14 Things to Borrow, Not Buy

If there’s one thing no one ever tells you about adulthood, it’s how easy it is to accumulate stuff. Let’s face it: Many families have tools, home décor, clothing, and seasonal storage crammed in closets, attics, and, of course, the garage.

And the struggle isn’t limited to those who over-consume. Even minimalist families like mine face these issues, mostly because houses and children lend themselves to accumulating a barrage of worldly goods over time.

Still, it doesn’t have to be that bad. While a certain amount of ongoing storage is inevitable, we do have a choice as to how much “stuff” we actually keep around. By borrowing rarely-used items instead of buying them, for example, families can limit the number of items we have to keep track of and store – not to mention the expense of purchasing them in the first place.

Recently, my husband and I borrowed a friend’s handy carpet cleaning device. A few months ago, we borrowed their tables and chairs for a birthday party. And when we took up our old hardwood floors ourselves last year, we borrowed an awesome nail extractor and a blunt flooring tool from another neighbor.

In the meantime, we’ve loaned out specific items, too — folding tables and chairs, specific dishes and cookware, and my old minivan too many times to count. Even my mom got into the game recently, borrowing our beach tent for a vacation with my sister.

Borrow, Don’t Buy

The benefits of borrowing vs. buying are two-fold for most families. First, not buying something comes with the obvious advantage of not having to spend money on something you’ll rarely use. Second, not buying every tool and gadget under the sun allows you to decrease clutter and simplify your life.

Still, you have to follow a few rules for a successful sharing economy to work. For starters, you should buy tools you use often – or more than a few times per year. If you try to borrow the same tool from someone over and over, that’s a sure sign you probably need one of your own. Plus, you don’t want annoy your friends and neighbors!

Second, you have to be willing to lend out your tools and gear if you expect the same in return. You can’t borrow endlessly without ever having to return the favor. Got it?

But, what should you borrow and never buy? Check out this list for common items most people use rarely, if at all:

#1: Extension Ladders

While nearly everyone needs a basic, multi-purpose step-ladder for use around the home, most people use extension ladders rather infrequently. Maybe you clean your highest gutters out once or twice per year, or need to get a child’s toy or a kite off your roof.

Either way, extension ladders are a great tool for the sharing economy, since most people don’t need one that often. And since they take up a ton of space, they’re a great item to borrow and not own.

#2: Chainsaws

How often do you cut down trees or require a chainsaw for home-related chores? Unless you curate your own firewood, you probably don’t need a chainsaw very often.

If you could borrow one instead of buying it, you could save yourself a bundle along with much-needed garage storage space.

#3: Carpet Cleaners

When your carpets need to be cleaned and you don’t have a carpet cleaning machine of your own, you have a few different choices. You can buy your own, borrow one from a friend, or rent a machine if they’re available in your area.

Several stores near my home (including Walmart) rent out “Rug Doctor” machines for $29.99. If you clean your carpets infrequently, paying that amount – or borrowing a carpet cleaner from a friend – can be a better deal than paying $150 or more for one you’ll barely use.

#4: Paint Sprayer

How often do you use a paint sprayer? Probably as often as you paint your home, which is maybe once every decade or more.

If you can, you should absolutely borrow a paint sprayer instead of purchasing one, or rent one from your local improvement store.

#5: Tables and Chairs

Most of us need extra tables and chairs for special events like garage sales, birthday parties, and big family get-togethers. Unfortunately, even folding tables and chairs can take up a lot of space in your garage or shed. Borrow tables and chairs when you can, and you’ll save both money and space.

#6: Tents and Other Camping Gear

Unless you’re a frequent camper, you should absolutely hold off on purchasing your own tent and camping supplies. Try borrowing some camping gear first. From there, you can decide if camping is a hobby you truly want to invest in.

This rule also extends to camping “extras” like blow-up mattresses and portable stoves. Until you’re sure how often you’ll use them, these items are nothing more than a drain on your wallet.

#7: Formal Wear

Attending a gala or a black-tie affair? Before you rush out to pay $300 or more for a formal gown or a tuxedo, consider renting them instead. Wedding boutiques tend to have tuxedos for rent in nearly any size. It won’t be cheap ($100 and up), but it’s still savings unless you need to rent a tuxedo over and over again.

