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Staying Home Instead

Looking for Bargains

From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 19 No. 5, September-October 2002, pp. 188

"Staying Home Instead" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help parents who choose to stay at home with their children. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's life-style. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.

Situation

I'm staying home with my baby and toddler and I love it! My children are growing and changing quickly, though, and we are spending more than we'd like on clothes, shoes, and toys. What ways have other families found to save money on these items?

Response

I, too, have a baby and toddler (both girls) and I love being home with them all day! I remember wondering, when Abigail was first born, "How will I ever have enough toys to keep her entertained?" It's amazing how quickly we accumulated more toys than we needed!

I have three places where I've not only found good deals on toys and activities, but have had fun in the process: dollar stores, yard sales, and the Internet.

If you look closely, not all dollar stores are as "junky" as you might think. And I've been excited to find them as we've traveled: from Montgomery, Alabama to Northern Virginia. I've found many puzzles and books, and my favorite "find" was several learning activities, including stringing beads and telling time. They were of very nice quality and all for only one dollar!

Yard sales are a good place to buy second-hand toys. I've found they have a much nicer selection than thrift stores. At one sale I visited, I found a box that, at first glance, seemed to hold only junk. But because I was willing to dig, I came home with some great toys! And these next two stories are true: I bought a set of stacking rings with a green ring missing at one church yard sale. Months later, at another sale, I found a green ring sitting all alone in a box. Another time I bought a wooden puzzle with a piece missing. Perhaps a year later, I bought a box of miscellaneous blocks and found the exact missing piece! Now, I don't claim that this will always happen, but it's exciting to see what you can find for just a few cents!

Of course I clean the used toys thoroughly. What pleases me the most, however, is when Abigail uses her imagination and plays with things I wouldn't consider a toy, like a washcloth to cover a baby or "clean" the furniture. Or emptying the storage container drawer to have a tea party. And when I think about Laura and Mary in the "Little House in the Big Woods" who each had one doll to play with, I am very humbled and grateful for the abundance of toys that our family enjoys.

Doreen Lawton
Ligonier PA USA

Response

I understand the strain that staying home can have on a household income. My daughter is two years old and I have found many ways to cut down on the cost of clothes, shoes, and toys. My greatest advice is to buy used! Garage sales are a mother's dream. You can find nice clothing and even toys at a garage sale very inexpensively. Since children grow out of clothing so fast, I find many outfits that are in excellent shape. I try to buy ahead of my daughter's current size so that when she is ready for them, I am well stocked. That way when she outgrows her clothing, I don't have to rush out and buy clothing at retail prices. I just pull them out from my "warehouse." Consignment and thrift stores are great. It is so much fun to hunt for Hayden's clothes and toys. It is much more interesting than the mundane department stores.

Toys are trickier to buy gently used since children are hardly gentle with their playthings. But to my surprise, I have found good toys at an occasional garage sale. Hayden's favorite doll cost only 50 cents and her "motorcycle" (tricycle) cost only $2.00. Does she care that there are scuff marks on it? No, she thinks it is the best. Remember that children don't know the difference between a new or used present. Buy fewer toys and keep them simple. Blocks, books, dolls, puzzles, instruments, and dress-up clothes fuel a child's imagination. I believe it is overwhelming for a child when there are too many toys to choose from. If you already have a lot of toys, don't buy more. Weed out the toy box and put the rest away in a closet. In a few months, take out the toys from the closet and rotate them with the ones in the toy box. The children will feel as though they got new toys!

The only thing I don't buy second-hand is shoes. Everyone wears a shoe differently, therefore causing a shoe to take on the shape of the wearer. I don't mind paying for shoes because I am not spending a fortune on clothing or toys.

Finally, I know that my daughter enjoys the time and attention that I can give her while I stay at home instead of working. Would she rather I work so that she could have the most expensive toys and clothes? No way! She wouldn't want to miss out on our family fun days of garage sale hunting.

Jenny Nye
Buda TX USA

Response

We have found many ways to provide for our children without spending much money at all. We make good use of our local consignment shops and garage sales, where we can sometimes find great deals. We frequently find very good deals on the Internet (but you have to be careful that you are still getting a good price once you add in the shipping).

The churches in our community often have "Kid Consignment Sales" in the fall and spring as well—these are a great way to find children's clothes, shoes, toys, and furniture at a very good price. In our area if you volunteer to work at the sale (whether you attend that particular church or not) you get to go to the "preview sale" the night before it opens to the public. I have found the best quality items at the best prices by volunteering to work and going to the preview sale. It is also useful to check the sales rack at popular stores. While we'd never be able to pay full price for their merchandise, we can often find cute things marked down very low. Sometimes these are out of season, so we just buy ahead for the next year. We are very willing to accept any "hand me downs" that are offered to us as well.

It's also worth thinking in terms of "simple living." Children don't really need nearly as much "stuff" as we are programmed to think they need in our society. A few quality, versatile items of clothing and some open-ended toys that encourage creative play are more than sufficient. By adjusting our idea of what our children "need," we save a lot of money by not "over buying."

Kelly Warner
Marietta GA USA

Response

After a few washings, you won't be able to tell the difference between new and used clothing. Exchange with friends and check out thrift stores and yard sales. While your children are growing so quickly, buy just a few outfits and do laundry more often.

