4 Ways to Stop Wasting Money on Toys

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Do you have kids at home? If so, it's time to band together with other parents and stop wasting money on toys. We're all familiar with the eternally tiresome holiday routine that demands budget-busting expenditures on playthings. By now the Great Big Toy Book and other advertising flyers have arrived on your doorstep, all gussied up to entice deep yearning in your youngsters -- and begging and pleading upon entering any toy-friendly retail establishment.

But you're also fully aware that many of the holiday season's "must have" toys soon start gathering dust. A recent survey of 1,100 parents commissioned by Pley.com, an online source of rentable Lego sets, found that more than two-thirds of the $7,620 spent on toys from birth to age 12 is, essentially, wasted; that is, within a month of receiving a toy, children cast it aside and move on to something else. Moreover, 68 percent of respondents reported that of the average 57 toys that a child owns, he or she plays only with 18.

Here are some money-saving and holiday-appropriate strategies for keeping the toy chest continuously refreshed.

Toy Swaps.

Think of all the times you go to a friend's home and your child is instantly enthralled with the host children's toys, no matter how humdrum or antiquated. An easy pre-holiday solution presents itself: Gather up the toys your child has discarded or deemed boring and swap with a family for toys that no longer appeal to their child. This is a win-win for everyone. You clear out the clutter and wrap up "new to them" toys without wasting a dime. Organize a group encounter for a mammoth toy swap and more to choose among.

Rent, Don't Buy.

It's a new way of consuming, and one The New York Times has dubbed "the Netflix economy," in which renting often makes more financial sense than buying. These days you can rent virtually anything, be it a designer dress, a pet, a piece of art, whatever. Playthings fall into the rental basket, as well. Renting toys for the kids to unwrap and hold dear for a few weeks may be the perfect antidote to wasting money, especially during holiday season. For example, many Lego sets sell for $30 to $60; that's a lot of cash to keep shelling out every time your child's interest wanes. Alternatively, you could spend $15 to $39 a month (price depends on child's -- or adult's -- age) and receive one sanitized set at a time, with unlimited exchanges and free shipping both ways, from Pley.com. Another toy-rental site, Sparkbox Toys, specializes in educational toys for kids up to age 4.

Opt for Used Toys.

This is another variation on the "new to your child" theme that avoids wasting money. Online and brick-and-mortar vendors, such as the Once Upon a Child franchises, are excellent sources for toys costing pennies on the (full-price) dollar. Also take advantage of social media, such as buy/sell/trade groups, as well as Craigslist, eBay, neighborhood garage sales, and even thrift stores, all places where prices on used toys are hard to beat.

Gift Alternatives.

Putting aside the money issue for a moment, there are many gifts that will engage a child far longer than the year's hot toys. Kids Stash and Citrus Lane are subscription boxes that cost less than $30 a month and deliver age-appropriate crafts, games, toys, and books right to your doorstep. You can also think outside the toy box. Buy a winter-long admission ticket to an indoor gym for hours of healthy, energy-expending entertainment. Invest in sporting gear and sign up for a season of t-ball, soccer, gymnastics, ballet -- whatever piques the child's interest. An assortment of craft items also gets a lot of mileage and keeps kids creatively occupied. Tickets to see The Lion King, Disney on Ice, or any other production coming to town is a special treat that provides lasting memories, the kind that eclipse all those forgettable plastic toys.