Budget baby: 3 money-saving toy tips

Consumer Reports News: November 28, 2008 11:08 AM

Toys are to kids what spa certificates and new golf clubs are to grown-ups. But that doesn’t mean your budget has to take a hit.

Beyond using coupons and snagging sale items, here are ways to reduce your toy spending this holiday season and beyond--and get more for your money.

Game Plan: Set a limit. If your kids will be flooded with presents from lots of relatives every year, set a limit on what you spend. That could mean one large gift or several smaller ones. Your kids won’t feel deprived since your gifts aren’t the whole show. Also, to make less seem like more, “pick a toy that starts a passion or feeds one,” suggests Richard Gottlieb, a toy-industry expert in New York City. A tactile kid might love a Lego set; a child who enjoys reading may appreciate a set of Roald Dahl books. In general, “Building blocks, nontoxic art supplies, educational video games, musical instruments, and sports equipment last longer with kids than toys that have limited uses,” adds Jed Baker, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and author of No More Meltdowns.

Game Plan: Give targeted hints to relatives, too. If Grandma is a knitter or Grandpa plays chess, for example, a set of knitting needles and yarn from Grandma or a beginner chess set from Grandpa can be a wonderful bonding opportunity, and a lifelong gift.

Game Plan: Consider used--sometimes. Little Tikes sturdy plastic playhouses, ride-on toys, and playground equipment are examples of toys that can be a good find at tag sales and online at a fraction of the original price. With a thorough scrub, they can be like new. But check them carefully to make sure they have no rough edges or parts that could break loose. Good-as-new video games and refurbished equipment can be another bargain bonanza at outlets such as Game Stop (www.gamestop.com) and EBGames (www.ebgames.com).

Game Plan: Check out rentals. At www.babyplays.com, you can receive four to 10 toys per month by mail, keep them until your child gets tired of them, and send them back to receive a fresh batch for a monthly subscription of $36.99 to $64.99. Toys for infants to age 5 come fully sanitized and assembled. Toys are third-party certified for safety, according to Lori Pope, the founder of Baby Plays, who started the company in 2007, inspired by her 18-month-old twin boys who grew bored with their toys quickly.

Game Plan: Look beyond the logo. Some of the most popular toys tie in with characters like Elmo and Dora the Explorer. To buy toys with the most play value, ask yourself, “If I took SpongeBob off this package, what do I have?” “If a toy has nothing to offer beyond the character, don’t buy it,” says Gottlieb.

For tips on choosing the right toy by age, see our reports on toys for babies and young children and toys for toddlers and preschoolers, as well as our toy safety tips.

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