Kids are really expensive. But what if you can get cheap toys? Cheap toys when they’re babies, toddlers, and kids. OK, never mind cheap. What if you learn how to get free toys?
Kids are expensive anyway.
But that doesn’t mean that learning how to score toys for less isn’t important. It is. In fact, it’s become a strange source of pride for my husband and me. OK, fine. Mostly just me.
It’s easy to look at toys and scoff. It’s true that Americans have a lot too much stuff. Plus, no one wants to raise a child to be entitled. Toys are wants, and they can be unnecessary or excessive.
However, there is an undeniable benefit that comes from toys: play time. Young children need to learn to play. From social skills and responsibility to academic concepts and imagination, play is an essential part of human development. (Research agrees again and again.)
It’s also fun, and we are big proponents of enjoying our free time in this house. As a result, my husband and I knew we wanted our son to have some toys. We also knew that we didn’t need or want everything to be brand new or bought on demand. Quite frankly, a lot of times, we create toys out of things we already own (read: pots, pans, and wooden spoons, oh my!).
Over the past year and a half, we’ve developed a few different strategies to get free and cheap toys with relative ease. Playtime is now fun and frugal.
Why You Want Cheap Toys and Free Toys
As with most aspects of life, there are plenty of reasons to want to score things as inexpensively as possible. But surprisingly, the financial benefits aren’t the only reason that we work to find cheap toys.
Of course, saving money matters. The whole point of this blog isn’t to be a frugal as possible; it’s to be as purposeful with our money as possible. By spending more intentionally on needs and wants, we can really get more out of life.
And if I’m being entirely honest, what I want out of life isn’t a houseful of brand spanking new toys. That isn’t why I wake up and go to work each day. Apologies to the fine folks over at Mattel and Playskool.
By scoring free and cheap toys for our son, we can invest, save, and pay down our mortgage. We can also send more money to his college fund. Plus, he still gets play time. Win-win-win!
New Isn’t Always Better
Allow me to pull on my grandma sweater if you will.
Things aren’t what they used to be.
It’s cliche, but it’s also true. Of course, some things improve over time. But a lot of toys simply aren’t made with the same materials. Plastic is cheap and easy to produce, so it’s replaced wooden toys of yore. We live in a throw-it-away culture. Things aren’t made to last anymore, so if you can get your hands on a beloved hand-me-down, there’s a good chance it might actually last longer than something you buy new.
Less Plastic Waste
Something that has become increasingly important to me over the years is the environmental impact of my decisions. Quite honestly, with baby and kid toys come plastic. Lots and lots of plastic. This isn’t just a “they don’t make ‘em like they used to” gripe of someone who is 32-going-on-92 (see the previous section for that).
This is a reminder that it isn’t just plastic in the toy itself. It is the layers upon layers of packaging that comprise an incredible amount of waste. And plastic is problematic.
90.5% of plastic waste has never been recycled. Some of it has been incinerated, but most of it just sits in cluttered homes and eventually in landfills…or worse. The environmental impact of plastic is undeniable. Scoring toys for cheap and for free is actually a really effective way to cut back on plastic.
Plus, my baby couldn’t care less than a new toy doesn’t come with all those plastic inserts, ties, and casing. And I love not having to wrestle them open.
Six Ways to Score Free & Cheap Toys
The reasons to score cheap and free toys are compelling. Being on-board with the philosophy behind that is one thing. But how do you actually go about getting free and cheap toys? These are six different strategies that we’re working on mastering.
Rummage Through Thrift Shops and Garage Sales
If you’re reading a frugality blog (hello, there!), there is a good chance you’re familiar with thrift shops. However, there’s also a good chance that you purposefully avoid the toy aisle in said stores. That used to be my strategy.
As someone who is still recovering from a tendency to BUY ALL THE THINGS, I try to be very purposeful when I shop. That means staying far away from temptation. However, by pursuing the thrift store toy section, I’ve found some great finds.
The catch? I keep a list in my phone of toys that HP could actually use. If it’s not on the list, I don’t buy it. For instance, the only thing on my list right now is a tambourine. He’s amassed a small collection of musical instruments, and I think he would have fun with a tambourine. It’s not urgent or even necessary, but it’s in my Notes app so I know that it would be OK to buy if I see one.
I mostly stay away from garage sales to resist temptation, but I think this strategy would work well for that, too.
Use Apps to Find Cheap Toys
Not everyone lives near thrift stores or in towns with garage sales that have toy gold mines. I get that.
Another alternative is to explore apps like LetGo or OfferUp. While we only use OfferUp locally, it does offer shipping similar to Poshmark. That means that even if you don’t live in an area that is really active with resale, you can shop the whole country.
And while we’ve definitely had our fair share of awkward OfferUp moments, I actually can’t say enough good things about using the app for both buying and selling. Plus, people occasionally give things away for free on the app.
