How to save money when moving for residency

Here are some specific ways for medical trainees to save on their move.

Timing is everything

When is the exact timing of your move? Are you flexible? Think about your situation: you graduate medical school, pack up, and then move for residency. Right?

Most moving companies are busiest (read: most expensive) between May and September when they know you are likely to move. With Match Day in mid-to-late March, getting an early start on your move can save costs.

Your window of opportunity may be small, depending on your flexibility. For example, if you’re able to live with minimal belongings for a few weeks, try calling moving companies to check their availability in April (rather than May or June). You may be able to negotiate better rates during their offseason and save money, even if you end up paying for storage.

Moving prices are quoted on a sliding scale, depending on the exact days. Even if your months are not flexible, check specific weeks, and days-of-the-week. The middle of the month typically features lower rates, since many leases start and end near the 1st of each month.

When do I start?

What are the requirements for your new job? Do you have orientations or required certification courses before you begin? July 1st has been the traditional clinical start date for residencies, but many programs now require orientations in prior weeks. Find out ASAP after Match Day what your start date will be so you can plan your move accordingly.

Work backward and find a moving partner

You’re moving from City A to City B, so you think to call moving companies in City A to get quotes. Right? But, also make sure to call companies in City B; ask if they have any moves already scheduled to your current area in City A. You may get lucky and find that a company is already planning a one-way move from City B to City A in your time frame, allowing you to negotiate a significantly discounted move. This is a win-win situation for everyone!

Finding a moving partner (that is, someone moving to and from the same cities as you, but in the opposite direction) can be another way to save on costs. Particularly in the medical profession, many medical students and residents are moving to and from the same regional medical centers during the same time frame. As a pair, you have leverage to negotiate a discounted move for both of you.

This was my experience when moving from Saint Louis, MO to Ann Arbor, MI for residency. My initial plan was to use a shipping container. I had friends to help with loading and needed to hire movers to help with unloading. As luck would have it, a company in Ann Arbor that I called happened to be moving an incoming fellow to Saint Louis during my time frame. They offered to do the entire move for $1,500 less than what the shipping container cost and saved me several hours of work.

Take a look at the match lists for local residency programs to see if any of the incoming residents would make a suitable moving partner. Seemingly innocuous conversations around the hospital about your upcoming career plans may also help you find a moving partner. “That’s where our new critical care fellow is coming from,” can turn into an opportunity to save money.

Strength in numbers

Many of your classmates are moving in the same time frame as you. Ask your friends and look at your school’s Match list. You may find opportunities to split a shipping container or moving truck. Get creative! Even if you aren’t moving to the same exact city, regional moving companies may be willing to give you a discount for combining two moves within close proximity. It can’t hurt to ask!

Budgeting and saving up money for your move

Calculate an estimated moving budget. This important step will help you prioritize how you spend your time and money during this process. Relocation costs can be expensive, but they are expected within our profession and something you can plan for in advance. While you may not know your exact destination until Match Day, you should have a good sense for whether you are going to need to relocate well before that. If you are applying primarily to out-of-state programs, save for this throughout the year.

While schools and private organizations offer relocation loans, these should only be used as a last resort. If you are fortunate enough to get a relocation stipend, keep in mind that as of 2018, these benefits are taxed. Ask about the details on how the stipend works. Some employers will write you a check. Others will reimburse you for your costs or be directly billed by an agreed third party. Ask about how and when you will pay the required taxes on this benefit, so you don’t get stuck with a surprise bill.

Final thoughts: time, money and convenience

As with many other financial decisions, the choice on if and how to move your belongings boils down to what’s more valuable: time or money. Unfortunately, as an early-career medical professional, you are likely short on both. However, with careful planning, hopefully, your move will be cost-effective and smooth, allowing you to focus on the new professional chapter in your life.

What do you think? Do you have any tips from your own experience when moving for residency or fellowship?

Arun Ganti is an emergency medicine physician and co-founder and CEO, Backlode.

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