Top 5 Things to Rent vs. Buy in NYC

No, I’m not talking about houses – it takes no careful analysis to know whether your income, savings or inheritance (for the lucky) can permit the luxury of purchasing your NY standard 500 square foot apartment. No, I’m talking about all the quasi-consumables. Ice skates and bicycles, tuxedos and fancy dresses. This isn’t like choosing whether to make your girlfriend your wife (although mixed signals with your bicycle could cause similar bodily harm). These decisions are only emotional in so much as your crowded apartment effects your psyche. When adapting your lifestyle to NYC’s space constraints, you’ve got to get practical and make some tradeoffs.

Now I’ll admit that historically I’ve been a hoarder. I’ve got toys from the beloved Love Saves the Day (RIP) that I’m glad to have kept. But beyond a few choice mementos, my frequent moves and witnessing of various grandparents’ downsizing experiences has led me to embrace the asset-light life style. However, this must be carefully balanced against your actually daily experience. You want just enough stuff to feel the freedom to be comfortable, but not so much that you’re tripping and swimming in it. Here are what I consider to be the Top 5 Rent vs. Buy decisions for young adults, moving every year, from small apartment to small apartment.

Fancy dress – Buy

This answer differs slightly for men and women. My start-up uniformed fiancé (shirt and jeans) confirms that every man should have a tuxedo. I must agree for lack of first hand experience. For women, I also think it’s important to have a few staples: Your LBD, and a couple of cocktail dresses. Beyond that, particularly if you get into ball gown territory, you have to start looking at expected utilization of a prospective dress versus the cost of purchasing it. A CMU paper estimates that Rent the Runway charges roughly one tenth of the retail price of a dress on average. That means you would need to expect to wear a dress 10 times to make it more valuable to buy. Ask the average girl on the street, and most of them only expect to get 6-7 wears out of a dress. Of course there is some emotional satisfaction in knowing you have abeautiful dress at hand that looks gorgeous on you, and that should factor in, too. As should your closet space.

Bicycle – Rent

Now this brings in not just utilization, but safety and convenience factors. Owning your own bike means finding a parking space whenever you plan to use it and having a sufficiently high (or low) quality, that it can’t easily be stripped (or tempt stripping). For convenience in the way of no storage or property concerns, Citi bike wins easily. On the other hand, if you want to have more personal control over the quality of the breaks and steering, having your own bike is a better guarantee of quality. There are also a number of creative indoor bike racks that conserve in-apartment space – though this may still not be a full solution for walk-ups. So in short, it depends.

Partyware – Rent

Ok, this comes down almost purely to space constraints. Funky drink glasses can likely be accommodated. Extra chairs are more questionable. Most Manhattanites opt for standing parties over sizable dinner parties, no doubt subconsciously because of this constraint. But if you are gearing up for a Friendsgiving, you may just want to rent some chairs and a table. can rent a rectangular table and 8 chairs for less than $30 a day. So spare yourself the overstuffed closet.

Powertools – If you rent, rent; if you own, buy

This is a tough one, because you may just think “I’ll need that tool again some day”. We ended up buying parts to what added up to a $90 hole in the wall to run our internet cables in the closet to tidy up our living room. Would a rental have been possible? Home Depot makes anything look possible.

Let’s start with the basics: everyone should have a drill. Beyond that, the basic heuristic is, if you’re going to hire someone with the tool already, don’t buy it. And for small projects, if you rent, rent, and if you own, buy.

Holiday Decorations – Rent

Now that Turkey Day has come and gone, we’ve definitely had this question for Christmas Trees! This is more of a buy-and-keep or buy-and-throw-out decision for apartments, though there are plenty of rental businesses serving storefronts and the like. The reality is, plastic trees suck anyway, and there’s no way I’m giving up closet space for one. We went for the real deal. More on that on my next post about Christmas Tree pricing.

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