The Best Ways to Get Free (and Cheap) Moving Supplies

It’s hard to take the agony out of moving from one home to another, but less difficult to manage the cost.  If you need supplies but don’t want to pay out your ass for them, here’s what you can do.First, let’s talk about what you’re going to need before we get into the process of actually obtaining it on the cheap:

  • Boxes (obviously)
  • Strong, durable tape
  • Carts and dollies
  • Newspaper (for wrapping dishes, etc.)
  • Padding materials (e.g. blankets and bubble wrap)

Depending on your particular move you may or may not need other items, but we’re sticking to the basics here.  Just don’t assume that all these things will suffice.  Plan out your move based on the stuff you’ve got to ensure there aren’t any last-minute surprises.  But in regards to the basics, here’s what will suit most people based on home size:

  • Studio/One bedroom apartment: 15 medium boxes, 10 large boxes, three rolls of tape, 1 newsprint bundle, and 1 small roll of bubble wrap (30 feet)
  • Two or three bedroom apartment: 15-20 small boxes, 15-20 medium boxes, 10-15 large boxes, 4-5 rolls of tape, 1 newsprint bundle, and 1 standard roll of bubble wrap (50 feet).
  • Large home: 20 small boxes, 30-40 medium boxes, 20-30 large boxes, 3-5 wardrobe boxes (get one per bedroom, or more if you have a lot of clothing), 2 newsprint bundles (unless you own few dishes or get dish packing boxes instead), and 1 large roll of bubble wrap (100 feet).
  • Additional items for all homes: A tape gun, a box cutter, and something to label your boxes with (a Sharpie marker being the cheapest option)

If you’re in a mansion, you’re on your own.  I don’t have guesses for you, but perhaps you have servants who will take care of the move for you anyhow!

The Easy Way: Buy on the Cheap

Frugality comes at the cost of convenience.  If you just want to avoid overpaying for boxes, you have a few great options for cheap pre-assembled kits:

  • UHaul sells moving kits as well, though they are the least-comprehensive.  That said, if you want to spend no more than $60 on basics supplies and can fit them all in your car, they’re worth a look.
  • Uline offers moving kits for all home sizes at low prices compared to other vendors.  They also deliver directly to your door so you don’t have to carry a ton of cardboard with you (which is quite heavy, if you’re not familiar).  That said, their kits often include more than most people need for small moves so you may find it more cost-effective to simply order the items you need from their site rather than choose a pre-assembled kit.
  • Amazon sells everything, so it should come at no surprise that they have several moving supply options.  This one bedroom comprehensive kit ($53.75 at the time of this writing) may not fulfill a pack rat, but it comes with a wardrobe kit and an average number of boxes, plus additional supplies.  This two-bedroom kit offers about twice the amount for less than half the cost.  Both ship free via Amazon Prime, which makes Amazon my top choice.  If you need more options, just search for box moving kit.

Get Free Boxes

When you don’t want to pay for boxes, you generally don’t have to.  If you’re wondering why, just ask yourself this question: after other people move, where do all the boxes go?  You might think the recycling or the trash, but you’d often be wrong.  Many city trash services will not pick up items outside of their designated bins without a frustrating approval process.  That’s why boxes often end up on Craigslist instead.

To find them, just search your local Craigslist for “moving boxes” and you’ll find people who want them gone as much as you want them for free.  If you miss one option, there will be others so don’t worry.

If Craigslist isn’t your style, big businesses often get rid of boxes.  Simply ask a store manager at your local supermarket if you want to find a place nearby.  Additionally, furniture stores are an excellent source of boxes.  Pretty much any retail shop will have some, but those two love to give theirs away because of the enormous volume.

Lastly, you can get small boxes for free at the post office.  If you’re too lazy to go yourself, or they don’t have a good selection, just order online for free delivery.

