Money Buying Toys
You can get your kids Great Toys and make their
Christmas wonderful without spending a ton of money…
as long as you know how to get the most out of your
toy budget, if you only remember one thing about toy
The most affordable toy is the one your child
plays with the longest.
First, your child is going to play, and most likely,
they are going to play with toys. If they don't have
toys, then they'll make toys out of whatever they
can get their hands on - sticks, rocks, your
favorite heirloom vase from your
How much your child plays is dependent on his or her
schedule. But rest assured that children will fill
all the white space in their lives with play.
The second thing to remember is that you want toys
for your children to use during play so that they
don't pick up grandma's vase and start a football
game in the living room.
So, kids will play, and they need toys. To save
money on toys, you need to find toys that have long
play value, toys that your kids will play with for
hours on end. The longer they play with a toy, the
fewer toys you have to buy to fill those hours of
play, and therefore, the less you will have to
Calculating the True Cost
So the way to save money becomes very simple. Find
how much a toy costs per hour of play. We call that
the True Cost of a toy. As a formula it is:
Cost of Toy divided by Hours Played With = Cost per
Hour of Play (True Cost)
Take, for example, the Thomas the Tank Wooden
Railway Figure Eight Set. The set sells for $40. A
typical child will play with this toy for at least
forty or more hours before becoming bored with it.
Doing the math we get a True Cost of $40 divided by
40 hours = $1/hour of play.
But what if the toy turns out to be not quite so
interesting? A classic example is Tickle Me Elmo.
Most kids thought it was fun to squeeze five or six
times before becoming bored. Average playtime?
Thirty minutes. Do the math and $25 divided by 0.5
hours = $50/hour of play.
Tickle Me Elmo's up front cost may be $15 less than
the train set, but you can see that Tickle Me Elmo
won't occupy your child for very long, so you'll be
back at the store to find new toys for the other
thirty nine hours and thirty minutes of play that
the wooden train set would have occupied, but Elmo
didn't. In reality Tickle Me Elmo costs fifty times
as much as the wooden train!
Long-Lasting Play Value
The only problem is that the boxes don't tell you
how long your child will play with each toy. How can
you estimate how long a child will play with a toy?
There are three criteria that make a toy a winner
and give it long-lasting play value:
Interactive means that the toy engages the child. The
child has to be an active participant in the play. The
child has to do something more than just turn it on and
watch it go. The wooden train is just colorful lumber
until someone lays out the track, someone picks up the
train, someone pushes it around, someone decides when,
where and why it goes the way it goes.
Interactive means that the child is involved in every
aspect of the play. Playing the game is much more fun
than watching the game. The same is true with toys. Kids
don't want to watch their toys; they want to use them.
Tickle Me Elmo's only interaction is to squeeze his
belly and then watch. That's as interactive as a light
switch (and not nearly as fun.)
more a child does to make the toy work, the more the
child will play with that toy. A classic example of
interaction is the doll. We have dolls that walk, talk,
cry, eat, wet, and more. But surprisingly enough, it is
the doll that does nothing but lay there that becomes
the little girl's favorite. Why? Because she has to give
the doll life through her own actions. And that giving
of life, that creating of the doll's every moves - her
personality, her talk, her actions - is what creates the
bond between girl and doll.
Open-Ended means there are endless ways to play. Wooden
Blocks are the ultimate in open-ended toys. You can
stack them, throw them, build with them, lay them out in
designs, even decorate them. You can use your blocks
with other toys like Hot Wheels (garages & tracks),
Barbie's (houses & furniture), little green army men
(forts, foxholes, and trenches). The list of ways to
play goes on and on.
more ways a child can play with a toy, the more often
that toy will be included in play. The more often it is
included, the longer the child uses it, and therefore,
the lower the cost per hour of use.
Creative means that a child has to use his or her
imagination. Just like the example of the doll, the more
a little girl must do for the doll, the more she must
use her imagination. The more she uses her imagination,
the more she "owns" that toy because it came from her
own mind. The same holds true with any toy. Once a child
engages his or her imagination, they take ownership for
having created the way in which the toy was played. They
then feel more attached to the toy and are more apt to
continue playing with it.
