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)


  1. RAnn

    Another piece of advice. If it has been in the storage unit for six months consider whether you really need it. If it has been there a year ask yourself when you will need it and consider whether it is worth what you are paying for it

  2. Jayson @ Monster Piggy Bank

    Gary, now I learned that I gotta start putting a label on each box to save time when looking for and getting items and place the heaviest on the bottom. These are really good tips Gary. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Mel

    I dated a guy who kept most of his life in a storage unit when we worked out on ships together. I was surprised by how much stuff he had that I considered junk and he considered treasures. It’s such a matter of perspective -what’s worth keeping and what’s not.


    I once moved from a house into a JR 1BR apartment and had no place to store my kitchen table or Christmas stuff. Luckily, I found a few good deals by renting a unit closer to the suburbs (I live in a very urban downtown area) and was able to store my stuff for a mere $20 per month. Then, when I recently moved into my larger apartment, that stuff came with me and I absorbed that $20 into my new rent amount. For me it was totally worth it!

  5. Great tips Gary! We rented a storage unit when we were trying to sell our first house. We wanted to clear out the clutter, closets and some furniture while we were showing the property. We sold the house quickly and I attribute some of that to making the house look more presentable and spacious because we moved stuff into storage.

  6. Jack

    I’ve never had to use a storage unit, although I’ve been to a lot of storage unit auctions.

    It never ceases to amaze me what types of junk people will pay good money every month to store.

    II only have two pieces of advice about storage units. Be absolutely ruthless about eliminating junk before during anything, and make sure you have an exit strategy. Otherwise, you end up storing junk for years, just flushing good money down the toilet.

  7. Bram

    It might sound awkward, but negotiating a price is totally okay! Every’s situations are different, so working a deal out could be a huge money saver. I am sure the best self storage rental places will work something out with you.

  8. Freya Shaw

    Very valuable info. Finding a trustworthy storage unit is kind of like finding a trustworthy landlord, except you only really get to deal with the storage company once or twice when you sign up and move in.

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