Our Big Move

Mar 11, 2013 by

I don’t write much on this blog about my life because I think, based on nothing, that people who visit Money Counselor aren’t interested in me but rather in personal finance. At least I hope that’s the case because I’m not particularly interesting, and you’re going to be disappointed if you visit here to learn more about me, even if I were to tell you more about me I mean.

But most other money bloggers write a lot—some exclusively—about themselves, and I have found helpful and entertaining some of the self-focused writing done by those who do it well. That said, any post titled in my Reader something like “How My Week Went” is pretty much an automatic skip for me. (The title might as well be “I Couldn’t Think of Anything to Write About But Today’s My Post Day So Here You Go—A Post.”) At any given time I’m following about fifty different bloggers and keeping up with each of their personal lives would, for me, make challenging having one of my own. Maybe I’m the only blogger with this affliction.

I do though think voyeurism and connecting plays a role in the popularity of blogs, and since I’d like this blog to be more widely read, I’ve decided to be a bit more open about my life. Don’t expect a monthly update on our net worth (too personal!), an exposé on what I ate yesterday (too dull!), or details of my weekly activities (too tedious!) . But when I see an intersection between my life and this blog’s mission—helping readers make better money choices—I’ll write about it. Maybe. So here I go.

Our Big Move

In 2009 we relocated from the Twin Cities of Minnesota to Vancouver Island. (Why we made the move is a topic not just for another post but for another blog.) For American readers, Vancouver Island is part of Canada—you remember: the big area just north of the USA, hockey, snow, polar bears, hosers, eh?—and lies off Canada’s west coast. We don’t live in the city of Vancouver, which is not on Vancouver Island but on the British Columbia mainland about 30 miles east of Vancouver Island. The biggest metro area on Vancouver Island surrounds Provincial capital Victoria. (We don’t live there either.) Here’s a map:


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What’s Vancouver Island Have to Do With Making Better Money Choices?

Good question. The answer is that we had to take into account volumes of money-related issues in deciding whether to make The Big Move. Among the more important considerations were employment opportunities (this wasn’t a retirement move), the U.S.-Canadian dollar exchange rate, cost-of-living, real estate prices (in both countries—should we put our U.S house up for sale in the throes of the real estate crash?), taxation, and the direct cost of making the international, 2,000-mile move. Each of these would absorb a single post, or maybe a book. In this post I’ll write a bit about the cost of making the move and how we minimized the cost (though it still cost a lot!).

We Do the Work

Could all of your belongings fit into this?

Could your belongings fit into this?

My wife researched the cost of hiring a moving company to transport our belongings from Minnesota to Vancouver Island. Estimates were in the low five figures! That’s a lot, eh? We quickly realized the only way we could stomach the cost of moving our belongings was to do it ourselves.

We resolved to make do with one of those rental “straight trucks” with a bed no longer than 26 feet. The rental company says these are good for 4-8 rooms. Our three-bedroom house comprised 2,200 square feet, plus a two-car garage, a utility room with lots of storage, and an 8 x 10 outdoor garden shed, all pretty well full. You begin to grasp our challenge.

Downsize With a Capital D

To make the self-move plan work, we had to get rid of a lot of stuff. Nothing motivates like an unbendable physical constraint. We could not move more than would fit into the truck, period. Ahhh, that felt good to me. I’ve always been sort of a minimalist, and when I looked around our home I saw mostly stuff I thought we didn’t need. But then I once lived happily for nearly a year with just what I could get into a VW Jetta sedan while all the rest of my belongings were stored in an Arkansas barn (yet another blog post). And I had room to spare.

We realized that we’d save money by selling furniture we didn’t like much or that was worn out and re-buying on Vancouver Island what clearly we needed once we moved in. I was so pleased to see go a dining set big enough to feed a dozen (I think we had more than two people for dinner three times while we owned this set) and a matching gargantuan cabinet-like thing I guess for showing off china and glassware which we didn’t own. Mostly this monstrosity contained stuff we never used and had forgotten existed. We also rid ourselves of a broken down vibrating recliner and large coffee table from my ‘man cave,’ two smallish couches (one a hide-a-bed), another end table that looked like it came from the set for The Jetsons, an overstuffed chair, two large bookcases, all the furniture in a guest bedroom, and more I can no longer remember.

We had two rather mammoth garage sales, bringing in about $2,000 in total. I found converting useless stuff to cash very satisfying! Considering the average per item selling price was probably $1-$2, you see how much stuff we sold, which is to say stuff we owned that we didn’t really need. My wife loved the garage sale days, and I hated them, except for counting the money after the last scrounger customer had left. I almost kicked a guy off our property who began banging on our closed garage door at 8:55 am, impatient that the advertised 9:00 am start hadn’t yet happened. These people who cruise garage sales are a breed unto their own, I’ll just say that.

We donated tons of stuff, literally. And what could not be sold or given away, we regrettably sent to the landfill, a few large pick-up truck loads worth. (Shocking that we had this much stuff that was so useless it couldn’t be sold or given away, but qualified only as garbage!)

