Toys: The Biggest Money Pit Ever

dragonball z toys - the latest obsession to bite the dust


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?

  • Cash Flow Mantra

    The title and picture says a lot, but like you said. In a few short years, the kids move out of the house. That is when I will focus on beefing up savings even more. You can’t spend and buy everything, but totally ignoring some toys or entertainment is not good either. Balance is important.

  • Eric J. Nisall - DollarVersity

    The only time toys aren’t a waste of money if they are kept sealed in the original packaging and put in storage for a decade or so. I can’t believe how much my old Star Wars toys go for mint in package these days!

    It’s tough to be a collector, and I’m speaking from experience with ports cards, comic books & autographs. There comes a point where you realize that there are so many options and such a drain on the wallet. I just gave up and everything except for the autograph collecting, but now I only go when I don’t have to pay any money ( or a nominal fee) which hasn’t even happened in the last 3 years.

  • Shannyn

    Haha, I find that I do this as an adult too…I got sucked in to Vinylmations and I have no excuse!

  • Pam at MoneyTrail

    We have a lot of extra toys since we have four kids. I share your thoughts on this. My house may be cluttered but for the moment, I will focus on the fun side of it! We do go through the toys a few times a year and donate the good ones to a local charity.

  • Jeff @My Multiple Streams

    Kids? I should tell you about my time with beanie babies (and how many I have)

    I tend to get my kids the electronics, ipod, ipad, computer, tv, music… things that I hope they will use more than a couple years.

    • Andrea @ SoOverDebt

      My aunt had probably 1000 Beanie Babies. All in protective cubby thingies with tag protectors, new condition, blah blah blah. When she died, after we looked some of them up on eBay, we ended up selling the entire collection for 50 cents each at a yard sale.

      • Jeff @My Multiple Streams

        exactly, I use them in the studio now and occasionally give em away to the kids

  • Tanner E

    Though I don’t have kids, we used to keep our toys for a year, then give away the ones we no longer used after fixing/cleaning them up. Not sure if that works as well in the US, but I’ve also seen this where my co-workers with similar-age children will just rotate their toys. As in, person A’s kids have X toys and trade them for Y toys from person B’s kids. That seems to work marvelously at the younger ages, especially since they don’t care for the new condition of their toys, as long as they are (mostly) functional. My manager has one of those timeless toys (an electric trainset with rails and all) that has been in circulation for over 10 years now. The only rule is that whoever gets it must give it away to someone who can use it, and not sell or store.

  • Jeffrey Trull

    I’ve always looked at the toys my little cousins get every birthday and holiday and just think “Wow, if toys were a currency, they’d be millionaires.” It’s really pretty insane and something that’s going to take a long time for me to get over.

    It seems like some sort of toy swap would be a great way to deal with this. I like the toy renting idea, too, although I’m not sure how well something like that works since I’m not a parent.

  • Niki

    We finally started getting smart with buying toys from Ebay or yard sales a few years ago. My son was obsessed with Thomas the Train when he was younger and instead of paying $6 or $7 dollars per train we would buy lots for cheaper. Same thing with LEGO now. My son thankfully doesn’t like the sets he just wants the brick, which are more cost effective. And we finally got smart about video games too, we used to always buy new and now we usually buy used. We haven’t had problem, luckily.

    I think of all the money we spent on those crappy plastic toys when they were babies and shudder but like you said they enjoyed them and they didn’t go without.

  • Ashley @ Money Talks

    My friend’s son has a tramatic brain injury and has a lot of autistic type behaviors. His obsession is Pez dispensers. He’s obsessed with Pez. His dad made some custom made shelves for his room that fit the Pez perfectly and his room is “wallpapered” with Pez… it’s crazy. He saves up all year to go to the Pez Convention every year.

  • Travis Pizel

    Toys are definitely expensive, some of them bordering on crazytown. But there’s another way to look at them….

    My daughter was obsessed with webkinz for about 18 months. She accumulated (by present or by spending her own allowance) over 70 of the things. We bought shoe organizers hung from a closet rack so they could each have their own house. She would flip them upside down at night so they would be “sleeping,” and in the morning I would “wake up” each of them by name (it was a gentle way of getting Tori out of bed in the morning). 70 webkinz cost a total of about a little over $1000. Now they’re just sitting there…waste of money?

    Maybe…maybe not.

    Her friends were also obsessed with webkinz. They played with them for hours every day as stuffed animals. They had school, they went to summer camp, along with countless other outdoor adventures. AND you can play with them online…which she did almost every day.

