Take a Little Trip: Your Moving Guide for Grad School

by Matt Miner

It's time to move on, time to get going / What lies ahead, I have no way of knowing / But under my feet, baby, grass is growing / It's time to move on, it's time to get going…Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

Saying goodbye to Louisiana with a family trip to New Orleans.

Saying goodbye to Louisiana with a family trip to New Orleans.

We’ve moved a lot.  There was a time when that wasn’t true, but you can’t escape your past, and mine includes a lot of moves, including the move to business school, the move for my summer internship, and the move after business school.

When I write about moving, it’s from a position of experience, and not just from making stuff up.  Here’s my sordid history:

Age 0 to 15: A rare, fifth-generation native of Seattle, WA.  Never moved, never planned to move.

Age 15: Move to Tucson for parent’s new business.

Age 19: Move away for undergrad to Tempe, AZ.

Age 21: Bought first home in Phoenix.  We lived there until we sold (thankfully!) in 2007 to move for grad school.  Having just watched The Big Short last night, I was reminded how thankful I was that we closed our sale in early summer of that painful year.

Age 27: Off to B-school in Durham, NC.

Age 28: Summer in Johnson County, KS.

Age 29: North to the QCA.

Age 31: Back to The Triangle.

Age 32: Mmmmmmm!  Get our foodie kicks down in the Delta!

Age 33: Back to The Triangle (again)

You can easily find scores of articles, checklists, and resources to help you with every detail of the move.  In this article we’ll talk about what’s unique about your move for grad school, and share some lesser-known moving hacks my wife and I have developed through our moves.

Two unique advantages of a business school move

There are two particular advantages of moving for graduate school, and in particular business school.  First, you are moving to a network and friends.  You will not find it hard to meet people, and you won’t find it hard to learn things about the area.  You have a ready-made support system, and all these people are as interested making new friends as you are.  Second, your vocational goal is defined by what you’re moving to.  You are moving to complete business school.  This means finding success in your job search, with your b-school relationships, and with your coursework.

Another thing that’s unique about this move compared to others is that you know your time is limited in this place.  If you love the place, it may make you sad to contemplate leaving for your job.  If you don’t much care for the place, this feeling may be a relief!

Moving tactics

This blog is about designing independence in your life.  That means not being ruled by money or stuff.  As you get ready for your big move, you can give yourself more time and money by getting rid of everything you don’t need in this next phase of life.

I was particularly afflicted, because we’d been living in a home we owned for six years when we moved for school, and I’d piled up a lot of stuff in that time.  But even if you’re coming from an apartment or roommate situation, the chances are good you’ve got stuff to get gone.

You need four categories for your stuff.

1.       Keep

2.       Sell

3.       Give away

4.       Trash / Recycle

Challenge yourself on the “keep” category.  Everything you keep you will touch when you pack, touch when you unpack, and touch when you pack again in not more than two years.  During our time of moving, I came to look at stuff as a huge liability, an absolute time waster.  Every time I picked up an object, it was on trial for its life.

Ask yourself when you last used something.  If it’s been more than six months, there needs to be a very special reason to keep it.

When you’re on vacation, do you miss your stuff?  Does living out of a suitcase hurt your quality of life?  For most of us, the answer is No.  Although we may choose not to get so minimalist as to live out of a suitcase, the Pareto distribution of our stuff-utilization is highly concentrated to just a few objects.

Consider boxing things you think you want to keep or can’t bear to part with.  Then, go put them somewhere (a closet, garage, attic, etc.).  If you make it a month without needing those things get rid of them!

For selling stuff, use Craigslist (for things needing local pickup) for items worth $5 or more.  For smaller items with high values, Ebay is a good platform.  You can sell good quality items on Amazon.  We have used all these methods.

We also had a garage sale.  Given everything else going on, I thought it was a bad use time.  For the higher dollar items, you’re better off on Craigslist.  For the lower dollar stuff, it is so inefficient to dispose of them via garage sale that you’re better off going the donation route.

For items with values below $5 but with real value to someone else, just donate them.  Make a record of these donations and if you’re itemizing your tax return, these are deductible as a charitable contribution.  Check with your tax pro for advice that’s relevant to your situation.

Throw away everything else.  Start early.  Don’t move stuff that instead belongs at the curb in your trash can or recycle bin.

Now that we’ve handled your stuff, here’s how to deal with what’s left.  You have three choices for how to move: A self-move, a hybrid self-move, and professional movers.

