Christmas is right around the corner, and with the joy of the holiday comes the expense of holiday spending.  Parents know that kids are always begging for the latest toys, but if you are paying down debt aggressively or are unemployed or struggling paycheck to paycheck, you may wonder how you will buy their gifts.  There are some ways to buy your younger children toys without spending a fortune.

  1. Buy toys at garage sales.  I have found many toys for my kids at garage sales.  Often, these toys are new in the box and have not been opened.  The most I have paid for these brand new toys is $5, but I have gotten several for $1 to $3.  I used this strategy recently for my daughter’s birthday.  I found a wooden doll (think paper doll but made out of wood) with little wooden clothes that are magnetic on the back so they stick to the doll.  This was in the box, in excellent condition and just cost $3.  I also bought her a Parent’s Magazine recommended drum with other musical instruments inside for $5.  She was delighted by both presents, and she also got presents from her grandmas on both sides and her aunt and uncle, so she had more than plenty of gifts.
  2. Go to second hand stores.  There are plenty of second hand stores such as Once Upon a Child that sell not only secondhand clothing, but often toys too.  Because they have high standards for the items they accept, the toys they sell are also of high standards.  You will pay a bit higher price for these, but they will still be more economical than buying new.
  3. Have a swap with friends.  If you are part of a mom’s group, consider having a toy swap.  We are all familiar with how quickly children’s interest in a toy can wane; why not swap with another parent, then both children get the joy of playing with a new toy.
  4. Browse Craigslist.  There are plenty of people in your neighborhood trying to get rid of their kids’ outgrown toys.  Begin your search now; the listings should only increase as the holiday season draws nearer.  Remember, on Craigslist you are free to haggle.  If someone is offering a toy you would like to buy for $15, feel free to ask if they will accept $10.
  5. Look into national toy drives.  There are charities such as Toys for Tots and the Salvation Army Toy Drive that try to fulfill children’s toy requests.
  6. Look into local charities.  At my mom’s church, each year they have a Christmas store.  Parishioners donate new toys, and then the Christmas store is open one weekend, and parents can buy the new toys for only a few dollars.  Many other local churches offer programs like this.

I generally follow Amy Dacyczyn’s advice to buy your child one brand new gift and then fill out the rest of the gifts with used toys in good condition.  My children have grown up this way, so they are used to it.  I do imagine it will change as they get older and their tastes are more expensive, but for now, we employ some of the strategies above to not only save money but also to give used toys a new life.

Celebrating the holidays can be difficult when you are cash-strapped and every expense is more than you can afford.  However, there are ways you can make sure your child has a few toys under the tree without breaking your budget.