The Best 10 Items to Borrow


Before you go all Dave Ramsey on me, this post is NOT about borrowing money. It's about something much more frugal — borrowing stuff. As a cheapskate, I'm an enthusiastic borrower and lender. Not only does borrowing save me money, but lending items actually feels good because it gives me more satisfaction out of my purchase than I could get by using it all alone. As long as it's done politely, borrowing and lending builds a sense of community among family and friends. (See also: Borrowing Money From Friends: The Friendship Killer)

These are the items that lend themselves best to this practice.

1. Housing

A house in my town was burglarized while sitting empty this holiday season. That risk is just one reason why leaving houses and apartments sitting empty is bad. We've lent our house or apartment to friends on vacation over the years, reaping the side benefit of pet sitting, house sitting, and even babysitting. (Don't worry, the friends who were staying at our house and babysitting were close friends, and reliable.) Before you rush to the conclusion that borrowing a home for vacation is cheap, think of it this way — the rich and famous do it all the time.

2. Office Space

Think beyond vacations. If you're a telecommuter in need of office space away from noisy kids, ask see if a friend has unused space during the workday. If they have a pet, they might be delighted for you to camp out at their place in exchange for letting Fido out the backdoor twice a day.

3. Once-a-Year Equipment

Do you need a tool to clean your gutters in the fall, or do you power wash your deck each spring? Ask around before buying or renting — or consider going in on the purchase with a relative or neighbor.

4. Children's Clothing

Everyone loves to see a big poufy dress on a little girl for her first birthday, but why spend $100 on a gown she'll wear for a few hours? My best friend gladly shared her daughter's first birthday dress with my daughter, and then when she got pregnant with another girl, it went right back to her. We just made sure the birthday girls were wearing bibs when they dug into those cakes.

5. Baby Items

It's ridiculous how much you can pay for an infant swing considering how short a time it is used. The more homes my baby equipment goes to, the better I feel about the initial investment. Just make sure you search the Consumer Products Safety Commission database for recalls before you put your baby in any piece of used equipment

6. Books, DVDs, Video Games, and Other Cultural Goods

While these things are of course available at the library, there is something satisfying about reading a good book and then handing it over to a loved — or liked — one to read. And did you know you can now lend some Kindle books to other readers — even to read on a PC or phone?

7. Tools — From a Tool Library

When my husband and I wanted to work on our small condo with limited storage space, we were delighted to find out that there was a tool lending library nearby, so we didn't have to buy everything we needed for the job. Wikipedia has a list of tool lending libraries all over the U.S.

8. Everything for Parties

Who uses a punch bowl except at baby showers? In my extended family, everyone just asks my mom to bring hers. Did you go a little nuts and buy an inflatable jump house for your kids' birthday? You're pretty much going to have to lend that baby out to get your money's worth. Think beyond stuff to spaces, too. My brother borrowed my uncle's beautiful backyard for his wedding ceremony.

9. Musical Instruments

If your child is starting piano lessons and you don't want a new piece of furniture, ask if she can practice in your neighbor's living room each afternoon. And don't forget Freecycle, where neighbors get together to give away unwanted items. A friend just procured a nice drum set for her son via our local group.

10. Cars

I know what you're thinking — too risky, right? Actually, most insurance policies will cover accidents that happen when a borrower is driving your car — but it's important to check in with your insurer to find out their policy and inform them of the loan. Borrowing a car can by handy not only for non-car-owners, but also if you need a larger vehicle for a specific purpose — like picking up your entire Girl Scout troop's cookie order. Borrowing a hot ride for your wedding day can save a bundle, if you have a friend or relative generous enough to hand over the keys.

Borrowing and Lending Guidelines

I mentioned courtesy when borrowing and lending. That means, first and foremost, you have to return what you borrow, or the whole borrowing society begins to crumble. No reading borrowed books in the bath — believe me, I've had to replace too many books that way.

Another tip for borrowers is to be sensitive when asking. You really shouldn't ask to borrow Aunt Millie's fragile antique glassware or your neighbor's big screen TV — even if they're too nice to turn you down. Unless you have a close relationship, limit borrowing requests to low-ticket, durable items. If you want to borrow something more expensive, the most you can really do is hint about your need and leave it for the potential lender to offer if they feel generous.

When lending, it's really important to make it clear when, or if, you need the item back. If you don't say anything about needing those outgrown kids' clothes back, don't be surprised if you come looking for them a year later and I've already passed them on to someone else.

Finally, borrowing and lending must go both ways. No one likes a borrower like Dagwood's neighbor Herb, who was never lending — or even returning!

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Guest's picture

The overall premise is sound, the only caveat would be loaning a car.

I investigated this thoroughly when my wife was driving her aging parents around quite a bit in their car. The insurance company advised them to add her to their policy. The amount of liability afforded the owner might be quite limited. It won't begin to cover the legal expenses if the person has a serious accident resulting in injury to him/herself or others. I'd say renting a car might be more prudent, especially with the amount of litigation that almost always occurs with an accident involving injuries.

Guest's picture

Thanks for this article. I think the books are the best things to borrow.

Guest's picture

Wow, I had no idea there were such things are "Tool Libraries"! Basic tools and repair items can be so expensive, and they spend more time in the garage then being used! Thanks for these great tips, I will be borrowing more items then I thought.

Guest's picture

Great insights, new ideas I never thought or heard of. Thank you

Guest's picture
Thomas Desjardins

I hate when a guy brags about how much money he makes. Then an hour later he wants to borrow your truck, chainsaw, wood splitter, and he wants to borrow your time to stack the wood.

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