The pickup truck theory of life.

J. Money, my favorite wedding-gift giver, thinks that plenty of things should be rented, not bought.

Tools. Textbooks. Prom gowns. Coffins.

In this post, the Budgets Are Sexy blogger notes that “we often convince ourselves that purchasing an expensive item will be worth it in the long run – it’ll pay for itself and save money with use over time.”

But really: How many times will the average person use a power washer? A cement saw? Or, for that matter, a coffin?

Which leads me to the Pickup Truck Theory of Life. You don’t need to own a truck – you just need to know someone who owns a truck.

What are friends for?

Or a TV set. I haven’t owned one since 2004, but that was OK – my daughter, Abby, lived right down the hall and would record things she thought I might enjoy. She moved to Phoenix last year, but I’m still OK with not having a television.

Or a car. I gave Abby and her husband my Chevy when they moved, but that’s been OK, too, thanks to public transit. Additionally, my sister lends me her car from time to time. In return, I provide blackberry jam and stand ready to dog-sit the next time she and her husband want to go somewhere.

Reciprocity matters. If your friend with the pickup helps you get that new couch home from the store – or from the home of the folks who placed the Freecycle ad – then there should be something in it for him or her: gas money, a batch of cookies, a gift card, the willingness to help move something heavy some day.

Or maybe all of the above, if Pickup Truck Guy just spent most of the weekend helping you move to a new apartment or house. Yes, friends should be willing to help one another – but pals who go above and beyond should be thanked properly, especially as regards future help.

Don’t be the guy who routinely mooches tools, vehicles or strong backs but is never around when needed. Nobody likes that guy.

Reduce, reuse, reciprocate

Maybe friends and neighbors should buy certain items selectively and/or collectively. Jim Wang wrote a post about sharing expenses with neighbors – in his case, an electric lawn mower that he and the guy next door chipped in to buy for their teeny li’l townhome lawns. (I love electric lawn mowers, too, even when I use them badly.)

For big-ticket or specialty items, this just makes sense. If my neighbor is in construction he or she might regularly use tools that I would need maybe once in my life. I’d gladly lend my rug cleaner to Mr. or Ms. Contractor any old time, in case I some day needed to borrow that cement saw.

To get back to J. Money’s original idea: Such items can also be rented, by committee. If I needed a wood chipper, I’d ask around to see if anyone else had branches that needed mulching. Get three or four people together and my share of the rental fee would feel a lot more reasonable.

Despite what I said about reciprocity, there are times when you should loan stuff just to help out. When I moved into my apartment five years ago I bought a very basic hand truck from Home Depot. It cost less than $25 and it paid for itself the first time I pulled five boxes of stuff down the hallway rather than struggling to carry two boxes.

Since then I have loaned it a dozen or more times to people moving in or moving out; as the manager, I considered it a professional gesture. I quit that job six months ago, but I still lend it to anyone who asks. How many hand trucks does one building need, anyway?

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12 Comments

  1. I was JUST reading a NYTimes article on this like 1o min ago…

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/29/business/29ping.html?hpw

    Apparently in Manhattan there’s automated small appliance borrowing systems on the internet. (What can’t you find in NYC?)

    They recommend two sites called NeighborGoods and ShareSomeSugar.

  2. Me, I’d be thrilled if something like snapgoods came to my neighborhood. I keep looking longlingly at the pressure canner and telling myself I can’t justify the purchase for the number of times I would use it…………………………

  3. I love that idea about sharing expenses with neighbors! What a great way to save money. I swear, whenever I think I’ve learned all I can about how to save money I get hit with a wave of new ideas. I love it.

  4. @Barb – we found a really good pressure canner at the local thrift store for $5 – all it needed was a new gasket ($2.00 at the hardware store). Granted, we do a LOT of canning ourselves – we just did the year’s worth of salmon a few days ago – but next week I’ll be lending it to my sister in return for six jars of tomato sauce, and then to a friend in return for five pounds of pears. Canning jars make the rounds, too; we swap pint, quart, and half-pint jars all the time :-) Is there someone you could go shares with on a canner?

  5. “You don’t need to own a truck – you just need to know someone who owns a truck.”

    Totally agree. Networks!

  6. Wait, can you rent a coffin? Isn’t it some health code violation? Everything else is up for grabs though.

  7. I did NOT know you could rent a coffin! I can’t imagine what the health code violation could possibly be. I mean, you’re already…dead.

    My husband and I have a much-loved, extremely dependable 1995 Geo Prizm that we maintain in pristine condition. It has over 170,000 miles on it, and we keep to its maintenance schedule more rigidly than we do our own health check schedules! One of the things we do to ensure that it lasts a loooong time (it’s our only car, and we live in Dallas, a very car-focused city) is to rent a car when we need to go anywhere beyond two hours of Dallas. For example, if we want to do a getaway to Austin, we’ll rent a compact sedan for the weekend. It can cost over $150 for a weekend when you factor in insurance costs, but it’s nothing compared to a monthly car payment for five years for a new car!

    Cheers,
    Marjorie

  8. Bart's Coffin Rental

    by the day, week, month, or year.

    Ask about our special Enternity packages.

    hahahahaha ;-)

  9. lostAnnfound

    I’m the pickup truck owner. My brother is one who borrows it on occasion for yard waste, Home Depot trips, whatever, and he returns it with a full tank of gas. Same with my dad. That’s pretty good payment for me, considering filling up can cost me about $65-$75, depending on the going price right now.

    In addition, brother owns a 6-seater crossover, so when we had company recently and wanted to take them sight-seeing, I borrowed his vehicle (and returned it with a full tank of gas) :)

    • Donna Freedman

      @lostAnnfound: Gas money or actual gas, a gift card or a batch of brownies — I agree that whatever form you choose you should show your appreciation.
      Thanks for reading.

  10. I would add carpet shampoo machine to the list of items easily borrowed! Just be sure to buy your own chemicals.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Monroe: That was one of the items I originally mentioned but cut! You’re right — if a friend has a carpet cleaner, you can swap its use for your pressure canner or your power washer. And if the owner is elderly or has physical limitations, you could also trade “I’ll clean your living-room carpet if you’ll loan me the cleaner afterwards.”
      Thanks for leaving a comment.

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