The U.S. economy may be starting to show signs of life, but that's not stopping many people from begging, borrowing and stealing to make sure their cash goes a little further. And while some the largest U.S. banks and Bernard Madoff might have cornered the market on the "begging" and "stealing" parts, respectively, consumers have an ever-widening array of methods for handling of the "borrowing" part, and with far more pride and less public scrutiny.
With that in mind, here's are a few unusual items people can save money on by renting instead of buying.
Loan Riders: Car Rims
The license plate frame on your car may say "Don't laugh, it's paid for," but that doesn't mean its bling has to be. Whether you're pimping the ride or tricking the truck, dozens of stores across the U.S. let customers rent car rims. For as little as $20 a week for a set of 20-inch rims, customers can start rent-to-own programs at chains such as EZ Rims 4 Rent, which has a half-dozen stores in California and Nevada, and RimTyme, which operates primarily out of the Southeast. Both companies offer the option of returning the rims and canceling the rental agreement if your financial situation -- or mind -- changes.
Fashion Forward: Handbags
If you take pride in the logo that's on your handbag, but still care about how much cash is actually in it, take heart. Some companies will let you rent the perfect fashion accessory for a few days. Orange County, Calif.-based BagTropolis offers short-term possession of Chanel, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Marc Jacobs and a half-dozen other brands whose retail prices often run well into the thousands of dollars. Rentals range from $20 a week to about $300 a month, and the company, which takes orders online, can ship the same day as the order.
Ratchet Up the Savings: Tools
Now that average U.S. home prices having dropped back to 2003 levels, lots of folks are figuring that it's better to fix up the home they have than to sell it at a loss and try to secure financing from that oh-so-cautious bank. The good news is that you don't even have to buy the tools to tackle your projects. Some of the biggest home-improvement chains let people rent tools by the hour or day.
Home Depot (HD) offers rentals of more than 300 tools at about half of its nearly 2,000 U.S. stores. Machinery is a big draw, with carpet cleaners fetching for $18 for a four-hour rental.
"The rental business has shown strong demand as DIY customers tackle more projects," says David Dorton, vice president of tool rental for Home Depot. And if you really want to save cash, cities such as Berkeley, Calif., and Portland, Ore., have public libraries that offer tool rentals to people who show proof of city residency, meaning you can borrow everything from a hammer to a portable workbench to a carpet power stretcher. You even get charged a late fee if you bring the tool back after the checkout period expires, just like you were a kid again.
Talk of the Town: iPhones
Apple (AAPL) may be selling its iPhones to 15 million people every quarter, but that doesn't mean you need to be one of them, at least for the short term. If you're stuck in your existing mobile phone plan and don't want to shell out the $500 or so for a 3G phone, there are companies that offer people the chance to test drive iPhones before being lured into Steve Jobs's web of influence. InTouch USA charges $89 a week and $240 a month, while iPhone Trip offers iPhone and SIM Card plans that start at $11 a day for people who either want to try out the iPhone or take it on an overseas trip.
Last Chance to Save: Caskets
Your final financial decision may be a smart one if you decide ahead of time that you don't need to own your casket eternally. The concept is more compromise than creepy. For families who want a public viewing or service for a person whose remains will be cremated, some funeral homes offer the option of renting a casket. These caskets, which can cost as much as $10,000 when purchased -- are fitted with "inner containers" that can be removed along with the deceased, leaving the rest of the casket available for reuse, and giving the family one last reason to toast your frugality.