The rise of the sharing economy

As living costs rise, more of us are making huge savings by sharing goods and services with strangers. Merryn Somerset Webb reports.

Last weekend, we all needed to go in different directions. Making it easy meant using two cars. We only have one car. One too few. In the round of wondering how to manage the pick up and delivery of children to places two hours' drive apart, we discussed buying another car (not that day, but at some point).

Then I rang the car-hire agency down the road and asked what it would cost to rent a car for 24 hours. The answer? I could have a much newer and smarter version of my own diesel Passat for £33 and if I could find it cheaper on Expedia or some such they'd match that price.

I picked it up (ten minutes all in), drove it frantically around the countryside for the day, and returned it the next morning. This also took ten minutes, so less time than I usually spend looking for a parking space. We aren't considering getting a second car anymore.

Subscribe to MoneyWeek

Subscribe to MoneyWeek today and get your first six magazine issues absolutely FREE

Get 6 issues free

Sign up to Money Morning

Don't miss the latest investment and personal finances news, market analysis, plus money-saving tips with our free twice-daily newsletter

Don't miss the latest investment and personal finances news, market analysis, plus money-saving tips with our free twice-daily newsletter

Sign up

Owning a car costs a lot. Add up insurance, road tax, parking permits, breakdown cover, your MOT and the various repairs you might need, and you are well over £1,500 a year before you even start on the cost of the capital to buy the thing in the first place.

I figure we will need a second car around 20 times a year (note that the average car is utterly unused for a good 23 hours a day). Make it £50 a go and that's £1,000. All in.

Better still for me given that I am less short of money than I am of time renting means I don't have to do any administration. No AA. No MOT. No looking for insurance quotes. No service. No winter tyres. No cleaning. Not only is renting cheaper in cash terms, but it takes a whole pile of boring bits of paper off my already over-crowded plate.

I'm not the only one thinking along these lines. As The Mail on Sunday pointed out, the "sharing" or "pay as you live" economy is coming into its own as the cost of living rises: "every second person now rents or shares some goods or services". How can you join in?

There are tons of new websites that allow you to share everything from food ( to pets ( and equipment (, but my bet is that most of us are going to do best sharing cars (via renting, which works for me, or via car clubs) and our houses.

Now I'm in the mood for collaborative consumption (the other name for sharing stuff), I am signing us up to, which I intend to use to persuade people to pay us for the use of our spare room, and to have high hopes for the latter.

It has 47,000 members in 150 countries and all I have to do is find one member who joins me in wanting to swap houses. Then all we need to do is travel to each other's houses. The average holiday saving made? £2,200.

Merryn Somerset Webb

Merryn Somerset Webb started her career in Tokyo at public broadcaster NHK before becoming a Japanese equity broker at what was then Warburgs. She went on to work at SBC and UBS without moving from her desk in Kamiyacho (it was the age of mergers).

After five years in Japan she returned to work in the UK at Paribas. This soon became BNP Paribas. Again, no desk move was required. On leaving the City, Merryn helped The Week magazine with its City pages before becoming the launch editor of MoneyWeek in 2000 and taking on columns first in the Sunday Times and then in 2009 in the Financial Times

Twenty years on, MoneyWeek is the best-selling financial magazine in the UK. Merryn was its Editor in Chief until 2022. She is now a senior columnist at Bloomberg and host of the Merryn Talks Money podcast -  but still writes for Moneyweek monthly. 

Merryn is also is a non executive director of two investment trusts – BlackRock Throgmorton, and the Murray Income Investment Trust.