Is it more cost-effective to rent or to own?
Buying Band Instruments on a Budget
by Gary Foreman
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I just read your article about the rent to own question. Your examples are easy ones. What about the difficult ones - namely school band instruments? I read somewhere that the rule of thumb is if they are going to play the instrument for more than 2 years it's cheaper to buy. If they play it for less than 2 years it's cheaper to rent. My husband got stuck with a saxophone and a drum kit. We sold them so we got a little money back. But not what he paid. Our daughter never stuck with one instrument longer than 2 years, but every year we were renting something for her. I returned each instrument when she switched to another. Our son, on the other hand, played the trumpet 2 years. So I purchased a trumpet. Then he played for 2 more years and quit! I'd appreciate your thoughts on this, even though it seems like a no-win situation.
A lot of us share Mary's experience. We have a child who wants to try band or orchestra. And, like good parents, we encourage them. But, we all have the same problem. No one can see into the future. And that means that there's a good chance that you'll end up with an old clarinet in your closet!
Mary's estimate of two years on band instruments is about right. Most instruments will cost between 15 and 30 times as much to buy as they will to rent monthly. So the simplest way of looking at it is to divide the purchase price by the monthly rental to figure out how many months Junior will need to stay with the program.
Will he be interested that long? All you can do is to take your best guess based on other similar circumstances. Some children are naturally more persistent than others.
One thing to consider is why he wants to try this instrument. If his motivation disappears Junior will probably take the earliest opportunity to quit. For instance if his best friend quits don't be surprised when he follows.
A better solution might be to compare renting to buying a used instrument or borrowing. You're not the first parent to face this question. And some of those parents would be glad to recapture the closet space currently occupied by a snare drum.
If you have enough time you might want to run a 'wanted to buy' ad. The school paper would be an excellent place to find a seller.
Look for other ways to avoid buying new. It would be fairly easy for the band teacher or a parent in the class to make a list of parents who will want to sell their instrument when the class is over. That list could be circulated at the beginning of the next school year to parents of band students.
I'd suggest that any parent give serious consideration to renting. The fact is that not too many students will stay with an instrument for more than one year. Many kids start in the early grades. But very few students are involved with band or orchestra as they approach graduation.
And even a student who plays for more than two years can outgrow an instrument. Violins are one example. Student violins are available in special smaller sizes. Your budding virtuoso might get too big for the smaller instrument you purchased.
So unless you're pretty sure that your student will be able to use the exact same instrument for more than a couple of years it's probably best to either buy used or rent.
One final note. The average house in the U.S. has grown from 1100 square feet in the 1950's to 2000 square feet in the 90's. Part of the reason for bigger homes is storage for all the things that we're accumulating.
So follow Mary's example if you buy. When Junior finally lays his horn down for good sell it. Not only will you make a little more space in your closet, but you'll also help another family find a good deal on an instrument.
Gary Foreman is a former financial planner and purchasing manager who founded The Dollar Stretcher.com website and newsletters in 1996. He's the author of How to Conquer Debt No Matter How Much You Have and he's been featured in MSN Money, Yahoo Finance, Fox Business, The Nightly Business Report, US News Money, Credit.com and CreditCards.com. Gary shares his philosophy of money here. Gary is available for audio, video or print interviews. For more info see his media page.
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