Interactive, Open-Ended, and Creative are the three keys
to long-lasting play value, more hours of play, and
lower True Costs. If you can look for these concepts in
the toys you buy your children, you will save lots and
lots of money in the long run.
Quality does count. Here's another classic example.
boy has owned a cheap balsa airplane at one time or
another. Now they're made out of Styrofoam, but the
concept remains the same. Slide the wing through the
slot in the body and start tossing it into the air. At
$2 apiece, these are pretty cheap toys… until you look
at the True Cost. Since most children were lucky to play
with the plane for a mere ten minutes before it was
stepped on and broken, stuck in a tree or on the roof,
or taken away by a parent because of throwing it in the
house, the True Cost for this toy measures like this: $2
divided by one/sixth hour = $12/hour of play.
quicker and easier that a toy might break, the fewer
hours your child will use it, and the higher the True
Cost will be. For that reason, be wary of knock-offs or
cheaply made versions of toys. Quality built toys will
always be cheaper in the long run.
not at the price tag, but at the cost per
hour of play and you will save money on toys.
True Cost of a toy is measured as the cost per
hour of play. Remember…
The most affordable toy is the one your child
plays with the longest.
Part 1 showed how to evaluate toys using the criteria of
Interactive, Open-Ended, and Creative.
But now you're in the store seeing the thousands of
Interactive, Open-Ended, and Creative toys that we sell.
How do you choose that one toy that will most interest
Having them watch hours of TV to see the toy ads won't
work. Television is the Holy Land for toy companies to
advertise their latest versions of Tickle Me Elmo and
other non-interactive toys with really high true costs.
fact, you're better off keeping the kids away from the
TV. The creative teams behind those toy ads can make
anything look fun and exciting for thirty seconds.
The BEST way to know what toys to get your children is
for YOU to watch THEM. Observe your children in play.
Watch how they interact with other kids, how they
interact with the toys and what type of play interests
Some children are very active and always play a specific
role in whatever they have imagined. They don't just
move the characters around; they become one of the
characters. Toys like dress-up clothes, kitchens & tea
sets, workbenches, sporting goods, and dolls are good
for these kids. The girl at the tea party, the boy who
becomes a fireman, and the children playing kickball all
are Participants in the play.
Other children like to be the Director. They don't play
a specific role as in the previous example, but they
control all the actions of the characters in their play.
Toys such as themed playsets from Playmobil and
Imaginext, dollhouses, action figures, and wooden trains
make great toys for these kids. The child isn't one of
the characters, like she would be at a tea party, but is
still fully involved directing what the characters do.
Building and construction toys such as Lego, K'Nex,
Erector, Tinker Toys and Lincoln Logs are also great
Interactive, Open-Ended, and Creative toys. Finding the
right construction toy is easier when you observe your
children in play. Are they quiet, able to stay focused
for long stretches of time? Do they get frustrated
easily? Can they follow multiple directions? Are they
more likely to color within the lines or follow their
Some construction toys like Erector Sets require more
careful planning, following of directions, and overall
time to build the models. The same holds true for some
of the more advanced Lego & K'Nex sets. Other building
toys like SuperMag and Duplo are easier and quicker to
assemble the finished product. The key is to know your
child's skill level and being able to match the right
building toy with their ability. If it's too easy, they
get bored quickly. If it's too challenging, they get
frustrated and walk away. Following age guidelines and
knowing your child's abilities helps you pick the right
The same can be said about arts & crafts projects. Does
your child need a framework to work within, or can they
create from a blank canvas? Are they better suited for
Coloring Books or Sketch Pads? Thin pencils or thick
markers? Finger paints or fine point brushes? Create
this specific item or Create whatever comes to mind? The
more you understand your child, the better your choices
will be for arts & crafts projects.
Observe your child's play habits and you'll be more
likely to find the right toy that they will play with
for hours and hours and hours.
One more thing to note: All of the toys listed above are
Expandable toys. Expandable means that there are add-ons
to the original toy - rooms of furniture for the
dollhouse, small K'Nex sets to go with the bigger K'Nex
set, vehicles to go with the action figures, track to go
with the wooden trains, buggies for dolls, and on and
Expandability in a toy is one of the greatest assets for
parents on a tight budget for three reasons.
