Rental Nation: How Everything Can Be Borrowed

BOSTON ( MainStreet) -- Thanks to post-recession budget cutting, environmental concerns and generational austerity, you can rent just about anything these days.

From Segways to llamas and bounce castles, an abundance of sites have launched in recent years that enable consumers to borrow those things they would prefer not to buy -- or can't afford to own.
If you can't afford to buy the shoes and dress for your walk down the red carpet, there are Web sites that will rent them to you. There are also sites where you can rent red carpets. Or virtually anything else.

Want to walk a dog in the park? You can rent a pet. Need a power tool and don't know your neighbors very well? There are peer-to-peer lending services that will do the asking for you.

The flip side to renting is the ability to make extra cash with what you can own or offer. Don't mind strangers stopping by when nature calls? You can use the Web site or mobile app offered as Cloo (as in community + loo), a service that lets registered users -- mostly in urban areas lacking public facilities -- share and use bathrooms for a small fee.

Need a date to your cousin's wedding, a workout partner, local tour guide or wingman? Where dating sites fail, RentAFriend.com -- bringing a concept popular in Japan to the U.S. -- can provide temporary, platonic companionship (it boasts of having 417,000 members to choose from, charging between $10 to $50 an hour).

Sites and services that broker in goods more tangible than friendship include loanables, Share Some Sugar (as in the old sitcom cliche, "Can I borrow a cup of sugar"), Rent-instead.com, Getable and NeighborGoods (which specializes in borrowing among members, rather than cash transactions).

Increasingly, rental services are zeroing in on specific needs. Chegg specializes in textbook rentals. Airbnb provides a means to rent your home. Alternatives to Hertz ( HTZ) and Zipcar ( ZIP), Getaround and RelayRides are peer-to-peer car sharing services.

Belly Bump Boutique, Rent Maternity Wear and The Maternity Closet allow moms to earn back some of what they paid for clothing bought during a pregnancy and their child's early years. BabyPlays.com lets you rent toys and thredUP does the same for kids' clothes.

Rent the Runway was founded to let would-be fashionistas rent designer clothes and accessories they would be otherwise unable to afford, especially for a one-time social event. Bag Borrow or Steal offers a similar opportunity to rent designer handbags and accessories, typically for around $50 to $70 a week, a fraction of what it would cost to buy the latest from Prada, Gucci or Louis Vuitton ( LMVH).

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