Kids are expensive--it's a fact of life. If you're like many parents, you may just grin and bear it while forking over a hundred or more dollars for the latest, greatest toys. After all, you could argue that they're worth it. However, your money could be put to better use by saving for your kids' college education, saving for retirement, or paying off debt. But luckily for your kids, you don't have to stop feeding their toy habit completely in order to save some dough.
Here are some creative ways to save on toys for your kids:
1. Focus on Household Items. Younger children will get hours of entertainment out of items found in your home. Pots, pans, and a spatula make an impressive musical kit. Add empty toilet paper and paper towel rolls for horns, and join in the fun yourself. If you're okay with a little clean-up, give your toddler a full roll of toilet paper, and get ready to be entertained yourself.
2. Consider Buying Used. Many used toys sold online have barely been played with. Garage sales, antique shops, thrift stores, and sites like eBay and Amazon are all places where you'll find toys in "like new" condition for a fraction of the price of retail. Regardless of whether you buy new or used, there's no guarantee your child will play with a toy, even if he or she has been clamoring for it. This is another reason to buy used instead of new whenever possible.
3. Shop Online. If you are committed to buying new toys, you can still save by shopping online--just make sure the cost of shipping doesn't exceed the savings. Consider websites such as Kids Woot and eToys, which offer a variety of kid-related products at significant discounts. You can also get printable coupons and coupon codes for many toy manufacturers, and if you have a Target REDcard, you can get 5 percent off all purchases online and in-store.
4. Yard Sales and Garage Sales. You may need to be a little more discriminating when shopping at garage sales, but toys can be had for pennies on the dollar--and you can often find ones in great shape. Check out your local newspaper, or just keep an eye out for signs in your neighborhood --you might find three or four sales to visit in one morning.
5. Find Free Toys. Check out the website Freecycle for free toys. Craigslist also has a free section where you're bound to find freebies for your kids. In either case, you will have to pick up the toy from the person donating it, so it's best to not search too far out of your area.
6. Donate Toys. Once your child no longer plays with a toy, don't just discard it. Instead, take it and other household items you no longer use to a donation center. This way, you can take the donation as a tax write-off at the end of the year. For many people, this will be more valuable than what you might get for it at a yard sale. Plus, you can feel good about helping others save on toys as well. Just be sure to keep accurate records of all donations made throughout the year.
Final thoughts: In addition to saving on individual toy purchases, it's wise to limit how much you'll spend on toys before you shop--especially when you shop with your child. Establish an individual spending limit for each trip to the toy store or a monthly toy budget. Plus, it's an opportunity for you to introduce your child to the concept of budgeting and limits.
What other ways can you think of to save on toys?
David Bakke lives in the Atlanta area with his son. He writes about his experiences and tips for saving money on life's purchases on Money Crashers Personal Finance.