    I wonder how much her social skills developed through interacting with her friends by playing a few hours a day with a group of kids, or how many hours of enjoyment she got out of the things online? I wonder how much per hour that would come out to be?

    How much would you pay per hour for entertainment?

  • Newlyweds on a Budget

    I made a big effort to get my niece and nephew useful items such as pajamas and place settings with their favorite characters on them. They get wayyy too many toys and they get thrown out and they don’t even have that much room for everything!

  • Teinegurl

    Haha i think the very same thing which is why i dread going to toys r us! I just feel like it’s such a rip off. I will buy a few indulgences but my son gets a lot of hand me downs so that’s good. Also for gifts i’d rather give practically things like books, video games, money or clothes which will get more use than a toy.

    • Teinegurl

      oh i forgot to add the other day i tried to sell a game i bought at gamestop i bought the game for $50 dollars and they wanted to give me a $1.82 for it! umm no thank you!


    haha.. rent toys.. that’s so mean.

  • Marissa

    Do you remember Pogs? I made my poor mom buy me about a 1000 of those and 3 weeks later, they stopped being “cool” so I left them in the garage.

  • Frugal Toad

    I am so glad my daughter is past the toy stage! She was really into the plastic animal toys, she must have had hundreds of them. We let her sell her toys in a garage sale and keep the money, putting half in her savings account of course. Now she is into expensive toys like her iPod Touch and laptop!

  • PKamp3

    Haha - PF blogger syndrome seems to be when you look around and think of the cost of everything. Read up a bit on sunk costs if you ever feel gloomy about it.

    He’s only young once - just don’t put yourself into debt holding onto youth and it’ll all be good!

  • Kevin Mzansi

    I had thousands of toy soldiers as a child and remember with fondness all the time spent arranging them, playing around with them and making wooden transport vessels to carry them around in. All that fun time cannot possibly be quantified into dollars and cents, that’s what makes PF blogs so great - we see the bigger picture! Nice post!

  • John@moneyprinciple

    Really relate to the toys issue! Our 10 year old has a room full which we keep suggesting he doesn’t want. From time to time we have a clear-out but it is never complete and things creep back. Silly thing is there are a number of toys he has hardly opened or only played with.

    Construction kits that only make one thing are a pain - in the old days Meccano was a set of bits of metal and rods and some instructions to make all sorts of things so you took them to pieces and made something else. Now they come in boxes pretending to be a helicopter or car and when they are made - about an hour after being given - he doesn’t want to take them to pieces!

  • Anonymous

    Oh…. so guilty of spending lots of cash on Barbies for my daughter. She loved Barbie, and we loved her…. so naturally we fed her “Barbiemania”. No regrets.

  • Shaun McCarthy

    I once heard that kids will cost you around $250K each…. I’m on my way to half a million, but I wouldn’t change it at all. There are always things that are going to be a complete waste of money, but as they say; everything in moderation… or something like that.

  • Suzanne Cramer

    I can totally relate to this post as my 8 year old son has been through many different toy “phases”. At 2 he was obsessed with Thomas the Train (I am embarrassed to admit the actual amount of money I spent on those things) Thomas was over by age 4 when Lego sets took over; not just the bin where you build using your imagination but the sets (you know the expensive ones) that he would build in a day and never play with again. Over the last few years its been Pokemon, BeyBlades and most recently Skylanders. Sad story about those last week he beat the game and the skylanders are now lonely in their box. My solution has been to be careful about saving boxes the toys come in and trying to take good care of them. I have been quite successful at selling most of the items in Craigslist and at least recouping some of the cost. After all with each phase there are a ton of priceless memories I will never forget and hopefully he won’t either!

    • Andrea @ SoOverDebt

      I just remembered the UB Funkees in my basement. These weird little USB toys that unlock different parts of a computer game. I must have bought 13 million of them back in 2008-09. I bet they’re selling for pennies on eBay but maybe I should check. Sigh!

  • Squirrelers

    Believe me, I can relate! I simply do not want to go back and add up the amount of money I have spent on toys for my kids. It’s not a small amount, as this is one area where I’ve been kind of a spender. Not on myself, but my two little ones, particularly my oldest - since there have been more years in which money could be spent:)

    It’s all been worth it though. The joy it brought seemed genuine. The trick is to do that while getting them to appreciate how lucky they are…and then eventually, spend their own money judiciously. Money doesn’t grow on trees, as my own father told me (and still probably could randomly any time).

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