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.


  1. The one thing I have always been willing to buy is books. My oldest son absolutely loves to read, and I will spend on that. (Of course, I go to the library for my own… 🙂 )

    Legos are crazy-expensive. My younger son has gotten a ton of Star-Wars Legos. He builds them and they sit in his room, untouched. However, he and my daughter have gotten incredibly creative with the Harry Potter Legos, as my living room has been taken over by them. They have used spare parts from other sets and created an entire other world, and they get hours of fun out of that. So some Legos have worked out, others have not.

    However, I agree that kids should be spending some of their own money on toys and such. My youngest son will earn a nickel and wants to spend a quarter, and I have to fix that. My other two kids are complete savers, so I almost wonder if some of it is just in their genes. Fortunately, my youngest doesn’t get the opportunity to spend much, and I still have time to really work on this with him.

    Great post.

  2. I was against an allowance at first but my hubby and I decided, like you, to tie an allowance to a few chores around the house. Extra chores completed earns my girls extra money. This has drastically reduced the requests for toys and has reduced the amount of toys coming into the house. My two girls are much more selective in their purchases and prefer to go garage sale shopping with me instead because their money goes alot further. Money conversations occur alot more in our house. Discussions about how much things cost and how to do/make things for ‘free’ comes up more often now. Love how they now discuss ‘working’ to make more money to pay for a more pricey toy. LOL. The bank of Mom and Dad is not a bottomless pit. LOL.

  3. We like to rotate toys. We divide the toys into a few groups and let the kids play with a particular group of toys until they’re bored with them. We then put those toys away and bring out the next group for them to play with. The kids are very excited about the “new” toys until they grow tired of them and then the cycle begins again. This works well for us as our oldest is now 10, youngest 2, and we’ve collected quite a few toys over the years, but hardly buy any new ones anymore.

    • This is the same for us. Rotate and the kids feel like the old toys are new again.

      My 3 children just held a lemonade sale and made $20, they took there earning and purchase a new toy that they wanted.

  4. My 9-year-old has had an allowance for about a year. She gets $5 a week IF she does the chore list, which is essentially keeping her room and things picked up, emptying the dishwasher, taking out the trash and cleaning her fish’s bowl. Initially she just stock piled her five-dollar bills because she liked looking at it. When she’d get to a big pile, or when she had birthday/holiday checks, we’d take her to the bank to deposit it. She knows that once the cash goes in the bank, it stays there.

    Lately, she’s been wanting to spend her allowance more often than save it, but she looks for bargains. She got burned on an “only on TV” offer and now doesn’t trust the ads as much as when it was my money she was spending. She and my husband shopped for an iPod online and got exactly what she wanted on eBay at a fraction of the cost of a new one. She debated the value of waiting through the auction process or forking over a lot of cash and opted to wait for the deal.

    It’s fun to listen to her talk about bargains. I don’t usually make her spend her own money on books, either — and it’s hard to say no to that…

    On the toy front, we make regular passes through the house for things that can be donated to Goodwill. We sometimes have stuff to donate to the prize bin at school — toys she doesn’t play with anymore or unwrapped items from those dang birthday party goodie bags (I have some choice words for whoever came up with THAT idiocy.)

  5. When I was younger my mom limited the amount of toys my brother and I had to those that could be passed down (we had a ton of Thomas the Tank Engine stuff too) to cousins and other family friends. And those that could be shared, card games that involved skills and other board games. Legos are great, but if you get a set and loose one piece (which lets be honest happens a lot) you just wasted $99 on a set that can’t be built. Plus, most of that $99 has to go to licensing to the Star Wars brand.

