In these tough economic times many people are looking for ways to shave expenses off their budgets. One tried-and-true method is to rent instead of buy. Environmentalists have long pointed out that we can also significantly reduce our impact on the planet if we borrow the things we only need occasionally.
Making new products takes a massive influx of energy and resources, from petroleum products to wood, rubber, metals, minerals and more. The fewer things we buy the less companies will make, and the more savings for all. Plus, buying less cuts packaging waste, a significant problem. Folks in cities are already used to sharing resources such as cars, washing machines and workout equipment, which is part of why urban areas tend to have lower carbon footprints than rural ones. But many of us can go further.
Photo: Skip ODonnell/IStock
For example, many people find that they rarely use the expensive tools they got for Christmas, or that they bought to complete a single project. In fact, studies have shown that the average power tool is used for only about half an hour in its lifetime. Renting (or borrowing) that specialized tool when you need it can save you money, and free up space in your home or garage. Many home improvement stores have great selections for rental. At our local Home Depot we could rent a miter saw for four hours for $30, which is better than buying one for around $150. If you live in Berkeley, California, you can rent a wide range of tools for free with your library card. Perhaps more communities will discover the benefits of Berkeley's popular program.
Photo: Michele Princigalli/Istock
2. Care-free Bikes
Remember that you don't have to be on vacation at Martha's Vineyard in order to rent bikes. City dwellers with very limited storage space may find that they can still enjoy outdoor activity with the occasional rental. And when it comes to bona fide transportation, there are some innovative bike-sharing programs cropping up that make life easier for commuters.
The idea is simple: users register online and get a membership card, which they can swipe to pick up a bike at convenient locked locations throughout town. That way, they don't have to worry about taking a bike on crowded public transit or storing it at home or in the office. The system has proved quite popular in much of Europe, and is just starting to appear stateside, beginning with the nation's capital. An annual subscription to SmartBike DC costs just $40 -- much cheaper than buying a new bike and lock.
Photo: J Muckle/Studio D
3. iPhones and Other Groovy Gadgets
Curious about the iPhone or other hot technology but hesitant to make the expensive commitment of a two-year contract? You may want to consider renting first. Some people find that the luster of the latest goods wears off after they've given them a test drive. Others may need a gadget for a particular event -- impressing classmates at your high school reunion? -- but then wouldn't get much use out of it in daily life.
In a service that's designed for travelers, iPhoneTrip hooks you up with a rental unit for a week (starting at $99), with simple set-up for your destination country. Why not use it to also try before you buy? One can also find an impressive array of gadgets and goods for rent on the online marketplace erento.
4. Party Supplies
Unless you are the Great Gatsby or live in a Dartmouth fraternity, you probably aren't throwing parties all that frequently. So an alternative to spending hundreds of dollars on large numbers of place settings, extra tables and chairs, silverware and other items is to rent for special occasions. Remember, having less stuff may also mean you need less living and storage space -- and that's responsible for a huge part of your environmental footprint.
A number of party rental companies are also greening up their operations in exciting ways, such as by using recycled and sustainable materials, reducing waste, switching to hybrid trucks and even using solar panels.
Photo: Susan Trigg/Istock
In The Long Tail, Chris Anderson sheds some light on the textbook business, which can take a substantial chunk out of student budgets. Anderson writes that textbook makers command high prices because students have little choice. Planned obsolescence means new editions come out frequently, and typically have different page numbers to discourage reuse. You may not always be able to sell back your books when you pass the class, and even if you can you aren't guaranteed a lot of money.
You may be able to bypass the system and save by picking up books from Craigslist or from other students. Or rent textbooks for cheap from Chegg.com. The service is quick and simple, and boasts free shipping on returning books (not unlike Netflix). Plus, Chegg plants a tree for every book users rent, sell or buy. So far more than one million have been planted! Rental costs on Chegg range from about 10% of list price to about 30%.
