Storage Units: Do’s and Don’ts to Save Money

It's a fact of life today that you may find yourself in a situation where you'll have to rent a storage unit. You see them practically everywhere you go these days and there are a slew of reasons why people are renting them more than ever. Although I have used a storage unit just once in my life, I did my homework first in order to save some money when using a storage unit was my only alternative.

Storage Units: Do's and Don'ts to Save Money

Some of the reasons people use storage units make perfect sense and are almost unavoidable. For example, if you're moving your residence and your new place isn't ready just yet, storage units can be a lifesaver so you can either sell your home (or get out of a lease) when you want and have your belongings protected until move-in day arrives.

Other reasons people tend to rent a storage unit include college students storing their belongings over the summer. Or a merchant running a small business of some kind, like an online website or flea market booth, who needs to store inventory. If your life is in flux due to a divorce or split up with your significant other, you may need storage to house your personal property until you find a new home. Some people have discovered that downsizing their apartments or homes and storing some items is actually cheaper than paying rent or a mortgage for a larger space that they don't really need or use.

Whatever the reason you need to rent a unit, there are some rules you should know and follow to help minimize your costs and save yourself real money.

  1. If you can, only store items of value in a storage unit. I say that because you're spending good money, so make sure it's a necessity. You wouldn't put junk jewelry in your safe deposit box, and the same principle applies to a storage unit. Make sure it's worth the expense.
  2. Before leasing a unit, make sure you have disposed of anything you haven't used in years or will never use again. Those items should be sold, donated, recycled, or thrown away, not stored where it will cost you money.
  3. When you're shopping for a unit, look for discounted spots and negotiate prices. This is a very competitive field and discounts are often given if you ask. Things like getting your first month free, or a discount for using cash rather than credit cards (which cost the merchant a fee), are good incentives to take advantage of. 10-25% off listed prices are very common if you ask for a discount.
  4. Choose the right size unit. The cost of the space you rent is based on its square footage. It is important to pick a unit that fits your purpose and needs. If you're only placing the items for holding until you remove them all, packing high and tight can reduce your space requirements. The storage facilities say that the contents of a one bedroom apartment can be stored in a 50 square foot area. In any event, most have calculators that you can use to select the correct size.
  5. Pack and load with care. The last thing you want to do is damage any of your belongings.
  6. Really large furniture may be better off stored at a friend or family member's home or garage since it may take up such a large part of your unit and cost you extra money.
  7. Make sure you have some form of insurance on your stored property to protect yourself from loss or damage. The unit operators are insured to limited amounts and you may have coverage from your homeowner's or renter's insurance policy, but always check to make sure you aren't at risk. If so, purchase insurance through the facility.
  8. If you're moving, ask your moving company if they have a relationship with a storage facility. You may qualify for a discount.
  9. Storage facilities often have free trucks and equipment (like a hand truck) to help you move in and out. You can also get discounts on boxes and other supplies you may need. Discounts of 25-50% are not uncommon if you ask.
  10. If you share a unit, you can save quite a bit. Since space is cheaper in larger units (based on square footage), you may be able to find a trusted friend or relative to split the cost of a larger unit that will actually be cheaper for each of you to share.

There are also a few do's and don'ts that you should keep in mind:

  • Do determine the type of unit you need: inside or outside, climate controlled, heated or unheated. There are real price differences.
  • Do use all the space in your unit. Draw a plan as you lay out your things and mark boxes so you know what is inside them. Put labels on all sides. Place the heaviest boxes on the bottom.
  • Do place any items you are likely to need in the front of the storage unit for easy access.
  • Do check your unit at least once a month. Make sure your belongings are safe and sound, and promptly report any problems.
  • Do disassemble items to save space, making notes of what you did so you can reassemble them.
  • Don't use plastic to cover things; it retains moisture. Use sheets, moving pads, or blankets instead.
  • Don't store food items.
  • Don't make boxes so heavy you can't carry them when packing.
  • Don't give out your password or gate entry code to anyone.
  • Don't store toxins or flammables for obvious reasons.
  • Don't store your belongings long term without a reason. If you can go years without using them, perhaps you don't need to keep them in the first place.

If you plan carefully and use these guidelines, you can keep the cost of storage down and make sure your items will be good to go when you want and need them.

Have you ever needed a storage unit? What tips and tricks did you learn?

Image courtesy of Flickr, uploaded by Meathead Movers (with changes)