Why buy when you can borrow?
Websites connect lenders and borrowers of clothes, tools and more.
Borrowing a cup of sugar -- or anything else, for that matter -- from a neighbor has gone high-tech.
Consumer confidence this month hit its lowest point in nearly a year, and people are still spending cautiously. June retail sales were 0.5% lower than May, but 3.3% higher than last year, according to the National Retail Federation. A growing number of free websites are capitalizing on that spending reluctance by encouraging people to borrow what they need instead of buy it.
Borrowing is a sign of the tight economic times, but it's more than simple economizing, says Kit Yarrow, a professor of psychology and marketing at Golden Gate University in San Francisco. "There's been a trend for some time toward temporary ownership," she says. "People don't tend to invest in products to keep." Younger generations have grown up sharing clothes and media, and already look to renting and swapping sites as a way to broaden their access.
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Of course, the financial aspect is tempting, too. "Certainly there's some value in borrowing for people on a budget," says certified financial planner Jason Eliason, chief operating officer for Waller Financial Planning Group in Columbus, Ohio.
Before you sign on to borrow or lend, make sure you're well-prepared:
Ask around. Before you resort to relying on strangers for those extra lawn chairs or sewing machine, ask your own network, says Tawra Kellam, founder of frugal-living resource Living on a Dime. For consumers with lots of borrowing-minded friends, ShareSomeSugar.com, NeighborGoods.net, Frenting.com and ThingLoop.com all let users pull together a network using e-mail contacts.
Create a contract. Clearly communicate your expectations as a lender or borrower, Eliason says. Discuss time frame, care of the item, and liability if something happens to it. (The general expectation: Return it in the same condition as it was received or better, and replace it if it breaks.) Use free tracking site ReturnMyPants.com to keep tabs.
Watch for fees. Although the sites themselves are free, lenders may require borrowers to make a security deposit before walking away with a potentially valuable item. BorrowingCircle.com charges late fees of 10 cents a day for books and 20 cents a day for movies. Half of the collected fees go to the site, the rest to the item's lender.
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Use good etiquette. "Don't be a person who always borrows and never gives back," Kellam says. Borrowing sites thrive on an active community. If you like the idea, be prepared to list an item or two to lend. If you don't have anything to lend in return to a borrowing partner, at least follow up with a handwritten thank-you card, she says.
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