1. You don't have to invest a lot of money up front
to gauge a child's interest.
Even if you have done your homework above and observed
your child in play, there is still a chance they might
not take to whatever toy you choose. By starting with a
small set, you can test the waters to see if the child
has any interest, before investing in lots of product.
You can even start small with a variety of different
expandable toys to see what your child likes best.
2. The add-ons make for great gifts from family &
you know the toy will be a hit, having other family
members buy add-ons means your child can get the "big
splash" of a toy without breaking your budget. Although
you know that you only bought the "starter set", all
your child knows is that he got, "a whole lot of Lego!"
Plus, you make shopping easy for grandma & grandpa.
3. Add-ons make the original toy (and original
investment) new again.
The best thing about expandable toys is that it doesn't
take much to make the whole toy new again. If your child
already has a dollhouse, adding a new room of furniture
makes the whole dollhouse new again, and renews her
interest in playing with it. The same holds true for the
wooden trains. Add a new building or a few new pieces of
track and the whole train set becomes a brand new toy.
New Playmobil brings the old Playmobil back out of the
Here's a mathematical example. You have thirty dollars
to spend on a "big" item. You could spend that on a
stand-alone toy that is not expandable, or on an
expandable toy. With the non-expandable toy, the
following year, you will need to spend another $30 to
replace that item with another "big" item. But if you
went with an expandable toy, just a $15 add-on in year
two will actually give you more "new" toys for your
For those of you who want to see the actual savings, it
goes like this.
Total $$ of
in Year 2
You math wizards have already figured out that with the
second example you spend 25% less but get 50% more in
play value. That is real savings! That is Expandability!
And imagine how fast the savings add up when you account
for the $30 that grandma & grandpa spent on add-ons that
first year. Now your $15 investment the second year
makes $75 worth of toys "new" again!
Observe your children in play and look for expandable
toys - money savings tips guaranteed to work!
far, you have learned about the True Cost of toys
measured as the cost per hour of play. Remember…
The most affordable toy is the one your child
plays with the longest.
You also know how to evaluate toys using the criteria of
Interactive, Open-Ended, and Creative to find toys that
have long lasting play value and low True Costs.
Part 2 showed how the Expandability of a toy - the
ability to buy add-ons and associated products that make
the child play with the original toy longer - can also
be a big money saver.
The third area to save is that most expensive commodity
in parent's lives - Time.
a parent, you are constantly aware of time. You have
schedules to follow to get your kids to school, to
sports, to music lessons, to doctor's appointments, to
bed. You have to allow time for eating, homework,
practice, playtime, and naps. You have your own agendas
to follow including work, laundry, housekeeping, grocery
shopping, gift shopping, and meal preparation. And none
of that includes your own white space, your own
Yes, time is the most valuable, and thus most expensive,
commodity in parents' lives.
But how can toys save time?
Some of the answers are obvious. Toys keep kids occupied
so that you have time to do what you need to do around
the house. Of course, that is only true if you have the
right toys that hold your kids' interests. If you have
given your kids toys that are Interactive, Open-Ended
and Creative (Great Toys), they will play longer with
those toys and give you more time for your projects.
Then again, the opposite is true. If you buy cheap toys
that break easily, or buy toys that don't hold your
child's interest, not only will your child be bugging
you more (taking up more of your time), but you'll also
have to spend more time shopping for new toys to
replace the toys that didn't last.
So, being more diligent in your research and selection
of toys will save you time spent entertaining your
children and time spent shopping again for more
a more subtle way, buying the right toys also saves your
children time. Great Toys do something wonderful to
children. These toys make kids think. That's right;
Great Toys get kids to use their brains. Toys are the
great teachers of youth.
When children think and use their imagination, they
become smarter. You know the old adage how "practice
makes perfect." When kids think, they are "practicing"
using their brains. Studies show that children who are
read to at early ages and children who are encouraged to
read a lot on their own perform better in school. They
accomplish more in less time.
The same holds true for toys that require children to
think and use their brain. Kids who play with Great Toys
use their brains, become smarter, and are able to
accomplish more in less time. In other words, they save
So, the right toys can and do save time. And Time
definitely does equal money.
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