David at My Two Dollars recently wrote a great post about why we should stop buying and start borrowing (or renting). There’s a lot that we don’t need to actually own. Frugal Dad pointed out in the comments, for instance, that many people justify owning a larger car as something they need for vacations. But they could just rent a van/SUV for the week or two they’ll be gone.
David suggested that we probably don’t need to own many DVDs. I was hunting through my books tonight and decided that I really didn’t need most of them as well (not that I have any intention of getting rid of them any time soon, I’m a bibliophile and fear scarcity).
What owning does get you is theoretically-guaranteed access to items (couldn’t find Orlando last night and was a little annoyed, since I own it). If I want to watch The Red Shoes in 5 minutes, I can. I won’t have to wait for it to arrive from my queue, or go to my library or video store. I won’t have to worry about someone stealing the last copy.
All this got me thinking about criteria for deciding when we really ought to buy something instead of just borrowing it, renting it, etc.
1) When the item is something we use more than once a month.
For example, I’ve been in love with the Firefly series for the last few years. While it’s not the only thing I watch while doing things around the house, I put on an episode or two to clean/cook/sew with at least once a month. Generally more often.
Many of my DVDs haven’t been watched in a year or more than a few times since I bought them. I could do without those or just rent them.
2) When renting is more expensive.
I also own copies of a few movies I used in semester-long projects for film classes (including The Red Shoes). It was cheaper to buy than rent for 2+ months. Even a Netflix subscription for over 2 months was less than the price of the movies (and I rarely bought movies, so I spent less in a year than I would have on Netflix).
3) When the item is too rare to rent.
Sticking to the DVD collection, there are some items that I probably couldn’t get my hands on easily through your average rental service. I might through a subscription like Netflix…but again, that would cost more than I spend on DVDs in a year.
Two such DVDs I’ve identified from my shelf are Iolanthe and Maurice. In fact, I had to buy Maurice just to see it (I’d already read the book and am quite fond of the author and the producer/director team who made the film). I believe Iolanthe was a gift.
4) When the item might (really) be needed at unpredictable times.
I don’t think you ever need a DVD (in most lines of work) so let’s move to books. Micah needs to own the same copy of the citation/style book that all his students have. This way he can be sure that he’s right when grading their papers. He can even cite the page where they can learn more about their error.
It’s not something he needs too often. There are a number of reputable sites which even have the style info. But he has to have the reference book around whenever a student screws up.
A reference book of CSS hacks might be useful if I can’t find something comperable online.
This can open the door for wiggling, but since you’re the one spending the money/using the space it’s really up to you to make the judgment call here. Just ask yourself “Am I trying too hard to justify this?”
5) Involving a strange psychological attraction to the item.
I can’t even pretend to explain the fixation I have with the book A Thousand Words for Stranger. It’s pretty-well written, the story’s fairly engaging, but I have better books. (disagree? I’ll waive my B.A. in English Lit around a bit and talk about postmodernism… 😉 )
Whatever it is, I feel like I need to have this book around at all times. It can just chill on a bookshelf, but I don’t want to spend a month away from it. I don’t think I’ve been without it in 5 years or more. (Momentary panic as I can’t remember where it is…oh, nevermind.)
Anyway, I needed to acquire a copy. It was used but in good condition. Paperback Swap and whatnot weren’t around back then or I would have looked there first. Fortunately, it’s the only book to ever effect me in such a way.
So those are my 5 criteria for when I really need to buy a book. If I’m not sure whether something meets them, I’ll procrastinate and make excuses to avoid spending the money. If it really ends up falling into a category, I’ll catch on and buy it. Otherwise, the library/video store/etc are quite accessible.
What are yours? When do you rent or borrow instead of buying? Would you like to do it more?