I Attack My Personal Possessions

I’ll guess that I slashed my personal possessions by about about two-thirds. I didn’t have a lot to begin with, so this didn’t make a lot of room in the vision of the truck box we carried in our heads, but still. For example, I had all the notes I took while attending the University of Illinois. I finally conceded that refreshing my knowledge of the Schroedinger Equation is probably not going to be necessary the remainder of my life. I sold or gave away 95% of my books, keeping a 24-volume Mark Twain set, an Edgar Allan Poe volume given to me by my paternal grandfather, Lawrence Revere’s “Playing Blackjack as a Business,” “Your Money or Your Life” by Joe Dominguez  and Vicki Robin, and a few others. I got rid of maybe a quarter of my clothing.

The one thing that still stings a bit was dismantling and selling off in pieces my stereo system, some of which I’d purchased new in 1978. In particular, I really liked the large Advent speakers. I sold them for $75, and that guy got a deal. I may have made a mistake on this one.

It Fits!

For few hundred dollars, we hired a couple guys with moving truck-packing experience—one allegedly a “master packer”—to help us, and in the end our remaining stuff all fit in the 26-foot truck, with maybe 15% of the space to spare! (Darn! We could’ve kept the Jetsons table!)

The drive from Minnesota to Vancouver Island was a lot of fun, especially when the “check engine” light came on in Montana. The truck had cruise control, got about 7.5 miles per gallon, and wouldn’t go over 50 mph uphill. The truck rental cost $1,500 and gasoline cost about $750. All in, I figure we saved in the neighborhood of $15,000 doing it ourselves.

We Just Missed an Amateur Truck Driver Disaster

Thanks to Ms. Money Counselor, we narrowly avoided what might have been a huge “extraordinary” cost. Though these rental straight trucks are fairly easy to drive, the thing we car drivers have to keep front of mind is height. Obviously the box of the truck is much higher than even an SUV, and you’re not used to thinking about that as a car driver. On the very last night of our trip we pulled into a hotel parking lot in Vancouver. My wife went to check in and I sat in the truck cab, sweltering. The weather was extraordinarily warm for these parts, in the 90s F (30s C). When my wife came out and said we were all set, I started the engine and headed straight for the front door of the hotel only because, like many hotels, a big concrete awning covered this check-in and unloading area. Overheated, all I had front of mind was getting into the shade! Did you notice I mentioned a concrete awning? In the nick of time, my wife yelled something—I don’t remember what exactly—but I braked hard, and I stopped just short of slamming the front of the truck’s box into the horizontal awning spanning the entrance. Phew! I would unquestionably have run the truck into the awning if my wife hadn’t stopped me. Gives me the willies still today to think about what might have happened.

Have You Ever Had to Downsize by Half?

I figure we downsized by at least half, probably more. Have you ever tackled a similar project? How did you feel about it before and after? Anxious? Liberated? Relieved? Exhausted?

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  • John S @ Frugal Rules

    We went through this when we moved from San Diego to Omaha. We got rid of so much stuff and wish now that we would’ve sold it and not given it all away. We went the move ourselves route as well. We actually did all the packing and used a company that drove the truck for us. I could not imagine driving a truck that size and probably would’ve killed us or someone else.

    • If I’d hit that hotel awning, I would have been wishing hard that I’d hired someone to drive the truck, as you did!

  • Quite a move and journey! Have to say, B.C. is quite a beautiful place, though admittedly I’ve only visited there a few times. Once as a kid and twice as and adult.
    I’ve moved to a smaller home, and ended up putting things in storage for a while. What a waste of money that was! The smart thing is to purge items and truly downsize, as you guys did.

    • Sometimes temporary storage serves a useful purpose–we used it in 2009 because our Minnesota house sold and closed a couple of months before we could take possession of our new house. As the storage unit was roughly the same volume as the box on the 26-foot truck, renting storage for a while helped us avoid a nasty surprise (it won’t all fit!) when it came time to load up the truck.
      If you make it back to B.C. and to Vancouver Island, let me know and we’ll have to raise a pint to ‘lessons learned the hard way!’

  • Brick By Brick Investing

    You’re not lying that was a monster garage sale! I saw you like Edgar Allen Poe, have you been following the tv show on Fox called “The Following?” If not you should check it out, the cult is based off of Poe. I have actually never heard of vancouver island but it’s geography looks absolutely stunning. Is it easy to move there as an American? How about the job market?

    • BrickByBrick, I’ve not seen The Following, thanks for the suggestion, I’ll check it out.
      Yes, this part of the world is generously endowed with physical beauty, and a mild, if wet, coastal climate–two of the reasons we chose it. No, it’s not easy to move here as an American, unless you can invest at least $400,000 in a business (which we did not). We became Permanent Residents through the “Skilled Worker” avenue. My wife didn’t qualify! Fortunately, I did, only because I have a Master’s degree (my wife does not), which earned me enough incremental points to make the cut. Since we’re married, she got in too. The job market is poor. Most people here cobble together a patchwork of stuff to get by. My wife travels to the States several times a year to do project work (focus group moderating). She could not find similar work locally, even in Vancouver. The best jobs are with government, university, and the health authority. Good pay, good benefits, and stable. In the private sector, on Vancouver Island I think you pretty much have to do your own thing by starting or buying a business to earn more than $20 per hour.

      • Brick By Brick Investing

        Thanks for the insight! I really appreciate it, I looked at those FSW requirements, definitely not easy to come by.

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