Whatever happened to the days of hopscotch?
Remember when you would gather outside on the sidewalk with your friends, slap on a hopscotch grid with colored chalk and have at it?
These days, old-school entertainment like that doesn't cut it. In fact, after every holiday and birthday, I spend oodles of time weeding toys out from my kids’ bedrooms and our playroom to make room for the new ones.
When I spirit these bats, balls, dolls and other assorted “Mom, I have to have it!” items out of the house under the cover of darkness, it feels like I’m literally tossing dollar bills into the recycling bin or the donation box.
We all want our kids to have the best of everything, but that doesn’t mean we have to spend a fortune to keep them entertained. If your kid isn't into any of the ten free ideas we talked about here, these top-secret tips on sporting goods, video games and toys will help you save money–and your sanity–when it’s time to play.
Ways to Save
Depending on the type of goods you're looking for, there is a plethora of ways to save on them:
Getting kids outside and moving is the best of both worlds–it’s good for brain and body alike. All that gear can put the big hurt on your budget, but there are plenty of ways to save for soccer season and beyond.
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The savings: An employee at the Decatur, Ill. location of Play It Again Sports told us that, on average, consumers save 50% when they buy used equipment here.
Get started with a free financial assessment.
The Source: If your kid wants to take a trial run with a particular sport, or is into a seasonal activity like biking or skiing, consider renting. National retailers Sports Authority, REI and Eastern Mountain Sports all offer rentals ranging from kayaks to tents and almost everything in between.
- At Sports Authority, you can rent a junior set of ski equipment (boots, skis and poles) for as little as $89 for the season—instead of spending upward of $350 for just the skis.
- Tent rentals at REI are far less expensive than purchasing that kind of gear, especially if you only camp once or twice a season. The store offers a $20 lifetime membership that nets you extra discounts, as well. Rental prices will vary by location, but for example, the Boston location will lease you a tent to fit a family of four for a non-member price of $60; members only pay $40. New tents can run as high as $400 to purchase.
- Like REI, Eastern Mountain Sports locations offer varying packages, but at the Ithaca, N.Y. location, you can rent a basic bike for $25 for 24 hours, or $125 for the week. That's in comparison to a basic Schwinn model, which would run you about $250 to purchase.
There's no reason to supply your growing gamer with brand-new video games when plenty of pre-owned versions are available online and at your local retailer.
The Source: GameStop sells used items (including the consoles!) both online and in its 4,500 stores nationwide. A quick search of that website turned up–no kidding–10,455 pre-enjoyed items.
The savings: At GameStop, you can snag Halo 3 for $9.99, which would run you $19.99 if you bought it new (we did, however, find it used on Amazon for $3.99, so you might want to shop around before you buy). You'll want to check the condition of any used item before you buy it and, if you're buying online, read the ratings.
While Amazon lists the condition for each product (like new, average, good, etc.), at GameStop the star rating is what customers use to rate buying refurbished products in general, not your specific product. It's better to purchase a used product from a GameStop store, where you can see the product in person and ask a salesperson for more information if you need to.
The Source: Amazon offers a trade-in system for games, and in return you get a credit deposited in your account. Search the database of items that meet the product eligibility criteria and ship your item using a pre-paid label you can print out. Upon receipt of your item, you get a credit.
The savings: As we mentioned above, we found a used Halo 3 game for $3.99 on the site. Shop around before purchasing from any of these sites to make sure you're getting the best deal.
Source: Wal-Mart has a large selection of used video games right in their stores, too. If you don’t have access to the superstore, you can buy online as well, although the selection is somewhat limited.
The savings: We tried searching for Halo 3 online, but it wasn't available. We did, however, find a pre-owned Resident Evil for $11, and an NBA2K12 for $35. So obviously, the prices will vary.
Source: Don’t forget GameFly, a video-game rental service that’s a kissing cousin of Netflix.
The savings: GameFly comes with a monthly rental fee (for example, it's $15.95 per month after the first month to rent one game at a time) making it pricier than the other options. This would probably only be a good option for kids who tend to bore quickly with the games they play.
Keeping kids in new toys can be a daunting task. You pay a premium for that Tickle Me Elmo and, 15 minutes later, they're playing with the box it came in. Stop spending the college fund and hit your local consignment shops.
Source: Consignment shopping isn’t just for clothes anymore. Plenty of second-hand stores also take gently used indoor and outdoor toys for resale. You’ll be amazed at what you can find. This isn’t your grandmother’s consignment shop, either. The new trend leans toward a more upscale experience, more like an exclusive boutique.
The savings: I’ve seen pricey items like Melissa & Doug wooden kitchens going for around $90 in my local shops, as opposed to the $130 price tag for a new set. Factor in shipping, and you're still saving a bundle, all while supporting your local economy. Some cities have annual consignment sales that draw big crowds. The website Consignment Mommies is a helpful search tool.
Source: Also keep an eye out for local swap meets, where parents gather to literally swap goods–anything from clothing to baby gear to, yes, toys. This is a great way to stock your playroom, but it does require some effort. You need to bring your own stuff to swap, and you need to find the meets. There isn’t one place online to look, so you’ll need to keep your eyes and ears open. Preschools, churches and local parenting message boards are usually a good place to start.
The savings: Varies greatly by location.
Besides the places already mentioned, there are a couple of other ways to save on entertainment for kids, as well.
Thrift Shops, Flea Markets and eBay
Shopping for secondhand goods of all kinds at thrift stores and flea markets is a time-tested money-saving method. Scope out your local Salvation Army and Goodwill stores, as well as any flea markets in your area, and don’t forget eBay, the Mack Daddy of all auction sites.
You can score great stuff on eBay–from toys to sporting goods to used books–but you do need time and patience to search through the multitude of listings, not to mention go through the bidding process. I like that plenty of items have the “buy now” option, and searching for your desired item with the term “NWT” (new with tags) will net you unused items for less.
Think Outside the Box
You don’t need to go shopping to keep the kids occupied; plenty of cost-free fun can be had at the library, in your backyard and at the museum.
If you live in a large metropolitan area or have easy access to one, many museums will offer free days when there is no charge for admission. Chicago has a list on their official tourism website and you can find one for New York City on NewYorkology. Do a Google search for “museum free days” with the name of your city, and you’ll be amazed at what you find.
If you want to stick close to home, Pinterest offers a wealth of projects and crafts that can be created for free or close to free, like making your own sidewalk chalk (maybe you can get them to play hopscotch, after all!) and paint using ordinary ingredients you may have in your pantry already.