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Rent or buy electronics, clothes, jets, tools

  • Story Highlights
  • Renting is a good idea if you're not sure the purchase will fit your needs
  • It also makes sense when you don't intend to use the item too often or too long
  • You can indulge in luxury items you couldn't otherwise afford
By Kristyn Kusek Lewis
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Real Simple

(REAL SIMPLE) -- These days you can borrow almost anything. Experts share tips on when renting might be the best deal -- and how much you can save.

It costs $60 to rent a Canon Camcorder for a weekend, versus buying one for $900.

It costs $60 to rent a Canon Camcorder for a weekend, versus buying one for $900.

When you're not sure the purchase will fit your needs

Splurging on a new treadmill might not make you work out every day. And a quick test-drive won't tell you if your groceries fit into that cute convertible.

"Rent if you are wavering on an expensive item and feel the need to try it out first," says Cheryl Sherrard, director of financial planning at Rinehart & Associates, an asset-management firm in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Here, some items that may require a spin around the block.

ELECTRONICS

What's available: Digital cameras, camcorders, computers, projectors, GPS devices, PDAs, cell phones, speakers, video-game equipment, and more. Real Simple: How to buy major appliances

Where to find it:
atsrentals.com (camcorders, projectors)
cellhire.com
• gpsplanet.com
meetingtomorrow.com (computers)

Keep in mind: Before renting a communication device (anything that requires connection to a service provider), always inquire about additional usage fees. Real Simple: Money-saving secrets from pros

Cost comparison:

Canon Camcorder
To rent: $60 for a weekend.
To buy: $900.

Macbook Pro (15-inch)
To rent: $250 a week.
To buy: $2,500.

SPORTING GOODS

What's available: Golf clubs, tennis rackets, camping gear, basketball hoops, fitness equipment, surf-boards, ice skates -- you name it.

Where to find it:
golfrentalworld.com
rei.com (outdoor and camping equipment)
us.zilok.com (a peer-to-peer site, like eBay; for renting all kinds of gear)

Keep in mind: Local mom-and-pop sporting-goods stores are more likely to let you rent equipment (and then purchase that same equipment at a discounted price) than national retailers.

Cost comparison:

Kelty Tent
To rent: $40 for three days.
To buy: $170.

Callaway Big Bertha Golf Clubs
To rent: $65 a day.
To buy: $800.

CARS

What's available: You can take a joy ride (before taking the plunge) in pretty much any make or model your heart desires, whether that's the latest hybrid, a Corvette, or a Beetle.

Where to find it:
avis.com, budget.com (Beetles), and hertz.com
ucarshare.com
zipcar.com (hybrids, Mini Coopers)

Keep in mind: A car-sharing program, like Zipcar, can be a cheap option. Many rent by the hour, so you can avoid long-term parking costs, and they don't charge for insurance or gas. RealSimple.com: Save money all year long

Cost comparison:

Mini Cooper
To rent: $80 a day.
To buy: $18,500.

Volkswagen Beetle
To rent: $90 a day.
To buy: $18,500.

When you want to make a special event even more special

Why settle for an ice cream cake when you can rent an ice cream truck? Get tiki torches for your annual luau, a photo booth for your high school reunion -- and a lot of bang for your party bucks.

SPECIAL-EVENT EQUIPMENT

What's available: Linens, tableware, decorations, chandeliers, ice cream trucks, chocolate fountains, bubble machines, photo booths, arcade games, and, yes, jukeboxes!

Where to find it:
classicpartyrentals.com (tableware, cotton-candy machines)
nationalarcaderentals.com (jukeboxes)
• partyoutfitters.com (bouncing castles)

Keep in mind: If you are renting a piece of equipment that requires assembly, like a bouncing castle, make sure the three-hour rental time does not include the hour to set it up and the hour to dismantle it.

Cost comparison:

Jukebox
To rent: $900 a day.
To buy: $2,500.

Cotton-candy machine
To rent: $85 a day.
To buy: $480.

When you don't intend to use the item too often or too long

Fixing things up around the house? Traveling? Hosting houseguests? Don't buy something that will only gather dust after one use. And don't schlep something that will cost you extra luggage fees.

TOOLS AND APPLIANCES

What's available: Power washers, generators, lawn aerators, carpet steam cleaners, electric saws and drills, washing machines and dryers, refrigerators, etc.

