3 Ways to Stop Wasting Money on Children’s Toys

by Tracy · 9 comments

cheap children's toys

I’m going to make a confession here. My house is full of toys that don’t get played with very often. Between my five boys, a mountain of toys comes in every Christmas and birthday. While they do appreciate every toy when they open it, only a few are actually played with more than once or twice.

Over the years, I learned to be more savvy with my choices through experiences with toys that prove to be a good value for the money. Here are a few suggestions to help you spend your toy dollars wisely.

cheap children's toys1. Look for Versatility

My youngest child is still playing with his oldest brother’s old Lego and wooden blocks. We’ve been adding to our collection over the years and now we have enough to build a city that takes up half the living room floor. The funny thing is, although we do have “real” Star Wars toys, my boys will still build their own Star Wars scenes out of blocks. I can remember doing the same thing with my Barbies.

In general, the less gimmicky a toy is, the more ways children can find to incorporate it into their play. Look for toys that rely on a child’s imagination rather than batteries. I don’t rule out toys based on popular characters like Star Wars or Spiderman altogether, but instead of say that web-blaster that lasts 3 minutes and then needs a pricey refill (we made that mistake once!), I’ll choose a simple action figure or vehicle.

2. Quality is Worth Paying For

Super cheap toys from the dollar store do have their place, but more often than not, they break and don’t work the way they are supposed to. Not only is it a waste, it can also be a safety risk.

We’ve also found that toys with lots of fiddly pieces and moving parts are usually destined to break early. These might be suitable for older children, but for younger children, simple toys that can stand up to rough play are best.

It’s better to buy fewer toys that are well made. Not only will your money be well spent, but your child will also become less frustrated and be able to enjoy his or her toys for a long time to come. I try to read a wide variety of reviews for toys I’m considering buying, since it’s hard to gauge the quality of a toy when it’s sitting on a box on a shelf.

3. Find Toys That Encourage Activity

My 9 and 7 year old have been playing non-stop with a set of Nerf swords since they got them last Christmas. They love taking them to the park and meeting up with their gang of friends and having glorious boy battles and adventures. While it’s a bit unnerving for us parents to watch, they are having a blast and getting some much needed exercise.

Children need a chance to run around and move their bodies. I’m a fairly lax mom when it comes to video games and television, but I’ll take every opportunity to get them outside and moving. Toys that encourage this are priceless. Even if you aren’t crazy about the idea of sword battles, balls, bikes, scooters and jump ropes are all timeless classics that will provide hours of play for your child.

On this note, I’d like to add that probably the best toy you can give your child is completely free: the great outdoors. We thought about buying a backyard play-set then quickly realized that our children would much rather go to the playground to meet up with their friends and make new ones.

Right now, the group of boys my sons play with have constructed a spaceship out of an old tree trunk and materials they’ve found in the park (some seashells, pine cones and acorns, bottle-caps and some bits of broken glass until it was confiscated). They make up wonderful story-lines and dash around the playground as they perform their missions.

Toys are wonderful for children but playing outside with friends and getting to exercise their bodies and imaginations is some of the best fun to be found. As a bonus it helps them develop their social skills and will get you out of the house to boot!

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Matt says:

    I like the idea of buying toys that encourage activity. Anything to get the kids outside, enjoying the backyard, or playing with their toys at the park. Invest in activity and memories for your children. Don’t invest in toys that will merely fade.

  • MoneyPig says:

    When I have a kid, I am going to start him off with a set of Logos, Art supplies, and Playdough. And then when he is older, give him a Computer. All of these things can provide endless hours of fun at a really low cost. 🙂

  • A.P. says:

    Micronauts – the toys too versatile and fun to last more than a few years in the 70’s. Half the creativity and imagination was tied up just in looking at the offerings in the Christmas catalog.

  • Pat says:

    This article has been VERY helpful. I especially appreciate the specific things mentioned like the time-honored blocks and arts and crafts supplies. But even more the nerf swords! Could you take a minute and give another specific item or two kids 5 (boy) and 7 (girl) actually enjoy playing with? I am a grandmother and recently bought my 7 year old granddaughter a furnished dollhouse from Land of Nod and she loved setting it up but I’m not sure she will actually play with it. Any suggestions? All my grandson (5)wants is scissors, tape and paper/boxes!

  • Patty says:

    Don’t forget simple things like coloring books, crayons, craft things, they can keep the little ones occupied and encourage independent exploration.

    • Tracy O'Connor says:

      Arts and crafts supplies are terrific. I usually find great deals on drawing paper and crayons after the big back to school sales at places like Target. We buy paint in bulk at a teacher supply store, but that might be overkill for smaller families. Don’t forget to search for homemade playdough recipes! The recipe that calls for flour, salt and cream of tartar does stay good for quite awhile and is considerably cheaper than PlayDoh brand.

  • Jean says:

    I remember playing with toys that my dad played with when he was a kid. There was this one box of wooden building parts that I spent countless hours with trying to come up with different structures. Even at that young age, it really stimulated me. I did play with action figures and little toy vehicles of course but those didn’t really catch my attention for too long as they were so ‘static’ in comparison to toys like Lego.

    And who can forget board games like Battleship or Monopoly either? Definitely some of the most fun you can have as a family.


    • Tracy O'Connor says:

      My favorite family board games were Yahtzee and Uno, the best part was that they could be played by just about everyone from ages 4 or so (with a little help) to 100+.

      I love how a good set of quality wooden blocks can entertain generations of kids. Lego are also incredibly good quality if you can get past the sticker shock. I’ve heard you can often find great deals on used buckets of Lego on ebay or Craigslist if you aren’t hung up on getting complete building sets.

      • Jean says:

        Oh yes, Uno was a great pastime in our house too and actually still is on occasion during family gatherings. The other day, my friends were over and we had a power failure so I brought out the old board games including Uno, Scrabble and Battleship.

        Agreed about the initial Lego sticker shock, hehe. I remember dad telling me he had second thoughts about getting me my first box of Lego but that he saved a lot more money on the long run as I did not demand for newer toys as much since Lego kept me busy often enough!


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