For me, one of the most frustrating parts of being a parent is keeping up with whatever toys are the BEST THING EVER at the time. I’m not one to buy every single thing Jayden wants, but part of his Asperger’s Syndrome involves utter obsessions with certain toys or groups of toys. When I do buy them, I know he’ll play with them for hours and hours, for months or years on end.
However, when one obsession ends and another begins, I’m left trying to figure out what to do with all the stuff he no longer wants. And I can’t help thinking about all the money I’ve lost due to the insane depreciation of toys, video games, and movies. I’m pretty sure I could buy a car with all the money I’ve spent in 13 years.
A Few Examples
When Jay was about 3 years old, he went through a stage where he was obsessed with tractors. He could name them on sight (“That’s a New Holland 5635!”) and we bought all kinds of tractor toys for him to play with. He used to line them up according to type and size, invent elaborate tasks for them to complete, and race them down the stairs at my parents’ house. By age 4 he was over them, so I gave them to a friend whose son was similarly obsessed. Total spent on the tractors? Probably $400. Amount they would have been worth on eBay at the time? Maybe $50 total.
Earlier this month, Jay decided he has outgrown the Wii and wanted an Xbox 360 instead. We took all his Wii games to GameStop to trade in (he wanted to keep the console for some weird reason) to help pay for the Xbox. I traded 15 games that cost about $600 new, and got $187 in store credit toward the Xbox. While that was a pretty good deal, I couldn’t help feeling a little sick to my stomach. We got the Wii in 2007 – between the console, controllers, and games, I spent close to $1000. And now I have a console and controllers with no games, and got $187. Basically, I paid over $800 for 4 years of use, or $200 a year. For the privilege of owning a video game console.
Over the weekend, my ex sister-in-law called me. Would Jayden be interested in getting rid of his enormous collection of Dragonball Z action figures? The Dragonball Z obsession was one of the longest running for Jay – I started buying the toys when he was 4, and he played with them until he was probably 10. We have every single episode of the show on VHS, and we owned at least one action figure of every character (many of which I ordered from Hong Kong or Japan). I would estimate at least $1500 spent on the various toys and videos over the years. And because my ex sister-in-law is struggling financially and that’s ALL her son wanted for Christmas, I carted a huge storage tub of toys and videos to her house and didn’t charge her a dime.
How to Accept the Financial Drain and Move On
It’s hard to look back at all the hard-earned money you’ve spent (and lost) on toys without getting frustrated. However, as the parent of a teenager, I’m learning to accept the fact that Jay has been VERY expensive and will continue to cost more money over the next few years. Here are some ways to keep from pulling your hair out:
1. Remember that you don’t have to buy everything. Kids change their minds as often as they change their clothes. Unless you’re certain that an obsession will last awhile, don’t feel compelled to buy every toy your child points to in the store. Despite our best efforts, they DO grow up, and their interests will grow up with them.
2. Don’t be a collector. It is not necessary for a child to have every available accessory to enjoy a toy. (I’m very guilty of this one.) It’s okay to have a Barbie without buying the full wardrobe, house with closet to hold the wardrobe, car, garage to hold the car, friend, boyfriend, cat, dog, and hairstyle studio. If your child is perfectly happy with the toy itself, there’s no reason to spend a bunch of money on extras.
3. Tell yourself they’re only young once. As I watch my son turn into a sullen, moody teenager who locks his bedroom door and calls me embarrassing, I look back fondly on the time we used to spend playing board games and battling with action figures. Yes, I spent a lot of money on the things that I’m getting rid of now, but I gave him memories that some kids don’t have – memories of spending uninterrupted time with his mom.
4. Research. Many times, you’ll be lucky to get a quarter at a yard sale for your kid’s unwanted toys. Every now and then, though, you might have something that’s worth some money and not even know it. Before you give or throw away a bunch of toys, check eBay or Amazon to make sure you aren’t getting rid of a goldmine. If toys are in good shape and seem to be holding their value, SELL THEM – there’s no guarantee they’ll become popular again later. (I’m looking at you, Beanie Babies.)
5. Be glad when your kids have plenty. There are probably more toys in Jayden’s closet than I owned in my entire life. Every time I go through them, I start freaking out about all the money I’ve spent. But I seldom take time to realize that, despite all the financial issues I’ve dealt with, he has always had things to play with. He’s never gone without just because I spent too much on myself. I’m not one of those parents who pawns my kid’s video games to buy drugs. It could always be worse.
Toys Will Always Be a Total Waste of Money
For the most part, there is no way to get back the money I’ve spent on Jay’s toys over the years. Every now and then he has something I can sell, but for the most part, his toys are worthless by the time he’s done playing with them. The world of kids’ toys moves incredibly fast – this article discusses the short product life cycle for toys.
What options does a parent have to quit throwing money down the toilet? Basically, you could never buy your kids anything to play with, letting them use their imaginations and dust bunnies as entertainment. You could insist on only buying toys that will be worth something later (but how do you predict that?). You could rent toys instead of buying them. All of these options, while theoretically possible, probably don’t work out too well in real life.
Despite the drain on my bank account, I’ll continue to waste money on toys as long as Jay is young enough to play with them. These days, he’s moving away from toys and toward computers, cell phones, and playing video games online against his friends. In five short years, he’ll be graduating from high school and turning into a (hopefully) responsible adult. So I don’t get too uptight when I look around his room and see dollar signs – I’d rather focus on the value all that stuff has provided instead of how much it cost.
Do your kids have too many toys? How do you deal when it’s time of get rid of them?