Why Buy When You Can Try? Unusual Things You Can Rent

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Getty ImagesRenting and returning -- instead of buying and keeping -- may be a better option.
By Geoff Williams

It's an expensive world.

That's why the renting industry thrives. People rent homes, cars, trucks and movies because not everyone has a bank account with unlimited funds.

Nobody needs to tell you any of this, but it's worth bringing up because you may not be aware just what you can rent these days. And sometimes it's far more practical, from a savings standpoint, to rent and try before you buy, than just go out and spend money on something you may not use or like.

So with that in mind, here are some unusual things you may want to rent, instead of purchase. But this isn't an argument for renting-to-own furniture, electronics or anything else. As a general rule, renting-to-own won't save you money. But if you want to use something for a short time, there are things you could be renting and returning, rather than buying and keeping.

Smartphones. Need a phone? Maybe you dropped yours or had it stolen, and you don't yet have hundreds of dollars lying around to replace it (and you don't want to indefinitely rent a phone through your carrier)? You could use PhoneBum.com, which offers short-term smartphone rentals.

"We offer iPhones and Android phones for just about every carrier," says Sergio Vargas, the founder of PhoneBum.com. "We ship all over the U.S. for free, and the cost of a monthly rental is less than $30."

College Textbooks. CampusBookRentals.com, based in Ogden, Utah, offers a service in which you can rent your college textbooks, rather than buy them. Instead of buying your books for a huge price, and then selling them back to a college book store later, you rent the books for a lower price -- and send them back. According to the website, you'll typically see a savings of 50 to 85 percent for the same new or used book that you could purchase elsewhere. Just remember that you are renting the books. They need to be returned. If you lose them, you'll have to pay a buyout fee, and in the end, you may not save money.

Stuff. There's no pigeonholing what you might rent from heynay.com. It could be anything. William Noto, co-founder and CEO of heynay.com, reels off a list of items you might rent off his website: "A keyboard, meat smoker, post hole digger, a water ski boat, a blender, a hitch for a car ... patio chairs, a drill, a steam mop."

Noto, who lives in Niskayuna, New York, says he came up with the idea of an all-purpose rental site last summer.

"I had to get my weed whacker repaired," he says. Noto sent in his weed whacker to be repaired, but it took so long, "and possibly I missed their calls," he concedes, "that I ended up never weed whacking that summer. I wondered, 'Why do I even own this thing I didn't use once?' The next day, my lawn mower broke, and I wondered if I could use a neighbor's. That was my eureka moment."

Noto created heynay.com, a website that lets neighbors rent their belongings to neighbors. The website is short for, "Hey, neighbor." You just type in your ZIP code and see what people are renting and hope it's something you want to rent.

Drones. Yes, you can rent a drone, from a number of places, like Blue Skies Drone Rental and RentaDrone.com.

Generally, it's fairly cheap to rent a drone, but with some not-so surprising caveats. For instance, you could rent a drone from Lumoid.com for $36 a day, but there is a three-day minimum, and a minimum (refundable) deposit of $650 is required, along with a shipping charge. You might also want to insure the drone through Lumoid, lest something go wrong.

Wearable tech. Most people don't really need a drone, but a lot of people seem to be buying wearable tech like the Fitbit, an activity tracker.

Lumoid also rents those. In most cases, for $25, you can try out five wearable tech items, say a sleep tracking kit, at home for two weeks. If you decide you want the items, then, sure, you can buy them, with that first $25 going toward the purchase price.

Tailgating equipment. If you look around, your area may have a tailgating rental service. That is, if you're a college football fan and want to have a tailgating party but are short on supplies, you could go somewhere like Tailgate Ten in Columbus, Ohio, or Tallahassee Tailgating & Events in Tallahassee, Florida, which will let you rent everything from a tent and table to chairs. You can generally expect to pay about $200 at many of these places, or hundreds more, depending on whether you're going low-frills to renting a trailer with a grill and having someone do the grilling for you.

Arcade equipment. Not sure if you want to spend upward of $1,000 for a Ms. Pacman or Donkey Kong arcade game, but you really enjoyed playing them as a kid?

Most rental services around the country specialize in renting arcade games for company parties, high school after-proms and other types of special or corporate events, but every once in a while you'll find a company that targets families and avid gamers.

"Our company rents out classic arcades for $75 per month," says Seth Peterson, co-founder and CEO of AllYouCanArcade.com, based out of Antioch, California. So far, Peterson says, his company services Sacramento and the San Francisco area.

"Each month our members can keep their games, choose new ones or can cancel at anytime. Pickup and delivery is free, and there are no long-term commitments," he says.

And that is the beauty of renting merchandise for a short time rather than buying outright -- in the right circumstances, it can be an ideal financial strategy for the indecisive, money-challenged or commitment-phobic.
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