In the past, there has been a social stigma associated with "renting." Whether it's a home, a car or a tuxedo, the inference has been that you rent because you can't afford to buy. If you were wealthier, of course, you'd own and not rent. Wouldn't you?
Because of both the recent recession and peoples' changing lifestyles, renting a wide range of consumer items is now possible. Plus, it may be the best economic move in many cases. Here are some thoughts on when it may make sense to rent instead of buy, along with a few things you probably didn't even know you could rent.
Housing. Buying your own home is part of the American dream, and for most people it has made good financial sense, allowing them to build wealth by acquiring equity and property appreciation instead of simply shelling out rent to a landlord. That model is being called into question, though, with the dramatic decline in real estate values in the past couple of years. Hindsight is 20/20, of course, but many people would have made a killing if they'd sold their homes and started renting before the housing bubble burst. Cashing in your equity by selling your house and renting for your remaining years may appeal to those of you who are tired of worrying about the future value of your homes and the upkeep and expense of homeownership.
Jewelry. Diamonds may be a girl's best friend, but that doesn't mean you need to own them to wear them. Websites like Adorn.com, BlingYourself.com and BagBorroworSteal.com specialize in renting high-end jewelry and fashion accessories for weddings, parties and other special occasions.
Tools. Unless you're planning extensive do-it-yourself projects or you enjoy woodworking and such as a hobby, it often pays to rent the tools you need for a job rather than buy them, particularly specialized — and expensive — power tools. Building-supply and home improvement stores like The Home Depot rent a wide range of construction tools and other equipment, and an increasing number of public libraries are starting to carry a supply of loaner tools, as well.
Cars. Throughout our marriage, we'd always owned two cars. But a couple of years ago when one of them stopped running, I talked my wife into trying to downsize to a single car. To get her to give it a try, I promised her that she could use the car whenever she wanted it. I would schedule my use around hers and I'd rent a car on those occasions when we both simultaneously needed one. Three years later, she agrees that I was right (although she's never actually admitted it). On average, I rent a car one or two days per month (using a nearby company that picks me up and drops me off at home for free), the cost of which is equivalent to what we'd be paying in insurance alone if we still owned a second car. I figure that we save, conservatively, $4,000 per year by not owning a second car when you factor in the cost of the car, insurance and maintenance compared with the cost of occasionally renting a car. Even if you can't give up owning a car, it often pays to rent one for long trips instead of putting the miles on your own vehicle. Most rental cars now include unlimited mileage. You'll also come out way ahead if you rent a fancy car for special occasions and drive your paid-off clunker until it dies.
Caskets. Rental caskets are catching on as a way to save on the cost of funeral arrangements and waste fewer of the Earth's resources. Fancy rental caskets are used for viewings and memorial services, with actual burial being in a less-expensive casket. In the case of cremation, after a body has been displayed in a rental casket it is often cremated in an inexpensive cardboard casket. Federal regulations require funeral homes to offer an economic alternative to traditional caskets for use in cremation.
Textbooks. If you're taking some classes or have a grandchild in college, renting textbooks is a good way to go. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, textbooks for a typical academic year now cost more than $1,000. You can rent textbooks on websites like Skoobit.com, Chegg.com and CampusBookRentals.com for about a third of their cost.
Tech gadgets du jour. Do you rush out to buy the latest high-tech gadgets as soon as they're released and then regret it later? Try renting them before you buy to make sure they're something you really want to own. Websites like Erento.net rent a wide range of state-of-the-art electronics, and iPhoneTrip.com lets you try out the latest smartphones setup for specific locations where you'll be traveling without entering into a service contract or long-term commitment.
Man's best friend. More and more 50+ folks and other people crave the companionship of a pet, but they lack the energy, space and financial resources to care for one full time. Believe it or not, you can now rent a dog through a company called Flexpetz.com, although it's a pretty costly proposition (roughly $100 per month for membership, plus $45 a day for "dog time"). A better option might be to check out local nonprofit organizations (such as PetsforSeniors.org) that provide seniors with pet visitations or pet foster care arrangements, or provide financial and other assistance for seniors in need of a dose of puppy (or kitty) love.
Clothing. Looking back on it now, I kind of wish I had rented that robin-egg blue tux I bought for my senior prom in 1976. Who can predict fashion? With that in mind, a growing number of websites like Weartodaygonetomorrow.com and Dressup.com let you rent the latest designer fashions without having to commit to owning them forever. There's even a website (Kilts-n-Stuff.com) where you can rent Scottish kilts. Now, I wouldn't mind owning one of those … if I can get it in robin-egg blue.
Jeff Yeager is the author of The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches and The Cheapskate Next Door. His website is www.UltimateCheapskate.com and you can friend him on Facebook at JeffYeagerUltimateCheapskate or follow him on Twitter.