This is the first of a three-part series that will examine the TRUE cost of toys in an effort to help you save money on those often expensive, all-important toy purchases. Don’t freak out, it’s easier than you think.
Part 1: Calculating the True Cost of Toys
If there’s one simple truth about kids, it’s that they will play. They don’t prefer to play, they won’t play if you insist, they WILL play no matter what. Since the dawn of mankind, adults have been giving children things to play with, whether it be polished rocks or Tickle Me Elmo. These things, what we in the biz call “toys,” are integral to a child’s development and therefore a matter of great interest to parents. But as toys get more extravagant (gone are the good ol’ hoop-and-stick days), they can cause more anguish for money-conscious parents trying to get the best bang for their buck.
The answer to the issue of finances is usually a hunt for good deals. And while Online Discount Warehouse or Big Box Store might save you $10 on that $50 toy, paying less at the register doesn’t necessarily mean you’re saving any money in the long run. This part’s important, so let me reiterate: Paying less doesn’t always save you money. Let me explain.
“The most affordable toy is the one your child plays with longest,” explains Philip C. Wrzesinski in his article “Saving Money on Toys.” “The way to save money becomes very simple,” he writes. “Find out how much a toy costs per hour of play.” This idea seems obvious, but it flies in the face of the way we usually think about the cost of toys. We usually get so wrapped up in the short-term, thinking about buying the right toys to make our kids happy, that we ignore the long-term, making sure we’re buying toys our kids will actually play with. There’s some very simple toy math to explain all this, so let’s go to the chalkboard:
Our usual short-term thinking about cost relies heavily on our kids’ initial excitement upon receiving the toy, and so looks something like this:
Cost of Toy x Initial Excitement = Short-Term Cost
If we rank “Initial Excitement” as either a 2 (over the moon excited), 1 (moderately excited) or 0 (bummed), we get a fairly accurate representation of whether or not the purchase was “worth it” initially. If you spend $40 on a train set, and your kiddo screams with delight, your true cost is $80, meaning it was a great buy. If your kiddo cries and screams “I don’t like trains!” that’s a goose egg in excitement meaning your true cost is $0.
While it’s all very simple and logical, it’s important to note that THIS WAY OF THINKING IS WRONG.
It’s great to see that look of pure joy on your kids’ faces as they unwrap new toys, but how long does that last? If that excitement fades quickly, your kids are back to square one and you’re back in the toy store, looking for another toy, spending more money. As Wrezsinski suggests, we should instead be thinking in the long-term and looking at cost per hour of play. Using his formula, let’s go back to the chalkboard:
Cost of Toy / Hours Played With = True Cost
True cost is found by dividing the cost of the toy by the total number of hours your child plays with it before becoming bored with it for good. Let’s look at that wooden train set again. If your kiddo plays with the $40 set for a total of 40 hours before becoming bored, the total cost is $1/hour of play. That’s a good value! If your kiddo really doesn’t like trains and plays with the set for a total of 2 hours before becoming bored, you get $20/hour of play; that’s not a great buy.
Once we get over thinking in the short term, this math makes so much sense. The LEGO sets from my childhood provided years of play. Those Power Rangers battle spinners? Not so much. Even if the LEGOs cost more, their true cost was much less. This logic shouldn’t be foreign. We already know that a $30 Spirograph is a better buy than 10-cent mustache comb, even though the comb costs so much less (but seriously, if your children are growing mustaches that need combing you have more serious issues at hand).
The second half of the equation, the “hours played with” ranges drastically depending on your kiddos and the toys they like. Unfortunately, what they want in the short-term isn’t always what they’ll like in the long-term. Because many toy manufacturers want to sell as many toys as possible, they focus our attention on that initial excitement that drives kids to their parents and parents to the stores. But as parents know all too well, many of these highly-marketed toys don’t capture attention spans much longer than a few hours. The trick is not in finding what they want the most, but what they’ll like the longest.
So how exactly are you supposed to figure out which toys will last and which won’t? There are plenty of strategies, but I’ll talk about them next week. For now, look back over our formulas and start to calculate the true cost of your kids’ toys. You might be surprised (or not!) to learn which toys were really the least expensive. Come back next week for Part 2: Toys That Last, to learn more about long-lasting play value and which toys are really worth your buck.