As for toys, children don't need much. My four children are ages one to 10, and the toys that get the most play are those that allow them to use their imaginations, such as dress-up clothes, play dishes, paper, and crayons. My baby is happy with some balls and the pots and pans. Many toys that they have received as gifts (especially the battery operated ones) are played with infrequently. Our home-built sandbox is a favorite spot in the summer. If space is an issue, a plastic storage box makes a fine sandbox for a toddler.

Jeanne Schrank
Milwaukee WI USA

Response

After giving up my substantial income in order to stay at home full time, I had to find ways to save as much money as possible. Spending money on clothes, shoes, and toys is especially frustrating because they get used so little before they are outgrown.

There are many second-hand baby stores in my community. At first, I balked at buying used items for my little prince, but I have to admit that the items are very gently used and are often at least half the price of new items. My son doesn't know the difference between used and new items, but my wallet does. The stores sell and buy clothes, toys, and equipment such as beds and strollers. I have even started selling the items I don't need anymore.

I have also followed my La Leche League friend's lead and started going to garage sales. If you go regularly, you are bound to find great bargains. On some Saturdays, we wake up early and have a special breakfast and make a family outing of it. We even bought a much-needed lawn mower for $20.00! You can also find specific used items on the Internet for great prices.

When it comes to toys, try to remember that children prefer to use the items they see you and your husband using every day. My son has a bedroom full of fancy toys purchased by his grandparents and relatives, but he likes to dig in the backyard and play with the hose. He pretends to cook with my pots and pans and he loves to vacuum. A few toys are great to have, but I have found that children need very little. And not having many toys allows a child to develop his imagination more. You can also make toys from scratch using discarded items around the house. For example, my son really enjoys the few little Matchbox cars he has, so we make tunnels and garages out of shoeboxes for them. We spend hours decorating the boxes to make them look just right. I've gotten many of great ideas from Kuffner's The Toddler's Busy Book.

Stephanie Macceca
San Diego CA USA

Response

Here are some less common ways I've found to save money on children's things. Our local Friends of the Public Library organization has a used book sale. They're open every weekend during the school year. Children's books cost 25 to 50 cents each. You can donate used books, too. My local newspaper runs a section called "freebies" where local people place free ads for cheap items. This can be a good way to find baby equipment and toys.

On the Internet, you might want to try various auction sites, such as www.ebay.com. You can search using keywords to find what you're looking for (for example "3T jeans"), and you can even find items that are out of season in stores!

There are some tips you should keep in mind when purchasing off the Internet, however. Before buying anything, check the comments from other people who have bought things from that seller, if available on the site you decide to use. I avoid sellers who have a lot of negative feedback. Also, before you bid on anything, find out the shipping cost. If you're not sure about an item or a seller, don't bid—you can always find more of what you're looking for on other sites.

Valerie Mates
Ann Arbor MI USA

Response

We also found that somehow making ends meet with me at home was not as easy as the baby grew bigger. Here are a couple of things that saved us a lot of money.
Until each child reached about age five, most of the clothing and toys we used came from garage and rummage sales. Keeping my eyes peeled for sales in the more up-scale neighborhoods, I frequently found brand-name clothing in very good shape between 50 cents and three dollars per outfit. Same for toys. I also wasn't shy to get larger items, such as play kitchens and shelves, from piles outside houses on household clean up days if I happened to see them. One thing that's important in this scheme is thinking ahead: there were no sales in the winter months, so I had to make sure to plan ahead. Thrift/consignment stores are another (more expensive, but still cheaper than retail) option if you can't find what you need at garage sales. The key is to check in frequently since there are shipments of good stuff coming in and they typically sell out pretty quickly. So keep checking when you start realizing that you'll need something soon and don't give up if you don't find it on the first trip. Our local mall also holds "sidewalk sales" twice a year, but you have to get there early since so many stay-at-home mothers wait for these types of sales.

Keep a list of things that have to be bought, but are not urgent, and ask for them as gifts. My first nursing dress was a birthday gift, the second one (winter edition) a Christmas gift. Bigger toy investments that we thought were worthwhile usually came as grandparents' holiday gifts. Stop going to garage sales once you have what you need, or you'll wind up spending unnecessarily on bargains that you really don't need.

Do it yourself: Sometimes you see something that is such a good idea and will make your life so much easier. But often seeing the idea is all you need and you can make something yourself.

Learn to say no: just because a child is screaming for a toy is not a reason to buy it. You'll be amazed how happy your children will be to just look at the toys in the store for a while, try the ones that are meant to be tried. Children won't spoil the fun they can have visiting a toy store by throwing a fit if they know it's not going to work. Consistency is the key. If you are tempted to buy something, go home and think it over first. That prevents impulse buying. If you're already facing birthday party invitations: if you see a bargain on a great gift that works for almost anybody, buy it.

Remember that families and children were quite happy in the past with one or two outfits each and a toy or two. All sorts of simple items were used as toys or to make toys. And just because the child next door seems to have it all, you don't have to make it a competition. Give the gift of time and love. Playing with your children with the toys they have and showing them how to have fun with them is cheaper, more entertaining, and more educational than just buying new things all the time. And definitely don't think you're a bad parent because you can't afford to buy it all. You are giving your children the gift of love and your presence, which is more than money can buy and something they benefit from much more. Go out to the playground and for walks together. Bake together (from scratch, not mix: cheaper, healthier and not much harder, since most mixes just include flour, sugar, baking powder). Kneading bread dough and forming rolls and pretzels and cutting cookies sure beats a lot of toys.

Katharina Eldada
Lexington MA USA

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