  6. Our children grew up without watching TV so they never saw commercials for toys and hence rarely asked for anything but Duplos, when they were young, and Legos as they got older. They all still build with Legos. Not just the item pictured on the box; after they build that and have admired it for a while, they take it apart and sort the pieces into plastic cases (the kind fishermen use for their stuff) and then the boys get an idea for something else and build it from all the pieces they have. They have come up with the most amazing things and all of them from the 19 year old down to the 12 year old are good problem solvers. Building things with Legos (other than the original set) has expanded their imaginations and developed mechanical skills. Legos and a battalion of GI Joes are the only toys our boys have consistently played with. When they were younger they did play with a wooden train set and Lincoln Logs, but if a toy didn’t use imagination and could do multiple things, I didnt’ buy it. Our boys have NEVER gotten bored with Legos. Of, course not having TV to watch has helped tremendously. They are all readers, and physically active too.

  7. One of my wife’s coworker has a son who LOVES Thomas the Train. When I say love, I mean he totally freaks out every time he sees one. He literally starts screaming and throwing his arms up in the air. I think it has to do with the fact that he doesn’t have that many toys and he appreciates them so much more. The only toys he has are Thomas related or books. That’s pretty much it.

    On the other hand, another one of her coworkers has a son who has EVERYTHING. You walk into their house and it looks like a daycare center. Blocks, Legos, stuffed animals, etc. I swear, I think they buy him something every time they go out of the house. I think the kid even has his parents figured out. He knows exactly what to do to get a new toy. He pitches a fit and one of the parent’s respond with “if you behave, we’ll get you a toy at Kmart”. He calms down and gets the toy.

    I still think both of the boys are too young to grasp the value of a dollar but this example at least shows you how the parents really make the difference when it comes to toys.

  8. Great point. Too many toys means that most will be ignored anyway and the ones they buy themselves will probably be the most used – I loved my Super Soaker even if it did cost me $11 when I was 8 or 9 years old. 🙂

  9. Great post, I was just telling my daughter the other day that she had a lot more toys than I ever did. It’s funny when they say they do not have any toys to play with and there is a playroom full of them. It’s kind of like nothing to watch on TV when you have 200+ channels to choose from.

    Instilling good money management habits while their young prepares them for making better financial decisions in the future.

  10. We’ve made a sometimes-feeble attempt to be conservative with the amount of toys our son gets. We really fight hard the urge to overdo on his birthday & Christmas. And at the same time, we try hard to ensure that the toys we do buy are of higher quality so they’ll stand up to the abuse and last awhile.

    I’m really opposed to “unitasker” or specialized versions of toys like the branded Lego sets since those seem to really impose creative & usability limits on the toy. For example, we went with generic Ikea wooden train tracks and accessories which are sturdier than the plastic tracks but will still work fine with the Thomas the Tank Engine stuff.

    Our son is a bit over 4 now and he has a coin jar that he collects change in and saves for treats or toys. He doesn’t yet get the value of the coins, but he understands that if there aren’t many in the jar, he probably needs to save a bit longer in order to have enough to buy something new. He ‘earns’ coins by helping me with routine household stuff like laundry, cleaning, taking out trash, mowing the yard (with a bubble mower), etc..

  11. Nice post. As far as tying allowance to chores, we did a bit of a compromise. We give an allowance (based on a budget of things our kids are expected to buy – grows as they get older) and we don’t pay for “regular” chores that are just expected. But, when they don’t do their regular chores, we don’t want them to get off scot free, so we ding their virtual accounts with a penalty. In other words, we have a “Chore Fail Chart” instead of a “Chore Chart”.


  12. I don’t have kids yet, but I have a coworker that I would like to model when I do. He and his wife have a very strict policy when it comes to toys and video games: one in-one out. Their sons get to pick what they will give away in order to get something new; and they have to tell them which toy gets the boot BEFORE the new toy purchase. He says that on more than one occasion the kids have decided not to get a new toy because they can’t think of an existing toy that they are ready to relinquish. I think it applies to Christmas and birthdays, too, but I’m not sure. Oh, and to prevent kid-pestering, the kids get one warning and then they lose two toys/games of their parent’s choice. My coworker says that his boys really have no toys or video games that they don’t regularly use.

