tenants seek to move into their next pad.
3. Comparison shop
Get at least three estimates from moving companies.
That can be done directly or on sites like Unpakt.com, which lets users itemize the items they need to move then generates a list of movers and rate estimates.
Ideally, you want to get an estimate that's specific to your situation. That means having the movers come over and review exactly what you'll need moved. Then you can ask for a written estimate.
Many moving companies will provide an all-inclusive, guaranteed price if pressed, said Sharone Ben-Harosh, CEO of FlatRate Moving in New York.
"The idea is to really insist on it and have the inventory specified, especially on a cross-country move," Ben-Harosh said.
Also, don't go with any mover that charges for an estimate or asks you to sign a blank or incomplete estimate.
If you're using a mover, check that it is certified by the American Moving and Storage Association.
For a directory of companies screened by AMSA, a moving checklist and more pointers on how dealing with moving firms, go to www.Protectyourmove.gov/documents/Rights-and-Responsibilities-2013.pdf.
4. Understand insurance options
Moving companies tend to include basic insurance coverage in their service, generally around 60 cents per pound, per item.
It may be worth considering taking on a policy that offers full replacement coverage on high-value items, but you'll want to get insurance estimates as well, as those costs can add up quickly.
The moving industry is fragmented, with many operators competing with smaller firms. That can give customers more flexibility to negotiate rates.
Do this by making it clear that you're going to get estimates from several other firms, said Matt Spinolo, executive vice president of global client services for employee relocation company Cartus Corp.
They may offer to match or undercut a rival's lowest rate.
6. Write it off
The IRS permits a tax deduction on moving expenses that are incurred in connection with relocating for work. That includes costs of moving household items, like boxes, truck rental or shipping, as well as travel expenses, like airfare or gas, should you drive.
Generally, the IRS requires that the expenses have been incurred within one year from the date you first reported to work in the new location. And the job must be at least 50 miles farther from your former residence than your previous workplace.
Check with your tax adviser or the IRS to make sure the circumstances of your move qualify you for the deduction.
For more details: www.irs.gov/publications/p521/ar02.html.
7. Do it yourself
You can always save the most money by doing it yourself.
But even if you go DIY, it doesn't have to be all on you. Consider services that rent large containers and then transport them to your destination. This option can be several hundred dollars cheaper than renting a truck, particularly if you're moving across the country.