How to Find the Best Parts of the Sharing Economy

From apartments to bikes to parking spots, take advantage of all the opportunities to share.

 Man hiring a bicycle from London's cycle hire docking point
By SHARE

You can't go wrong following the most repeated lesson from kindergarten: Share everything.

It works in adult life, and does much more than leave each party with a warm, fuzzy feeling. That lifelong lesson from kindergarten has evolved into the sharing economy for bikes, cars, rooms, parking spots and pretty much anything that people find worthy of their time and money.

While the sharing isn't always free, it can save users a lot of cash while granting them entry into an economy that's becoming more like a social activity.

"I think sharing websites are popular because they're tapping into a fundamental human drive" that sharing is mutually beneficial, says Jared Krause, CEO and co-founder of the bartering website TradeYa.

Despite the financial and social perks, the sharing economy is not immune to pitfalls. Sharing your car can lead to liability problems. And some users of Airbnb, a room-rental service, can be in danger of breaking the law if they sublet their apartments without charging a hotel tax. That's because certain cities only allow paying customers to spend the night in a hotel, which can be limited by zoning laws to certain areas of a city.

[Read: Would You Rent Out Your Car for $15 an Hour?.]

"When you move to democratization, everyone becomes a small business owner," says Andrew McConnell, who is the co-founder of VacationFutures.com, a wholesale rental marketplace, and a frequent user of ride-sharing services.

While the Internet enables people to rent out their car, house and other items, not everyone wants to deal with the email queries or the day-to-day work required to run a small business.

"Do you really want to put all of your free time into something that you're not as good as a professional who does this full time?" McConnell asks.

But if you're willing to have a little trust in mankind – while still verifying them online – partaking in the sharing economy can be a smart way to save money. Here are some of the best parts of the sharing economy, along with tips to avoid being scammed:

Driving. If you're in a bind or simply need a lift across town, you can hitch a ride with a driver using Lyft, Sidecar, Zipcar, Uber and other smartphone apps. Lyft cars are easily identifiable by the large, pink mustaches on the front, and they offer a professional and branded experience. It's that branded part that is so important, McConnell says.

He says a strong brand that exudes professionalism can help users differentiate between services such as Sidecar, where anyone and any car can offer their services, and others such as Lyft, where drivers are trained to give a fist bump to any passenger getting in the car.

Parking. FlightCar rents out private cars that travelers have parked at airports, helping them get free parking while earning some money during their time away from home. So far it's only available in Los Angeles, Boston and San Francisco.

Users park near the airport then a FlightCar driver drops them off for their departure flight in a towncar. Their car is rented for about $30 per day and FlightCar insures it for up to $1 million when the car is used by a renter.

[Read: 10 Unexpected Costs of Driving.]

For daily parking, services such as Park Circa in San Francisco allow users to share their driveways and parking spaces for less than a lot owned by a business. In London, ParkatmyHouse.com also lets users share driveways, private garages and parking spaces to save up to 70 percent on parking costs.

Apps such as SpotHero, while not part of the sharing economy, can help drivers find parking spots in real-time.

Rooms. If you're going out of town for a while, it makes sense to rent your home and earn a little money while you're gone. Airbnb is one of the most popular services to rent a room, but others of note include Roomorama, VRBO, HomeExchange, BedyCasa and Wimdu.

Like other sharing services, the key to finding a quality room- or home-sharing service is to check if there's a company behind it, says McConnell. This goes back to the importance of finding a branded company that offers the service you want.