  13. You gotta love growing a TickleMe Plant and seeing how the leaves move like crazy when you Tickle It. The leaves suddenly close and even the branches droop when Tickled! If you have too many toys or just want to excite your kids about nature. Search TickleMe Plant and order the kit. Kids love it and its great for parties.
    The TickleMe Plant leaves reopen in minutes. It’s more like a pet then a plant!

  14. This is a great article and I agree with it 100%

    I suppose I consider myself fortunate to have grown up in a time where video games were a novelty and the only thing we knew about computers was that they were used by big businesses and government organizations. My friends and I spent far more time playing outdoors than we did indoors. simply because there was much more to do.

    I received a $5 weekly allowance provided I properly completed all my chores. Even at a young age I would often find myself wary of actually spending my money. I wanted to make sure I got the most bang for my buck, so I would often save for weeks or months at a time to get something I really wanted.

    This definitely affected me in a positive way. As a child, according to my parents at least, I never asked them to buy me anything. As an adult I am very conservative with my spending. While I do splurge occasionally, these are rare episodes and only occur when I’m sure that my bank account can handle it.

    I loathe to think what would have happened had I grown up with all the toys and technology available to young people today.

  15. These are great points. In my own experience, I think it’s great if you can straddle the line between no toys at all and too many toys. Some toys are great for stimulation and all that, but too many toys, and I feel kids can become too one-dimensional. For example, people without any video games or in-house toys have to be a little more imaginative, remain a little more active and outdoorsy, and things along those lines which I think are all great qualities. The financial advantage to this is obvious as well (you don’t have to pay to run around on a lawn and kick a soccer ball). At the same time, I think toys are also great for social interaction with friends and all that fun stuff.

  16. I generally feel a small twinge of guilt when other children visit our home, since our 2-year-old has so few toys. But most kids we know have more toys than they know what to do with. On the other hand, we have two shelves-full of children’s books already.

    I have noticed a few types of toys that our daughter gravitates to when they are available; they’re on my list of good buys/recommendations for Christmas. We’ll see how our “acceptable” number of toys changes once we have two children.

  17. Wow, this post describes my household to a T! My son started with the ever popular Thomas the Train. Coming from a divorced family at the age of two he always receives double the presents from both sides of the family and is, well spoiled. He had 4 actual different tracks and 3 tubs of track/trains, excessive to anyone’s standards. I agree at first $5 for a new train to add to the collection isn’t bad but it all adds up! The Thomas phase faded at 4 and he moved on to the more expensive Lego obsession. We ended up handing down a set of Thomas to my nephew, donated a set to his daycare, and sold the other 2 on Craigs list.

    While I love my sons innate ability to assemble the 50 pages worth of instructions to build the latest Lego creation (again he started at 4 building the sets for 7-14 year olds, that I in all honesty could never do) he builds them and they sit on a shelf.

    He is now 7 years old and we instituted an allowance system for completing 5 basic daily chores and a few weekly must do’s. He earns $10/week, I know this sounds like a lot, however we have also tied behavior to the allowance and he loses $1 for each infraction whether at home or school. This entire allowance project has taught him several lessons:

    1. Being a responsible contributing member of our family
    2. Cost vs do I really want this?
    3. Good behavior is part of his responsibility

    I have learned to tell other family members (his dad, grandparents, etc) that this is our family policy and they are not to just purchase him whatever he wants. It’s hard to say no to your kids, you want the best for them, but do yourself and them a favor learn the power of no and responsibility for their actions.

  18. I am glad my 8 month old daughter has more interest a piece of paper or her sippy cup right now rather than her toys. I don’t want toys to be a big deal for her. Not that I don’t want her to be a kid and have toys, but I don’t want it to get out of hand. One thing we do for our nieces and nephews is to put money in a savings account or buy them saving bonds for their birthday’s and Christmas. A penny saved is a penny earned. Toys just break and in the end you are broke.