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By Carol Church

In part 1 of this series, we discussed the increasing popularity of renting some consumer goods, and why renting appeals to military families. In part 2, we’ll talk about things to consider when making the rent vs. buy decision, and items experts commonly advise for and against renting.

What to Consider When Deciding Whether to Rent or Buy

When is it a good time to rent, and when isn’t it? Experts advise considering these factors:

How often will you use the item?

If you’ll only pull out that (tent, kayak, circular saw, etc.) two or three times a year, renting is probably the better choice. If you anticipate frequent or long use, don’t rent.

2 people laying down inside a tent

Temmu R/, CC0

How many times or for how long would you have to rent it before rental costs equal the cost of purchase?

For something like a large fishing boat, you’d have to rent it many times to even approach the cost of purchase. On the other hands, items available at typical rent-to-own stores could typically easily be bought for what you’d pay to rent for a fairly short time.

What is your commitment to this item or to the activity that the item is for?

Ask yourself honestly: will I continue to use this? If the time of high interest is short (as with a video game) or if you’re really not sure if the interest or need will last (as with a fancy tool or a piece of equipment for a new sport), it may be wise to consider renting.

How difficult is the item to store and maintain?

How much space do you have? Will you be moving soon, and if so, are you going to want to bring this item? Does the item need care and maintenance on a regular basis—and do you want to provide it? Might you actually have to pay to store it? All these factors should be considered.

Who are you renting from and what are the terms and conditions?

Some rental services are convenience-oriented, some are for luxury-lovers, some are looking to rake in as much profit as possible, and others are trying to appeal to people on a budget. Renters should consider who they’re renting from when thinking about whether this rental is a good choice.

They should also look carefully at the conditions and terms.  Are there late fees? What if the item breaks while you have it? Have you looked at the company’s reputation online to make sure they’re not known for poor business practices?

What to Rent, and What Not To

Although every situation is a little bit different, in general, there are some items that financial experts do and don’t advise people to rent.

Good candidates for renting:


There’s a reason a boat is sometimes jokingly described as “a hole in the water that you throw money into.” Although renting a boat can look costly upfront, these expenses still aren’t likely to compare to the sums you’ll spend on buying, maintaining, and storing your own watercraft.

Musical instruments

Is Junior starting the saxophone? Music teachers and money coaches alike suggest renting a quality instrument from a reliable music store until you’re sure the habit will “stick.”

Movies and video games

For most people, these are short-use or even one-use items. Accumulating the physical version may not make sense.

Vacation homes

Does owning your own cabin in the woods seem tempting? Unless you have the time, energy, and know-how to rent it out to others, this is often another money sink.

Poor candidates for renting:

Furniture and personal electronics

Experts have long warned against “rent-to-own” businesses that offer short- and long-term rentals of items like electronics and furniture while allowing you the option to buy those items. While they may be appealing to those with limited cash or poor credit, the concern is that consumers end up paying way more than the items is worth if they eventually do buy it. The businesses are also often accused of various shady practices, and even of preying in particular on the military.

However, this equation may sometimes look a little different for those in very short-term living situations. In a few limited cases, it might sometimes make sense to rent furniture briefly. However, it’s almost never a good idea to try to buy what you’ve rented, as you will overpay.

Leased cars

Financial experts typically advise against leasing cars, considering it an option mainly for self-employed people who can consider it a business expense, or those with a lot of disposable income. Why? Although monthly payments may appear lower, hidden costs can be high and include mileage overages, early termination penalties (almost all leases run 3 years), damage fees (they can keep your security deposit), higher insurance, unneeded extended warranties, and more. What’s more, leases often have special dangers for service members, since their location and needs may change with no notice (did you know you typically cannot move a car lease to another state?) The Service Members Civil Relief Act (SCRA) does provide some protections for military in this situation, but it’s likely to be best not to even get started with car leasing.

Stay tuned for part 3 of this series, where we’ll introduce you to some of the interesting rental options available today.



Bruce, K. (n.d.) 5 Things You Should Rent Instead of Buy (And 10 Things You Didn’t Know You Could Rent). Retrieved from

Yeager, J. (2015). 10 things you should rent instead of buy. Retrieved from

Presidio of Monterey. (n.d.) Car leases. Retrieved from