Updated on 03.09.12

Buy Fewer Children’s Toys, but Buy Higher Quality Items (68/365)

Trent Hamm

Every so often, Sarah and I go through our children’s toys and set some aside to donate to Goodwill. Our children tend to receive a lot of gifts on their birthdays from their army of loving grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, so they tend to wind up with a large number of toys.

From those toys, we find ourselves pulling out the same type of toys over and over again. Generally, the items are made out of plastic. Generally, they’re not really well constructed.

The toys that stay are the ones that are in good shape and the children play with consistently.

The question then becomes how we can spend our money (when we buy birthday gifts and the like) on items that stay as opposed to items that do not. That way, we’re not simply tossing our money out the door when we do a toy purging.

Buy Fewer Children's Toys, but Buy Higher Quality Items (68/365)

Here are a few tactics we’ve picked up over the years that really work.

First of all, buy fewer toys. Instead of buying ten gifts at Christmas, buy two or three of them for your children to open.

The reason for this isn’t to deprive your child, but to keep away the “diminishing returns” factor. After you receive more than a few gifts at once, it’s impossible to play with and enjoy all of them, so naturally some get pushed to the side based on the momentary interests of the recipient. I’ve witnessed this with myself and with my own children. You’ll find two or three of the items that you particularly enjoy, while the rest get pushed aside.

So why even get the gifts that will be pushed aside? There’s no reason to buy a child a gift that will be largely ignored and eventually sold at a yard sale or given away.

So, what toys do you buy for them? I suggest buying toys that will last. Choose toys that are made well, are very sturdy, and can handle the inevitable wear that comes from children playing with them. Avoid flimsy plastic at all costs.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take your child’s interests into account, of course. If your child likes building, look at a set of Lincoln Logs or Tinker Toys. If your child likes playing with dolls, get a well-built wooden dollhouse. There are well-made toys that line up well with every child’s interests.

Not only that, well-made toys have better resale potential. Eventually, your child will outgrow the toys he or she currently plays with. When that happens, you’ll want to give away or sell the toys. A well-constructed toy that has weathered the wear and tear quite well will be much easier to sell or give away than a beaten toy that’s two steps from the trash bin.

As always, don’t be afraid to look at places like Craigslist for children’s toys. There’s nothing wrong with getting your child a used bucket of building blocks or a used easel as a gift. You’ll get a good item at a discount, your child will have a lasting item, and you’ll still be able to recoup some value when the child outgrows the item.

This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere. Images courtesy of Brittany Lynne Photography, the proprietor of which is my “photography intern” for this project.

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  1. Angie says:

    It’s “artistic” because of the extreme angle right?

  2. Matt says:

    We got our girls some used lots of Duplos off eBay after Christmas (they had some funds from relatives to be used toward toys they’d like). They both have been enjoying them to no end… they have other toys, but the Duplos just keep winning… and the great thing is my wife and I don’t mind playing with them either! I think we paid around $100 up front, but I’m fairly confident that $100 will get us several years of hard play.

  3. Johanna says:

    There is no higher quality toy than gravity-defying Lincoln Logs.

  4. jackie says:

    Are there really people that buy their kids 10 Christmas gifts?

  5. Katie says:

    jackie, yes.

  6. Jane says:

    We probably bought our kids 10 Christmas gifts or even more. It sounds like a lot, but when you break it down it isn’t. For instance, one was a $4.00 Berenstain Bears book. I just like to have lots of things that they can open on Christmas morning, because young kids love the act of opening gifts. We usually get them only one big gift each – usually a $40 or more item. But this year, my one year old’s big gift was a riding car that we bought used at a secondhand store for $10. He didn’t know the difference, and besides, gifts from Santa are usually unwrapped under the tree anyway. We also bought my older son used Thomas tracks and trains on ebay. He didn’t know the difference and we saved a ton of money.

    Obviously when the kids get older I might not be able to get away with this, but I am encouraged by my nephews. They live in a pretty liberal and hippy community, and when they attend their close friends birthday parties, the tradition is for attenders to bring a used toy or something or other that they like. I love this idea. They are 10 and 12.

  7. jim says:

    I probably got closer to 10 gifts as a kid. Mom liked to buy a lot of gifts for us. A lot of the gifts were small value items. We didn’t usually get bigger ticket items. So I’d be more likely to get 10 action figures instead of 1 video game console.

  8. Elaine says:

    Just be careful when you sell or give your children’s things away that it is ok with them. My brother sold my dolls at a garage sale when I was away at school and I was really upset. I intended to keep them for my kids. My own children have over 2,000 kids books (we have a large family and instead of toys for gifts we encouraged giving books) and they have no intention of getting rid of them-they love them and intend to read them all to their kids. They also have treasured toys and dolls that they will always keep. We had our kids star the three things they most wanted on their Christmas lists and then supplemented those with items that fostered creative play-crayons, paints, legos, lincoln logs, blocks, play dough, large pads of newsprint paper. They could always keep themselves entertained.

  9. Kevin says:

    Brittany really needs to work on her “Dutch Tilt.” It doesn’t just work with any composition. And her angle is far too extreme. She also needs to work on her Photoshop skills. Her histograms are virtually all too far to the left (too dark), always.

  10. Mark Gavagan says:

    Yeah I remember Christmas when I was a kid…dad gave me the stack of playboys from the year before that he was done with and mom got me a carton of cigs. Didn’t have to worry about where any of that was going to wind up. Smoked the cigs, and no one wanted the second-hand porn after I got through with it.

  11. Mark Gavagan says:

    Anyone out there? I’d like to have a drink and talk about my childhood.

  12. jim says:

    Hey Mark, what’s up. I’m sitting up having drink too. Fifth of jack daniels, tube of K-Y and some dvds.

  13. EngineerMom says:

    I encourage my parents and in-laws to get second-hand toys for my kids, and I buy most of their gifts at Once Upon a Child, Half-Price Books, or yard sales.

    I agree about getting toys that last. My son plays with a set of blocks my grandfather made for my MOM when she was a kid! Wooden train sets, Lincoln logs, simple wood dollhouses, Duplos, good-quality stuffed animals (doesn’t have to be pricey – the ones at IKEA are surprisingly durable; we’ve washed my son’s Doggy numerous times, and it looks nearly new at over 3 years old), etc.

    I would also add buying things like doll’s clothes at craft fairs, or making your own. They tend to be of a much higher-quality fabric and last a lot longer than the typical cheap clothes that come with the doll.

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