Get Free Labels and Tape

Most places don’t dispose of labels and tape, so you might be wondering how you can get those for free.  Some involve very minor ethical infractions while others just require trading junk for more junk:

  • Get free tape stickers from USPS: The US Postal Service offers free packing supplies for use with their mailing services.  Not only is this a great place to get small boxes, but you can get free Priority Mail and Express stickers (in bulk, too!) that work quite well as a tape substitute.  You’ll still need some actual tape, but these can get the job done for smaller and lighter boxes.
  • Trade in old ink cartridges at Office Depot: Bag up your old ink cartridges and take them to Office Depot (or probably any office store).  You can trade in 10 per month and get about $17 in return.  That should be enough to get you some heavy duty packing tape and a set of labels.
  • Order address labels from the Humane Society: If you want to label your boxes with your new address in case something gets lost, you can get free ones from the Humane Society.  Just fill out this form and wait for them to come in the mail.  If you don’t use them on boxes, you can use them the next time you actually have to mail a physical letter.
  • Steal from the office!  Even if you’ve only done it by accident, pretty much everyone has taken something from the office.  If you work for a big enough company it’s just kind of assumed this will happen from time to time.  But if you want to ease your mind about committing this moral infraction, you have a coupe of options.  First, you can just tell your boss or the office manager that you’re moving and you wondered if you could use some tape and labels.  Second, you can steal the branded tape and labels (e.g. FedEx/UPS/DHL/etc.) because those are provided for free to large business accounts and more can be requested at no cost.  (Of course, you’re then sort of stealing from a shipping company but that’s another issue entirely.)

If you’d rather just do this the easy way, Amazon has very reasonable prices on excellent tape.  I like Scotch Heavy Duty, personally, and you can get it in a four pack for less than $10.  I also recommend getting a tape gun (also under $10) as it will save you a lot of frustration.

Get the Other Stuff for Free

We’ve dealt with tape and boxes, but what about the other helpful bits?  Well, I hate to break it to you but you’re not going to get free moving dollies and carts unless you’re lucky enough to find someone giving those away on Craigslist as well.  (However, when you pick up boxes, don’t hesitate to ask if they’ve got anything else you can relieve them of.)  That said, most everything else you can find for free somewhere:

  • Box Cutters: You can get free box cutters by pretending to be a business and requesting samples from a manufacturer (such as this one).  Just order it (or have your office manager order it) on behalf of your company and you’re good to go.  Otherwise just use an extra, dull knife you already own and don’t mind discarding or paying to have sharpened later on.  (Although be careful with it!)
  • Newsprint: It’s not hard to find free newsprint.  Locate a neighbor who still has a paper delivered each morning and ask them if you can use them for your move after they’ve finished with it.  Most people won’t mind accommodating you if you ask rather than dig through their trash.  (That’s creepy, don’t do it!)  Alternatively, if you go into any metropolitan area you’ll find plenty of free papers just on the street or in coffee shops.  They’re meant to be read and not repurposed for packing, so don’t take too many.  This is more of a last resort.
  • Padding Blankets: I’ve yet to find anyone who gives padding blankets away for no reason, but if you want excellent padding at an exceptionally low cost you need not look farther than IKEA.  KRÅKRIS ($2) and POLARVIDE ($4) are cheap, often discounted by a sale or a free IKEA Family membership, and cost considerably less than their same size in bubble wrap.  They work great for wrapping TVs or anything with a screen as well as dishes.
  • Pens: Walk into an insurance office and ask for a quote.  Then ask for materials before you leave.  You’ll end up with pens and probably an ugly keychain and pocket calendar.  Or go to pretty much any business that makes things, or just looks old school.  You should probably just buy a pen for $1, but you can get them for free if you really want to.

That sums up our list.  Personally, I just like to buy a few boxes and be done with it.  My car is just too small to haul dirty boxes around town. But if you have reason to prefer the frugal methods, as I once did when I had a lot less money, this list should serve you well.  If you find it frustrating at times, just remember I once moved from one apartment to the other by literally carrying everything through the streets of Boston.  The apartments were a mile apart.  I had help with the futon.

6 thoughts on “The Best Ways to Get Free (and Cheap) Moving Supplies”

  1. I love the suggestions for boxes and other supplies based on house size. This summer I am moving into an apartment I had know idea how many boxes I would need to move all my stuff. The list of where to pick up free supplies is so helpful, I will keep it for me and even give it to people I know that are moving.


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