Most American grad school students don’t hire professional movers, though all our moves since grad school have been with professional movers and we highly recommend that route if it’s open to you (particularly if someone else is paying the movers!).  If you’re borrowing money for school or otherwise trying to be frugal, you can save money (if not aggravation) by taking one of the other two routes.

A self-move is self-explanatory: You do everything.  Read some articles on packing techniques, etc.  I don’t have much value to add here.

We took a hybrid route and I recommend it.  The cost is comparable to a self-move.  We packed everything and then used one of the services (ABF U Pack) that moves it for you.  At the other end, we were blessed to have our new church turn up to help us unload and put away.  Pro tip: Follow the service’s packing recommendations carefully or you will have broken or damaged goods with no one to blame but yourself.

If you take me up on this recommendation, you’ll have to get yourself and your family across the country.  We drove our cars.  My dad and I drove one car about a week ahead of the rest of the family.  We installed shelves, unpacked, bought a washer and dryer, and did other set-up tasks.

If you can take this as an opportunity to spend time with your dad, do that.  We had a good week together and I look back with thankfulness for that extra time with him.

We chose to get the whole extended family in the act too.  My wife flew with our two very young children and my mom, and then my wife’s grandparents drove the second car out to us.  The result of all this was that those who loved us best also saw our new digs, got a sense of what Durham was like, and we got more time with them.  I’m sure this model isn’t right for everyone, but it was a good plan for our family.  Of course you can also begin to see how we spent so much money in grad school…

Here’s how you travel and arrive.  Pack some suitcases as if you’re going on a two week trip with camping-like accommodations.  Include sleeping gear, towels, a pot or two, some utensils, and a good kitchen knife.   If you’re like me you’ll want to have your coffee maker.  Add to this some basic hand tools, your favorite vacuum cleaner, and the valuable items you don’t want in the moving truck – stuff with high intrinsic worth (jewelry, etc), stuff not allowed (guns and ammo), and your most important personal papers (passports, birth certificates, medical records, tax returns, etc.).

When you get where you’re going, go straight in to your new place.  Don’t waste time and money with hotels.  Being on the ground in your new home will make the move-in go faster.  And with the items listed above, you’ll be able to stay in your new home until all your possessions arrive and you get unpacked.  We’ve moved in both ways, staying in a hotel for a few days while commuting to set up our new house, and the “camping in our new house” method.  The latter is superior to economize money, and most importantly time.

Before you make this trip you will have determined your housing arrangements on the grad-school end of things.  Having observed people make a variety of housing choices (stay at the cheapest place; stay at the fanciest place; stay where the most people stay; rent a house; buy a house), here’s what you should consider.

First, don’t buy a house.  Even if you have roommates that cover the whole cost of ownership, the transaction costs, market risk, maintenance risk, and hassle factor make this a bad bet for a 21-month stay.

Second, there’s no great reason to stay in the fanciest place if you’re borrowing for school.

Third, it’s probably worth living someplace better than the cheapest place.  You don’t want headaches of pest infestations, crummy digs, smelly food from your neighbors, deferred maintenance issues, etc.

There are two good ways to tackle this.  The route we took was to live in one of the places where we would be with some of my classmates (good for being sociable), but not too spendy.  It was not the place where the most people stayed (that one was even more spendy), but it was probably the place where the second-greatest number of my classmates stayed.  It also happened to be the only one that had a three-bedroom on the first floor.

The other viable route is to rent a home and have roommates who may help defray your monthly outlay.  This is probably the most frugal way to go, but may not be ideal if you have a family of your own.

Saying Goodbye

Our family has a principle of fostering strong friendships and community in the places we stay, however short or long our stay is.  For this reason, we have always had hard goodbyes to say, every time we’ve left.  And we have good friends scattered all around this country.

This was particularly true in Phoenix.  This was the crowd that had seen us through our courtship and marriage and through the largest part of our young adulthood.  We had friends, mentors, and sponsors who had helped us grow up.  Take time and say the right goodbyes.  For us, this meant dinners, parties, and camping trips.  When you’re leaving a place and people you love, allow lots of time for goodbyes.

A few more details

Make sure you have insurance for your stuff where it sits today, while it travels to your new place, and once it arrives there.

Create one folder of all things move-related.

Dealing with utilities: End your utility service one day after your departure at the old place, and start your utilities one day before your arrival at the new place.

Food at your old house – use it up!

Keep some cash on hand to pay for stuff and tip folks who help.

Your transition to (and from) business school can be a great way to create some gap time for yourself to travel or tackle a special project.  It’s your life – take control of the time and use it the best way you can dream up.