Do Your Kids Have Too Many Toys?

When my son was little he had a mild addiction to Thomas the Train collectibles. Those things were everywhere (you may remember Harold the Helicopter’s flight to the bottom of our guest toilet and my mission to retrieve him)! Then it was monster trucks. Now, Legos are all the rage.

And what about these new Legos? When I was a kid you could buy a ton of plastic Legos blocks for cheap. They came in four colors – red, blue, green and yellow. Now, a larger Star Wars Lego set runs about $99, and includes hundreds of tiny pieces and 37-step instructions for assembly! I digress.

You see a pattern developing here? My son, like many kids, goes from one greatest thing to the next. Individually, these things are not that expensive (save the aforementioned Star Wars Lego sets), but collectively they can add up.

In addition to being expensive for parents, they do have a cost for kids, too. And I’m not just referring to toys’ way of eating into allowance savings.

Too many toys usually means too many distractions. Between the television, the Wii, the computer, the buckets of army men, trucks, Legos, etc, etc. there is little time to devote to things like books, and outside play.

I’m certainly not advocating getting rid of all toys. In fact, some toys can be quite educational. Others can be incorporated into outside play (my kids love the game Hyper Dash). But often toys are played with a while and then tossed aside, collecting dust and taking up space in the kids’ closets and toy boxes.

The number of toys accumulating never seems to diminish, nor does our kids’ appetite for more of them. Are kids born with a consumer gene?

Hey Mom and Dad – Make Sure You Don’t Own Too Many Toys

Kids learn much from the behavior modeled for them by their parents. Many parents are guilty of buying too many toys themselves. And many of us fall for the same toy fads that kids do, although our “toys” are often much more expensive.

Need evidence? Just hang out around a Best Buy store the morning Apple releases a new product – any product. I’m quite certain most people in line for the iPhone 4 already owned a phone – maybe even an iPhone 3. But they had to have the latest and greatest.

Kids notice this stuff. Maybe Dad buys a new pickup truck every two years. Mom picks up a new laptop with the first hint of a problem with the one she just bought 6 months ago. And both parents are always buying new shoes, new clothes, new jewelry and watches, etc.

Allow Kids to Buy Their Own Toys…At Least a Few of Them

At around age 5 we started giving our kids an allowance. Over the years we’ve gone back and forth on whether or not this allowance should be tied to chores. A final compromise was to identify a set of basic chores to be performed throughout the week that must be completed as a contributing member of the household. Additional chores could be performed to earn extra money, or not, depending on school schedules, motivation, etc.

We encourage the kids to use a portion of their allowance for spending, a portion for saving and some for giving. With their spending allotment, they usually pick up something small during weekly grocery/household supply trips – a magazine, a CD, a movie, a game, etc.

Of course, we still buy them a few things all along (I rarely turn down a request for a new book), and don’t expect them to pay for things like clothing (not yet, at least) and basic supplies. Eventually, as they mature, I’d like to increase their budget and include more spending categories for which they are responsible.

We’ve noticed that the kids are much more selective about what they buy, and often fret over “spending all their dollars” on a new game – leaving them with an empty wallet for another week.

I’m not unlike any other parent. I want my kids to have things better than I did. I want them to have more. I want them to have the best. But I also want them to grasp the connection between having nice things and the sacrifice required to earn them. I want them to be able to say “no” to themselves; to avoid the trappings of debt and consumerism as they grow older. Maybe they will avoid some of the mistakes I made along the way, or at least be prepared to learn from the ones they are bound to make themselves.

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