RELATED POST: Frugally Awesome…or Awkward: The OfferUp Edition
You might also check:
- Facebook Buy Nothing groups
- Facebook Marketplace
- Next Door
Find Free Toys on Garbage Day
Last summer, we were walking to the park the day before garbage day. We noticed our neighbors set out a Little Tikes basketball hoops. Our son was just getting going with walking, and my husband and I looked at each other and the hoop. Wouldn’t that be a great toy in the next few months?
That’s when we saw it. FREE.
There was a sign taped at the base of the basketball hoop. It was too easy. And it cost nothing.
We’ve also stumbled across a bounce seat, a booster seat, a bunch of different push toys, and a doll playhouse set (though, I passed on that for a good reason). Of course, this isn’t predictable. There is a ton of luck and circumstance involved (we happen to live in a neighborhood chalk full of kids!). But now that I’ve realized I should keep my eye out on garbage day, I do. And it’s paid off.
Get Free Toys from Your Library
This is another free toy trick where your results can vary greatly. Our local library has an extensive collection of items that can be checked out. From puzzles and puppets to American Girl dolls and Barbies, there are tons of toys you can take home temporarily.
However, I know that another nearby library does not offer any toys to take home. They do have an entire play place inside the library, though. So even though HP can’t take any toys home with him from that library, he can (and does!) spend hours exploring their play kitchen and train table.
RELATED POST: My Favorite Free or Frugal Summer Activities
Talk About It
Ask and you shall receive, right?
It’s true. But sometimes it’s easier said than done.
I used to have some pretty big hangups about accepting hand-me-downs. I wasn’t sure that our family could or should accept them. We didn’t seem like The Best Option because we can afford to pay full price. But I’ve obviously come around to the idea of embracing second-hand items.
Interestingly, some people in my life seem to have their own set of hangups. Their closets and crawl spaces runneth over, but they seem wary to broach the subject with us. It’s as if they are afraid of offending us.
I mentioned the subject once with a friend and once with my sister-in-law. Both had offered HP a book to “read” when we were visiting. I mentioned how great it was, and how he loved borrowing it. Since then, we’ve received books, puzzles, tons of toys, and even a play kitchen!
Don’t Be Afraid to Borrow
Toys don’t have to be forever toys. In fact, borrowing toys is probably my favorite way to get toys into HP’s life. We aren’t likely to ever wear the name minimalist. But we have made a yearslong effort to reduce the clutter in our lives.
We’ve also learned a great deal about minimalism from our toddler.
By framing the idea of hand-me-downs as something that are temporarily ours, we benefit in two ways: I get peace of mind knowing that the clutter is only temporary. Plus, we are more likely to get offered items from people who maybe aren’t sure if they are done growing their family or simply want to hold onto things for sentimental reasons.
A while back, HP’s godmother lent us a bead table. I know she intends to pass it on to her kids when they start families of their own, but she was all too happy to let us use it for now. Over the past few months, it’s been incredible to watch him interact more and more with it. But now that I’ve stubbed my toe on it a handful of times, I have to admit that I’m not actually heartbroken over the fact that in another year or two, it’ll be out of my house again.
Final Thoughts on Scoring Free and Cheap Toys
Sadly, this post does not posit a solution to the costly childcare situation or college tuition conundrum that make kids so expensive. But by looking for ways to find free and cheap toys, you can save a bit of money. Plus, you’re having a hugely positive environmental impact.
And don’t forget the added bonus of avoiding all of that people-proof plastic packaging.
So Tell Me…How do you find free and cheap toys?
We just picked up a play stove from some neighbors through Next Door yesterday. That is a great app to have and finding out how generous the neighbors are. Before BwC was born, we would get the majority of his hand me downs, toys, a stroller and even cloth diapers from Next Door. We still buy clothes and toys for him from time to time but getting resources for him through Next Door helped us save a lot of money.
My only caveat to this great advice is ‘do your research’. Some older toys have lead paint (older Thomas the Tank engine, included), which is definitely something you want to keep away from your kids!
These tips can actually also apply as HP starts to attend birthday parties (Sooo many birthday parties). The key to doing it is to start an ethos of used gifts among your friend set.
It may get to be more difficult as kids get older, but I’ve found that calling to ask if So-and-so would like a used toy has actually been really productive. Friends actually prefer used (as long as the toy isn’t junk), and kids just like all toys. We’ve probably only spent around $50 on kids birthday presents even though Kenny has attended a dozen over the last year or so.
That is a great idea, Hannah! I hope we can actually make this a thing. For his first birthday, one of my husband’s friends brought us a few gifts and a walked that his son didn’t need anymore. We made sure to gush over the walker! They kept saying that it wasn’t an actual gift, and we kept saying that gifts don’t have to be new!