Where to find it:

appliancewhse.com and azuma.com (large appliances)
• homedepotrents.com and truevalue.com (specialty tools and hardware supplies)

Keep in mind: For information on how to use rental tools in various projects, go to the Know-How Center at homedepot.com. These instructional pages feature buying guides, how- to videos, and safety tips.

Cost comparison:

Makita Chain Saw
To rent: $60 a day.
To buy: $980.

Kenmore Washer-Dryer
To rent: $35 a month.
To buy: $400 for each appliance.

BABY EQUIPMENT

What's available: High chairs, booster seats, strollers, car seats, cribs, changing tables, safety gates, baby monitors, toys, nursing equipment.

Where to find it:
babysaway.com (strollers, monitors)
babytravelpros.com (cribs, toys)
• Nationwide car-rental companies (car seats)

Keep in mind: Renting makes the most sense for cribs, playpens, and high chairs when traveling; less sense for light strollers, which can be checked at the gate for no additional fee.

Cost comparison:

Bob Jogging Stroller
To rent: $60 a week.
To buy: $150.

Papasan Swing
To rent: $40 a week.
To buy: $150.

When you want to live large ... for a while

If you must tighten your belt -- but wish it could be a Gucci -- this category is for you. "Renting luxury items is worth it when you want a delicious indulgence that you could never pay for otherwise," says Schatsky. And remember -- reading about them here (just to satisfy your curiosity) is absolutely free.

WARDROBE

What's available: Designer bags and sunglasses (Chanel, Hermès, Louis Vuitton, Prada); clothing (Carolina Herrera, See by Chloé, Herve Leger); jewelry (David Yurman, Tiffany & Co.).

Where to find it:

• Avelle (best for designer bags)
blingyourself.com (jewelry, watches)
weartodaygonetomorrow.com (couture)

Keep in mind: At weartodaygonetomorrow.com, use the size chart to determine what's available in your size in multiple labels. If you're unhappy with the fit, you will get a refund for the item, minus shipping.

Cost comparison:

Vintage Birkin Bag
To rent: $615 a week.
To buy: $17,000.

Judith Ripka Ring
To rent: $70 a week.
To buy: $600.

JET-SETTING

What's available: Luxury and vintage cars, private jets, vacation homes, yachts.

Where to find it:

airchartertravel.com
camperandnicholsons.com (yachts)
classiccarhireworld.com
exoticcarrental.com
homeaway.com

Keep in mind: Before renting a home, a plane, or a yacht (one can dream!), read the fine print. A villa's owners may require you to use their cleaning service. And the cost of fuel for a plane, say, can make this indulgence (even more) unaffordable.

Cost comparison:

Villa in Tuscany
To rent: $1,500 a week.
To buy: $92.5 million.

Aston Martin
To rent: $1,250 a day.
To buy: $182,500.

Three steps to renting anything

Step 1: Calculate the item's cost per use.

There are many good reasons for renting. But if the bottom line is your bottom line, knowing an item's cost per use will help you to decide whether to rent it in the first place -- and help you compare rates if you do. The formula is quite simple: Just divide the purchase cost of the item by the number of times that you expect to use it in a given time period, says Marshall Brain, founder of HowStuffWorks.com, an educational site offering product advice.

For example, a carpet steam cleaner might cost $400 and last for five years. If you use it only once in five years, your cost per use is $400, so it's definitely cheaper to rent. But if you use it monthly, the cost per use is less than $7, making it a worthy purchase.

Step 2: Locate the item.

The Web sites listed in this story rent nationally, but when an item is heavy and expensive to ship (read: jukebox) or you're in a rush, it makes sense to rent locally. Check out the American Rental Association's "Rental Store Quick Locator," at RentalHQ.com. Or search for the item along with your ZIP code at iLetYou.com or a peer-to-peer rental site, like Zilok.com. And you might even find the thing you need in the good old Yellow Pages.

Step 3: Ask these questions before you swipe your credit card.

• "Does the rental price include everything?" Watch out for additional costs related to setup and use.

• "Can I see and/or test the item before I rent it?" Case in point: It's a smart move to make sure there are no stains on those party linens.

• "What happens if I lose or damage the rental?" If insurance isn't offered, call your credit-card company, which may automatically cover something that you rent with a gold card or some other enhanced card, says Liz Pulliam Weston, author of Your Credit Score. Also check to see if it is covered under your home owner's or renter's insurance policy.

• "Can I buy the item at a discount after I've rented it?"

• "If I finish using the item earlier than expected, can I get back the remaining portion of the rental cost?"

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