Photo: Kathy Libby
6. Sports and Fitness Equipment
Many people are familiar with renting ski and snowboard equipment, which often makes sense for those who live in warm climates or who only hit the slopes once a year. That saves on storage and transportation hassles, and can ensure that your gear doesn't go out of date or out of style before you wear it out (no one wants to be the guy on the hill with cable bindings). The same applies to other sports, from surfing to diving, hockey and skating. It's also not a bad idea to try before you buy, to make sure you really want to pursue an activity before you invest hundreds of dollars in it. Plus, it may make sense to rent certain kinds of gear for growing children.
When it comes to exercise machines, how many of us know someone who bought a treadmill only to let it languish in the garage? Consider renting instead from a local dealer or manufacturer. Lots of local sports shops rent equipment, so check in the yellow pages.
7. Camping Gear
Camping gear can also easily cost hundreds of dollars to get outfitted, and many people find that they don't go enough to justify that expense. If you only use a tent once a year, does it make sense to let it moulder in your basement? Lots of local camping shops do a healthy rental business, as do larger chains like Eastern Mountain Sports.
Photo: Li Kim Goh/Istock
Although the concept of renting a pet might seem shocking to some (best friends?), there are circumstances where it might make sense, such as comforting the elderly, testing if a particular breed triggers your allergies or gauging how your family reacts to an animal. Others would like a companion for hikes but can't keep a pet at home. A company called Flexpetz offers customers the chance to spend time with a trained dog for a few hours or at regular intervals. Some of the animals are trained in therapeutic behavior, and a wide range of breeds are available. All are said to be rescued or "rehomed," and when not with a customer they live in the home of a caregiver. Many end up finding permanent homes with customers. Participants can save hundreds of dollars a year on food, supplies, vet bills and other expenses of animal ownership.
Photo: Rich H Legg/Istock
Would you like to enjoy the freshest produce and the calming effect of gorgeous greenery, but have no time or space for a traditional garden? Now you have some options. Many towns offer plots in shared community gardens for rent, although sometimes waiting lists can be several years long. A Dutch company, Rent-a-Garden, is also offering rental of sculptures and potted plants for porches and terraces. Typical rentals last for three months. Those who don't have any gardening supplies or aren't sure if they want to commit to the hobby could end up saving money. As people get ever busier, will this convenience catch on?
Photo: Alex Slobodkin/Istock
10. Solar Panels
The high entry cost for solar panels (typically tens of thousands of dollars) has kept many interested homeowners away from renewable energy. But now more and more companies are exploring rental and lease models. For example, Citizenrē REnU offers rental agreements that require no purchases or hassles with permits or service. Participants normally end up paying less for electricity than they would from their utility over time.
Photo: Photo Works/Istock
The average American funeral costs between $7,000 and $10,000, so it's not surprising that many people are looking for ways to cut costs. A fairly common alternative is to rent an attractive casket for services, then use a cheaper option for burial. Many funeral homes offer the service, which can save customers hundreds.
Photo: Marko Metzinger/Studio D
12. Designer Handbags
Get the Sex and the City look by renting designer handbags instead of buying. It will still cost you plenty, so this isn't for green cheapskates, but at least you won't have a closet full of accessories you never use. Options include Avelle Bag Borrow or Steal or "Be A Fashionista" in the UK and "Shoulder Candy" in Canada. Jewelry, watches, luggage, sunglasses and other items are also rentable.
Become an Avelle member (starting at $9.95 a month) and rent a Louis Vuitton handbag for $43 a week. Elsewhere the same bag retails for $750.
Photo: Eva Serrabassa/ Istock
13. Sex Dolls
A shop in Tokyo (Doll No Mori, or Forest of Dolls) offers a 2,000-yen membership program for renting sex dolls. Creepy perhaps, but at least folks don't have to worry as much about getting caught with a doll lying around the house. And those who want one for a gag may help reduce waste. No word on how the dolls feel about the arrangement.
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