Ladies can borrow gowns from family or friends, or take advantage of web-based rental services like RenttheRunway.com or LendingLuxury.com.

#8: Specialized Tools

Specific-use hammers, nail extraction devices, and specialty tools are perfect for the sharing economy since they cost quite a bit of money but people use them infrequently. If you have a specialty tool (or several), make sure your family and friends know it’s available. On the flip side, ask around to see who has specialty tools before you invest in something you may only need for a single project.

#9: Outdoor Sporting Equipment

So, you’re going skiing. That’s great, but you don’t need to rush out and spend $500 or more on your own gear. Before you go skiing, rock climbing, long-distance hiking, or scuba diving, make sure you check around to see what can be borrowed or rented first.

Most of the time, you’ll be a lot better off if you rent gear while you figure out exactly what you want and how often you’ll use it.

#10: Books

Since books are relatively inexpensive and don’t take up a lot of space, it’s fairly reasonable to consider buying the books you want to read. On the flip side, you can save money (and trees!) by borrowing books instead. Consider borrowing books from friends, starting a book club in your neighborhood, or paying a visit to your local library.

#11: Items for a Wedding

Your wedding will (hopefully) be a once-in-a-lifetime event. As a result, nearly anything you could borrow or rent could be a boon for your finances.

As you dive into the planning phase, ask around to see if people you know have wedding gear you could borrow. Perhaps you could find table décor you could refashion with your own style and colors. You could borrow chair covers or a wedding arch. Heck, you could even borrow a wedding dress unless you’re dead-set on buying your own.

#12: Baby Gear

While some baby items shouldn’t be passed around, most reusable baby gear is perfect for the borrowing economy. This is especially true when it comes to gear that is outgrown quickly – things like car seats (that aren’t expired and have never been in a wreck), high chairs, toys, and baby swings.

Your baby might use a swing for what – six months? A bouncy seat can be used for six or eight months if you’re lucky. If you have a family member or friend with children of different ages than your own, you might be able to borrow a swing for a while and save $100 or more.

#13: Luggage

If you don’t travel often, you may not need your own set of luggage. If you can borrow a carry-on bag or use any kind of gym bag you already own, you’ll save money. If you start traveling more often, you can always buy your own luggage set down the line.

While not buying luggage is a money-saver, an even more important consideration is space. Luggage is cumbersome and difficult to store, taking up more space than most household goods. By never having your own set, you can save storage space in your closet, attic, or garage.

#14: Trucks

So many people keep trucks for those random occurrences where they must move something big. Perhaps it’s a coffee table or sofa, or a yard of mulch in spring. Whatever it is, a truck is absolutely necessary to expedite the process.

At least, that’s what people tell themselves. The thing is, you’re probably wasting money if you’re keeping a truck for the singular purpose of hauling around big items once a year or so. After all, you can rent a truck from Home Depot and other home improvement stores for as little as $19.99 per day.

The Bottom Line

While you might feel uncomfortable asking family and friends to borrow stuff all the time, doing so actually makes a lot of sense. By not buying every tool or piece of gear you’ll need during your lifetime, you can save time, your sanity, space in your home and, of course, a ton of money.

The key to borrowing without guilt is making sure you’re willing to loan out your useful items as well. It’s also crucial to treat other people’s property with utmost care and respect.

If you treat other people (and their stuff) the way you want to be treated, you have nothing to worry about.

Holly Johnson is an award-winning personal finance writer and the author of Zero Down Your Debt. Johnson shares her obsession with frugality, budgeting, and travel at ClubThrifty.com.

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What tools do you borrow to save money? Do you share your tools and gear with other people?

Holly Johnson

Contributing Writer

Holly Johnson is a frugality expert and award-winning writer who is obsessed with personal finance and getting the most out of life. A lifelong resident of Indiana, she enjoys gardening, reading, and traveling the world with her husband and two children. In addition to The Simple Dollar, Holly writes for well-known publications such as U.S. News & World Report Travel, PolicyGenius, Travel Pulse, and Frugal Travel Guy. Holly also owns Club Thrifty.