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Criteria for Buying vs. Borrowing or Renting

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 inย  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… ๐Ÿ˜‰ )

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?

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Four Pillars July 9, 2008 at 1:18 pm

This is a great topic.

I think sports equipment might be another area where rentals can sometime make sense. Frugal Dad wrote this week about how renting a vacation property or RV is often a good idea vs buying.


Lori E. July 9, 2008 at 1:35 pm

They made Maurice into a movie? And with Hugh Grant? How did I miss that? I love E. M. Forster. Thanks for the info… I’ll have to check that out.

Christine July 9, 2008 at 1:35 pm

I rarely buy books anymore, now that people have begun sending me free ones in the mail (required reading for courses excepted).

I do try to reciprocate, through BookMooch and such…

Julie B. July 9, 2008 at 1:43 pm

I’ve gotten rid of some DVD’s that I no longer watched at You can either use the credits to get different DVD’s, or transfer them to for books.

Gamer Girl July 9, 2008 at 1:47 pm

Books are my danger zone, so I’ve taken to going to the library. I’m a biblo-slut (I read more than one book at a time *winks*), which makes the library a very dangerous place. Fines are nasty and when you take out say fifteen books at a time and miss even one day you can be SOL. Still, I will say that even with fines it costs less for me to “rent” my books than buy them.

Yet, I’d have to put books I’ve read more than three times on the list of must owns. I have one book that I lost (after having read it five times) and I’ve been looking for it ever since. And I have a book that I only read once, but finding it again took so much time and effort that I can’t give it up for fear I’ll never find it again. your #5

And my reference books (obscure psychology and archeology titles) are going *nowhere*. They were hard enough to find in the first place. The probably falls under your #3-4

Eden July 9, 2008 at 1:56 pm

Those are some good tips. This is something I’m working on lately as I try to eliminate clutter. I realize I have a lot of stuff I don’t need to own. Books, DVDs, and CDs seem to be an area with lots of room for improvement.

RacerX July 9, 2008 at 3:34 pm

All my stuff would be gone then!

Personally I like my hobby collection. Being a movie buff I like to be able to think about a movie and have it handy to watch or share with a friend.

BUT>>>It does all fell into the George Carlin bit about why we move…’cause we need more room for our stuff!

Cath Lawson July 9, 2008 at 4:55 pm

Hi Mrs M – Video’s can be a waste can’t they? It’s even worse when you buy one and you wind up not liking it.

I like your idea on just renting a car when you need one. I’m getting to the point where I’m thinking we’d be better off just using public transport. We’re already walking a whole lot more since the fuel prices rocketed.

Livingalmostlarge July 9, 2008 at 6:07 pm

I borrow books from the library. But I buy books I really love.

But DH and I rent tools. We rented a chainsaw because we needed it for a tree stump. But we haven’t needed it since. We bought a ladder that we use only occasionally but we know it will last for years. But there are a lot of tools which are for a one time use that shouldn’t necessarily be purchased. Yes renting can be expensive, but you also need the space to storage those power tools!

mrsmicah July 9, 2008 at 6:23 pm

@LAL, storage space is a big deal for us with a 1-bedroom apartment. Even in a house it’s always nice to have more space. My parents lived in the same house for 20 years and you just accumulate stuff.

Cathie July 9, 2008 at 7:39 pm

Unfortunately, books are my downfall, frugally speaking. I can spend hours perusing thrift store bookshelves, because really, who could possibly resist a great book for 50 cents? And all too often, I find them. I am seriously considering letting some go, although I too have my “must haves.”

Pete July 9, 2008 at 10:08 pm

I accumulated hundreds of CDs and DVDs over the years. A couple years ago I found a website where you can trade all your movies and music in – and get an Ipod (or a xbox, tv, or whatever) in return.

Now i’m thinking about sending in the rest of the DVDs we have to get a camera ๐Ÿ™‚

Megan July 9, 2008 at 10:20 pm

I have a similar problem with books, though I’m getting good at bookswap sites. Well, better at it. A Thousand Words For Stranger looks like a good book – I’ll have to check it out. I’m that way about Ender’s Game – I have two copies around at all times: one to loan and one for me.

Also, great to find yet another Firefly fan out there!

David July 10, 2008 at 12:42 am

Great post Mrs. Micah – it is amazing how stuff just builds up until you have too much of it. Oh, the things we think we need at the time!

Bonnie July 10, 2008 at 8:42 am

several times a year I take inventory of my DVDs, CDs, and books. It’s always said that you should donate clothes that you haven’t worn in a year, and I try to follow that with other items. I have a much greater attachment to books than to other items, though…which explains why my DVD, CD, and vinyl collections are MUCH more streamlined than the overflowing shelves of books. ๐Ÿ™‚

L@spillingbuckets July 10, 2008 at 10:24 am

Living in a one bedroom apartment with limited storage really makes you question purchases. We wanted to buy a rug cleaner/steamer but didn’t have the space (and would only use it once every 6 mo. or so) so we rent the rug doctor. We don’t buy a lot of books or dvds for the same reason – lack of storage space.

It’s easy to fill a house with stuff when you first move in and have so many open closets – it takes effort to keep stuff in check. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Canadian July 10, 2008 at 5:29 pm

I don’t have many DVDs but I do have books. I have tried to reduce my book collection and make it fit within the space I have allotted for it. I keep books that are obscure and I think I might have a hard time finding at a public library when I want them. I keep books I love and reread often. I keep reference books related to language, my faith, my hobbies, etc. I have a few “special collections” on a particular topic or whatever. I don’t keep books I don’t think I’ll want to reread in the next 5 years. I don’t keep books that should be available at any public library (e.g. Jane Austen, Shakespeare).

Mrs Micah's Mom July 11, 2008 at 11:15 am

People do say that if you don’t use a garment in a year, you should get rid of it. I tended to keep mine, and some came back in fashion in time for my children to wear them!

Scott@ The Passive Dad July 13, 2008 at 3:10 pm

The only dvd’s we purchase anymore are for the kids. My daughter loves Snow White and we couldn’t find it anywhere. All the video stores said they were out. I decided to invest in Snow White on ebay as it was selling for $40. A good little return, if you purchased it for $19.99 when it first came out.
We utilize the kids dvds for long car trips when we are in the car for over 4 hours.

Faye July 14, 2008 at 1:04 am

I’m a book lover, too! Here in the Philippines, I buy books because we have a crappy library system. I usually buy from thrift bookstores, with my favorite titles being sold at a dollar or less.

Back in Florida, I love, love, LOVE the library system. I borrow books from them once a week, checking out 5-7 books at a time. Good thing about it is that I can manage my account online, and I can renew books online, too, as long as nobody else wants to check them out.

Another blessing that the library system has given me is that they have Overdrive. My favorite self-help legal books by Nolo are available here, and I can borrow them for 28 days, and borrow it again as long as it’s not on hold.

I’m much more happier with borrowing unless it’s needed for education purposes. This time, I start paying cash.

Glad to hear there are a lot of book lovers, like me.

As for DVDs, I’d rather rent them from Netflix.

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