The Pickup Truck Theory of Life Can Save You Thousands

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Why buy big-ticket items when you can borrow them? Here's how to be a good, ethical borrower who will save thousands on all sorts of expenses.

J. Money, my favorite wedding-gift giver, thinks that plenty of things should be rented and not bought: Tools. Textbooks. Prom gowns. Coffins.

In this post, the Budgets Are Sexy blogger notes, “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. I rarely watched them, but I knew that I could. (Until she had to delete them to make room in the queue, that is.)

Or a car. I gave Abby and her husband my Chevy when they moved to Phoenix a couple of years ago. But that’s been OK too, thanks to public transit. 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. 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 might regularly use tools that I’d need maybe once in my life. I’d gladly lend my rug cleaner to Mr. or Ms. Contractor any old time, in case I someday 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 paid for itself the first time I pulled five boxes of stuff down the hallway rather than struggling to carry two.

Since then, I’ve loaned it a dozen or more times to people moving in or moving out – as the manager, I considered it a professional gesture. I still lend it to anyone who needs it, even though I quit that job a while back. How many hand trucks does one building need, anyway?

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Stacy Johnson

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